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88Rising CEO Sean Miyashiro, center, is activity on viral Asian hip-hop stars such as Niki, left, and Rich Brian, right. Shayanne Gal/Business Insider; 88Rising; Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

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If you appetite to accept area the ball industry is activity in the age of Instagram, SnapChat, and Soundcloud, attending no added than 88Rising, the shape-shifting startup that not alike 37-year-old architect Sean Miyashiro can acquisition a tidy way to explain.

From the outside, it looks like a almanac characterization alloyed with a aesthetic agency, a web-video assembly house, and an artist-management company. But if you ask Miyashiro to explain what absolutely 88Rising is, as I did recently, he tends to chuckle.

“Damn. It’s funny because I consistently acknowledgment this different,” Miyashiro told me. It’s as if he knows his aggregation is a Rorschach analysis for the media, his investors, and its fans.

“We’re absolutely focused on creating superstars and creating heroes and creating article that bodies can absolutely accept in and be aflame about. A all-around media aggregation that focuses on adulatory Asian aptitude and Asian belief and Asian culture.”

Miyashiro with hip-hop artisan Don Krez in the blooming allowance at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York City.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

88Rising — “88” in Chinese bureau “double happiness” — launched three years ago. It has already fostered several stars. While its bigger names don’t yet battling name-brand artists like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, they accept committed followings and a assertive cachet with affiliated Gen Zers.

The bigger of the agglomeration accommodate Brian Imanuel, a 19-year-old rapper and beatmaker who goes by the name Rich Brian; George Miller, a Japanese-born R&B accompanist who got his alpha as a YouTube brilliant authoritative abandoned ball videos afore axis to music abounding time beneath the moniker Joji; and the Higher Brothers, a quartet of rappers from Chengdu, China, who accomplish high-energy, animated tunes about avant-garde Chinese life, like the group’s 2017 distinct “WeChat,” about the titular Chinese messaging app.

Aback Miyashiro has been asked to explain it, he’s likened his aggregation to a approaching Vice and Disney. It’d be accessible to address off Miyashiro as accepting delusions of grandeur, but 88Rising and its admirers are the affectionate of affair you charge to see in activity to absolutely understand.

On a balmy September night, Miyashiro arrive me to appear the New York date of the company’s 88 Degrees & Rising Tour.

The 21-date alley actualization comes on the heels of 88Rising’s countdown Head in the Clouds music anniversary in Los Angeles, which brought calm the company’s complete artisan lineup, featuring artists from Indonesia, Korea, China, and LA, for the aboriginal time.

Held at Pier 17, a chichi rooftop at the southern tip of Manhattan, the concert started apathetic as the streetwear-clad attendees filed in and 88Rising’s newest artists ran through abbreviated set lists.

Those aboriginal sets, like abundant of 88Rising’s oeuvre, accept a DIY quality. Like the aboriginal bearing of YouTube stars, the artists feel talented, but casual and asperous about the edges. The artists alternating amid bleeding their hearts with bare bluntness and authoritative the aing irony-laden meme-inspired joke. In a way, anniversary artist’s persona seems designed, carefully or not, to accomplish teenagers feel like they could be one of them.

In contempo dates on the 88 Degrees and Rising Tour, Joji has taken to bamboozlement amid songs.

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Singer August 08 performs at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

During his set, August 08 — an LA-based African-American accompanist who traffics in adapted and atmospheric R&B — stops the music to egg on the crowd. “Everybody bawl ‘F–k!'” he shouted mischievously. “F–k, f–k, f–k, f–k!”

At one point, he stops mid-song and directs the army to attending at the sunset. “Everybody attending at that skyline. It’s beautiful, man.”

At aboriginal I can’t acquaint if he’s trolling the crowd, but afresh anybody turns adjoin the Hudson River. The dusk is gorgeous, with pink, purple, and orange cotton-candy clouds.

Downstairs, in the blooming room, August alien himself shyly afore accusatory that he wasn’t abiding the army was activity the set. He, like the blow of the 88Rising crew, is ardent in person. A few account later, Rich Brian, Joji, and others in 88Rising’s apogee debated the claim of Brockhampton, addition of-the-moment hip-hop collective.

Artists Joji, right, and Rich Brian attach with associates of the 88Rising team.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Meanwhile, Miyashiro was in addition allowance finishing up an account with Vice. The alpha mogul is annihilation if not savvy. In the aftermost year, he’s denticulate aglow actualization in Bloomberg, The New Yorker, and CNN.

Afterwards the account wraps up, he starts talking boutique with me. Wearing a formed belt beanie pulled aback over blowzy hair, a chiffon beard, and a blithely blooming on-down, Miyashiro has a apperception that never seems to devious too far from work. Within minutes, he’s allurement me if I shoot video, cogent me Business Insider’s affection on 88Rising would assignment absolutely able-bodied as a video, and alms pointers to Vice’s videographers on area they ability get the best shots for the articulation they’re producing. The funny allotment is, he’s absolutely right.

Miyashiro is prone, like his artists, to about-face rapidly amid casual trolling and believing earnestness. In the elevator up to the rooftop concert, I ask him about Thump, the now asleep cyberbanking music armpit he cocreated at Vice, he looks at me deadpan and says, “What’s Thump?” He holds it for a moment afore he starts arise up: “I’m aloof f—-ing with you, man.”

Fans at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderThe 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

It’s bright Miyashiro understands the digital-media d bigger than best — its charge for headlines, hooks, and, aloft all, agreeable — and he knows it.

To Miyashiro’s mind, 88Rising has four genitalia to its business: a digital-media and video-production business, a music label, a alpha arm attractive into blur and TV opportunities, and a “cultural bureau business” alive with agreeing brands.

Aback anecdotic his action for allowance Chinese megastar Kris Wu breach into American hip-hop, Miyashiro told The New Yorker he beat Wu from actualization on “Good Morning America.” The morning show’s 4 actor admirers aren’t who Wu needs. Miyashiro told Wu he needs the audiences who apprehend hip-hop magazines like XXL and Complex and listens to Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1.

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Later, aback I ask him area the abstraction for 88Rising started, he afresh turns to deadpan: “The abstraction started in my brain. Like, I was aloof air-conditioned and I was, like, ‘I wanna do that.'” But afresh he pauses, as if acquainted that he needs to be ardent again.

“The accomplished alpha of 88Rising came from me and my accompany blind out,” Miyashiro said. “I was advantageous abundant to attach out with a lot of altered creators and bodies accomplishing air-conditioned things that happened to be Asian. They were all leaders in their corresponding fields, whether it was clear architecture or acting or music.

“And I aloof anticipation that … if we all approved to amalgamate [our skills] and do article with a real, concerted effort, it was gonna be article that’s bigger than annihilation because annihilation existed.”

The 88Rising offices in Manhattan, New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Miyashiro possesses a native’s compassionate of media, virality, and, in a word, cool. His antecedent apotheosis of the aggregation was a DIY administration close alleged CXSHXNLY that he started in 2015 from the roof of a Bronx parking garage.

He would attract the internet attractive for advancing rappers from Asia. Miyashiro’s aboriginal applicant was Jonathan Park, a Korean-American rapper who goes by the name Dumbfoundead.

His aboriginal big success came aback Park showed him the video for the 2015 hit “IT G MA,” by Lee Dongheon, a South Korean rapper who goes by the name Keith Ape. Miyashiro and Park abiding Ape to appear to the US for the South by Southwest aptitude advertise in Austin, Texas. Miyashiro afresh abiding Lee to become a client.

Anon after, Miyashiro contacted Taiwanese-American music ambassador Josh Pan to actualize a remix of “IT G MA” with Waka Flocka, A$AP Ferg, Father, and Dumfoundead. The remix reportedly amount him beneath than $10,000 to cull off. It and the SXSW achievement launched Ape’s US stardom.

Miyashiro’s administration of Ape’s career speaks to how 88Rising, alike in its ancestor stage, has positioned itself as altered from the blow of the music industry and — if Miyashiro’s ambitions are accomplished — Hollywood too. Miyashiro didn’t artlessly absolution a new song for Ape; he strategically directed Ape’s absolute access into the culture, from his media appearances and his aboriginal shows to his aesthetic direction. It was a creative, hands-on access to get his artisan the appropriate looks from the appropriate people.

“Our characterization exists because no above characterization or benefactor or American music company’s gonna apperceive what to do with article like this,” Miyashiro said. “We’re the alone ones who are gonna apperceive and it’s not easy.”

Japanese hip-hop artisan KOHH performs at Admirers at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour show.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Japanese hip-hop artisan KOHH performs at Admirers at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Miyashiro pulled a agnate accomplishment with Rich Brian.

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In 2016, Rich Brian was 16 and activity by the ambiguous moniker Rich Chigga, a blend of Chinese and the N-word. He apart appear the rap song “Dat $tick.” The accompanying video actualization the adolescent Indonesian rapping hip-hop tropes like gunplay and adorned cars in his shockingly abysmal baritone as he struts in a blush polo shirt and fanny pack. The video went viral — it currently has 105 actor angle — acceptable because of the transgressive applesauce amid Brian’s appearance, his voice, and his lyrics, and the comedy of seeing hip-hop adulterated in his aweless and adopted lens. But it additionally courted altercation for Brian’s use of the N-word, his rap name, and, in some eyes, his cultural appropriation.

Miyashiro’s acknowledgment was to accompany calm a cardinal of advancing and accustomed hip-hop artists to blur a alternation of videos at South by Southwest. The best acknowledged of the agglomeration featured the artists reacting to “Dat $tick” and Rich Brian as they watched the video live. Amid others, Cam’ron, 21Savage, the Flatbush Zombies, and Ghostface Killah affection in the video, which has added than 18 actor views. For the best part, the artists acknowledge positively, if incredulously, to Brian’s appearance and flow.

Afterwards that year, Ghostface Killah recorded a remix of the track. It has added than 13 actor angle in its own right.

The video was a adeptness move. By putting the catechism of “Dat $tick” anon to hip-hop’s artists, Miyashiro recontextualized the chat about Brian’s cultural allotment and get him rubber-stamped as an artisan who could be taken seriously.

Brian alone the Rich Chigga moniker in favor of Rich Brian at the alpha of this year, anon afore absolution his admission anthology “Amen.” The album, for the best part, eschews the gangster-rap and allurement cosplay for songs both autobiographical and attentive about what it’s like to alive Brian’s aberrant life. He began as an outcast and an autist application Twitter and Vine as an aperture for his sometimes abhorrent amusement afore bearing his own music and hip-hop.

Miyashiro maintained that Brian came to the accommodation to accompany added claimed music on his own, abacus that 88Rising’s artists are self-directed aback it comes to their art. But it seems acceptable that Miyashiro — and by addendum Brian — were afflicted by the internet conversations about cultural appropriation. Other 88Rising artists accept fatigued agnate criticism.

“He hasn’t done annihilation accidentally agnate since. He’s developed as a being and as an artist, and now has a abundant added all-around point of view,” Miyashiro said of “Dat $tick” and Rich Brian. “None of our artists are talking about annihilation that they don’t do.”

The 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

What makes 88Rising unique, a from its focus on Asian stars and entertainment, is its business model.

While Miyashiro started his career with a cardinal of music-related jobs, he fabricated his aboriginal absolute mark at Vice. In 2013, cyberbanking ball music was alarming up and he, forth with several accompany who managed EDM acts, abiding Vice to let them set up a new media belvedere committed to the genre. By accoutrement ball music and nightlife from an insider’s perspective, Thump bound acquired the account of both accustomed and advancing artists and a committed afterward amid the beyond underground dance-music culture.

Miyashiro helped body Thump from the arena up. He said the acquaintance helped appearance his adapt for how to barrage a media property. Tom Punch, Vice’s arch bartering and aesthetic director, told Bloomberg that Miyashiro had a aptitude for affairs in advertisers, like Anheuser-Busch InBev, that capital to capitalize on the EDM boom.

It’s accessible to see the parallels amid 88Rising and Vice. Miyashiro doesn’t shy abroad from them.

“There are a lot of differences from our business to theirs, but the one amount aspect that ability be agnate is that Vice has an abundantly able brand,” Miyashiro said. “They’ve been able to booty that cast and what it stands … and they’ve been able to aggrandize their cast into all these altered opportunities.”

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As of appropriate now, the music characterization is the best absolutely fledged and able-bodied known, acknowledgment to Rich Brian, Joji, and the blow of 88Rising’s roster. But it’s adamantine not to anticipate that it’s Miyashiro’s agog eye for alive with big brands that abiding all-around announcement close WPP to advance a appear $4.5 actor of a absolute $7 actor that the aggregation has aloft so far.

In January, the aggregation formed with the ad bureau Ogilvy to appear up with the abstraction for a Sprite bartering in China featuring MaSiWei, one of the associates of Higher Brothers. The ad, which began airing aloof afore the Lunar New Year, China’s bigger holiday, actualization MaSiWei visiting his ancestors for the holidays. The ancestors asks him the accepted prying questions about his adherent and his salary, which MaSiWei deflects with an ice-cold Sprite and rhymes from his distinct “Refresh,” the video for which additionally doubles as a Sprite commercial.

“We were absolutely casting adjoin all of these bequest agencies in the bazaar that accept been there consistently and we won,” Miyashiro said. “We’ve never alike fabricated a television bartering before.”

The ad and the song are the affectionate of intermingling of beat and announcement that brands crave and Vice has generally been criticized for. But admitting Vice charge attach to the standards of a account organization, 88Rising has no such obligations. It’s an ball aggregation committed to adopting the contour of its artists and its own brand. The accommodating leveraging of brands — application big-name ones to acquaint 88Rising and its artists to added bodies and the use of 88Rising’s cast to advise artery cred on those brands — is the point.

It’s added or beneath what Miyashiro has already done in music, partnering with the hip-hop press-approved artists that accept been featured on 88Rising’s songs. Playboi Carti, Ghostface Killah, Acclaimed Dex, and Wacka Flocka Flame — all of whom accept been featured in 88Rising songs or remixes — accord 88Rising’s artists believability while 88Rising introduces those artists to its fan base.

Though the ad was successful, Miyashiro maintains that, nine months later, 88Rising is assimilate the aing change of its business model. Admitting the Sprite bartering came out of a accepted ad-industry action — cast produces brief, aesthetic teams angle ideas, cast selects champ — Miyashiro is afterwards what he calls “true partnerships.” Miyashiro doesn’t appetite 88Rising to be accountable to affairs ad impressions adjoin its admirers or architecture agreeable paywalls, like best digital-media companies, or responding to briefs like an announcement firm.

Members of the Higher Brothers, a Chinese hip-hop accumulation accomplish at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderMembers of the Higher Brothers, a Chinese hip hop accumulation accomplish at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York City.Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderMembers of the Higher Brothers, a Chinese hip-hop accumulation accomplish at the 88 Degrees & Rising Tour actualization in New York.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Instead, he wants 88Rising to actualize projects that, by advantage of their exceptional nature, brands artlessly appetite to advice armamentarium and be associated with.

“When we get into any blazon of cast chat or any blazon of affiliation conversation, we already accept the account for things that we, as 88Rising, appetite to make,” Miyashiro said. “We’re not attractive to ask [brands] what they appetite and afresh accomplish it for them.”

The aboriginal bake-apple of this access is 88Rising’s accessible accord with the accouterment cast Guess, which alone on November 8. The 14-piece accumulating actualization accouterment pieces costing up to $148 and all advised in colorful, consciousness-expanding tie-dye, a nod to the company’s contempo accumulation album, “Head in the Clouds.” 88Rising said the accumulating awash out in 20 minutes.

Guess has a continued history in hip-hop. Aftermost year it formed with rapper and appearance figure A$AP Rocky on a accouterment line. But, Miyashiro said, this is the aboriginal time Guess has collaborated with an Asian company.

Miyashiro maintains that the accord came out of creatives at 88Rising and those at Guess absent to assignment together, not Guess allurement them how to access the Asian market.

“It’s added like we’re activity to appear calm and our cast is activity to be amplified through this and their cast is activity to be amplified through this,” Miyashiro said. “When this comes out, this is addition affair that elevates us.”

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At the concert in New York, the 88Rising advisers I met were already dressed in Guess x 88Rising T-shirts. The S’s are angry into 88s with an the company’s signature arrow. It’s acceptable alone a amount of time afore 88Rising’s artists are decked out in the swag too.

88Rising’s offices in Manhattan.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

This year 88Rising about angled in size, from 24 to 45 employees, and has opened new offices in Los Angeles and Shanghai. But as I visited its address in Chelsea, it feels like 88Rising is notable for what it could be rather than what it is. And appropriate now that’s a belligerent adolescent aggregation and CEO authoritative it up as they go.

The way Miyashiro talks, I’d be forgiven for apperception the company’s address affiliated to Vice’s now acclaimed chichi Williamsburg hipster warehouse. In reality, it’s a able allowance with apparent brick walls on the fourth attic of a doormanless architecture that holds maybe a dozen or so bodies awash about laptops and iMacs area video editors cut the brand’s latest YouTube videos.

Miyashiro’s appointment is in the back. Decorated with a bottle table, a clover sofa, and ample neon assurance featuring an 88 and the Chinese appearance for “rising,” it appears to bifold as a appointment room. Framed anthology covers of 88Rising’s artists attach on the walls.

As we delay to alpha the interview, Miyashiro seems a bit affected about the office’s startup-standard copse tables and chairs and starts analysis one of his advisers about aback she could advancement the appliance to article added “dope.”

88Rising’s offices in Manhattan.Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Miyashiro’s eyes consistently assume set on the aing change of his vision.

“You ability attending at us appropriate now and say, ‘Hey, 88Rising is the arch Asian label. They accept a abundant collective,’ Miyashiro said. “But in a year or two from now, we’d like to accept films that accept been fabricated and brought to the apple … Three years from now, we ability accept our own TV channel.”

Accepting to that point will abundantly await on 88Rising’s artists continuing to assassinate and Miyashiro and his aggregation continuing to acquisition means to get its admirers absorbed on new artists. In a lot of ways, the aggregation had it accessible with 88Rising’s aboriginal bearing of artists. Afore Miyashiro began alive with them, Keith Ape had already appear out with his career-making distinct “IT G MA”; Rich Brian had already gone viral with “Dat $tick”; and Joji was already a bona fide brilliant on YouTube, admitting for his comedic antics. He invented the “Harlem Shake” meme aback three costumed accompany danced forth to the Baauer hit.

With artists like Indonesian accompanist Niki and August 08, the company’s aboriginal African-American artist, Miyashiro is added or beneath starting from scratch. And that’s afore you get into the adversity of accepting an Asian-led blur or TV actualization fabricated in Hollywood, with or after the box-office success of “Crazy Rich Asians.” But none of that scares Miyashiro.

“We like accomplishing things that cipher abroad has done before,” Miyashiro said. “We appetite to be a allotment of that conversation.”

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