7 Asian American and Pacific Islander musicians you need to listen to
Above: Mobius Strips, by Go Yama.
With Jay Park signing with Roc Nation as the label’s first Asian American artist and Deerhoof featuring Awkwafina on their latest single for Adult Swim, it’s great to see Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists getting the kind of exposure that Far East Movement and MC Jin once enjoyed (and could still!). While mainstays Dumbfoundead and Run River North may have found their fanbases in the community, it’s easy to overlook AAPI artists, especially when non-AAPI musicians struggle to find their footing in the indie scene.
But don’t worry: AAMPLIFY’s got your back. Here are 7 AAPI artists that you need to add to your Spotify rotation, listed in alphabetical order.
Andy Suzuki and the Method
Andy Suzuki and the Method have been around for 12 years but it wasn’t until 2011, when the multiracial band won WNYC’s Battle of the Burroughs, that they really came into their own. With cutting lyrics that get to the core of Suzuki’s and bandmate Jason Gorelick’s struggles with being hapa (in their case, half-Jewish and half-Japanese), Andy Suzuki and the Method infuse their music with a unique fusion of R&B, alternative rock and and folk that have aimed albums like this year’s The Glass Hour right at your heart. And that’s not even talking about Suzuki’s vocals, which never fail to make me stop exactly what I’m doing on tracks like Overtime.
Long-time outspoken activist, grassroots organizer and MC, Filipino American Bambu first ran with fellow Filipino American rapper Kiwi and Chinese American DJ Phatrick as part of hip-hop group Native Guns. Prior, Bambu rapped for his former gang, his neighborhood, and his fellow young immigrants in the heart of Los Angeles. Those experiences, and the uncomfortability of middle-class Americans with their problematic concept of the “inner city,” are the subject of each one of Bambu’s visceral tracks, including Routine, a track about police brutality and anti-white supremacy that Bambu wrote specifically for his son Kahlil.
“I want you to feel uncomfortable — it's how I walk in the world every day,” says Bambu. My release is in that music, so it always comes off as abrasive and hard because that's the way it feels to walk in my shoes.”
Actually, Blue Scholars needs no introduction. Filipino American MC Geologic and Iranian American DJ Sabzi make up this Seattle hip-hop duo, and true to their activist roots, their songs aren’t shallow-- musically or otherwise. With Sabzi’s electronic-inspired beats and Geo’s “Wikipedia raps,” Blue Scholars just tells life as it is for people of color, with Geo’s frank but steady flow.
“There’s no rest for the weary, just another day grinding up stones,” begins Geo in 2004’s “No Rest for the Weary.” “Till they turn into dust, it’s tough times in the rough / Diamonds ain’t enough to cover up a corrupted and fucked up / Legacy of strange fruit.”
Speech therapist by day, producer-guitarist by night, Garrett “Scooter” Oyama reps Japanese Americans out of California and Boston with the smoothest beats around. Trained as a jazz guitarist, Go Yama fuses straight-up instrumental virtuosity with beat scene slickness, with albums like Glimpses From the Spirit Plane, his tribute to Joe Hisaishi and Hayao Miyazaki’s ouervre, exemplifying that unbelievable fusion. Need more convincing? Listen to Sequences, and pay special attention to the guitar on the back half. That ain’t a sample: that’s Go Yama himself.
Cosmic electronic artist Mike Gao took over Earth in 2010 with his Los Angeles Vinyl 10” Series on All City Records and he hasn’t stopped since. It’s easy to condemn electronic music as just a bunch of arcade noises and beats, but Gao’s work is nothing like that. With sounds you’ll swear you’ve never heard before and heartfelt harmonies that you can almost taste, Gao smashes preconceptions in music, not just electronic music. And that’s not even mentioning Gao’s work in developing powerful apps for the production community, with apps like Polyplayground helping budding musicians and veterans alike learn music theory and production hands-on.
Based in Woodstock, NY, Rachael Yamagata’s been in the coffeehouse scene for almost two decades, appearing alongside Jason Mraz, Bright Eyes and Ryan Adams. Her music’s the kind of folk you can’t help but sway to-- preferably on a stormy day-- and even though some of her lyrics are a little on the sickly-sweet side, they’re so heartfelt you can’t help but take Yamagata at her word. That’s why songs like “Elephants”, “Let Me Be Your Girl,” and perennial favorite “Be Be Your Love” could stay on your playlist for years: everyone needs a little bit of a steaming mug of genuine feeling sometimes.
Filipino American rapper, producer and spoken word artist Ruby Ibarra is the definition of code switching in hip-hop. Rapping in both Tagalog and English straight outta San Lorenzo, CA, Ibarra illustrates vivid images of her immigrant life from the Philippines and the United States the way only she can, with virtuosic macaronic (bilingual) rhymes that just blow you away. Ibarra’s “Game Up” put her on the map, her spoken word kept her there, and she’s just kept going, collaborating with Bambu and signing onto his label, Beatrock Music.