88rising, a passion project born on the roof of a Bronx parking garage, made its name as a viral hit maker and has since transformed into a culture-shaping artist collective. Since its launch in 2015, the Asian-focused entertainment company and record label has been bridging the gap between Eastern and Western pop culture and catapulting Asian artists into international superstardom. For founder Sean Miyashiro, luck, hustle and having the singular mission to “celebrate Asian creators from around the world” have all been essential elements of success.
Wearing a gray 88rising hoodie (the 88 means “double happiness” in Chinese), Miyashiro, who is of Japanese and Korean descent, has always loved music. “My parents thought I was weird because I would sit next to the speaker all day long just replaying the same Beach Boys songs,” he says, laughing.
By age 20, he was managing three nightclubs and throwing underground raves. After helping Vice establish its electronic music site Thump, the Bay Area native was in search of his next project when a fateful dinner with friends paved the way for his entrepreneurial journey.
“I looked around the table and every single person was really good at what they did, whether it be an amazing visual artist, or illustrator, or a musician, or a director,” he says. “That’s when I started formulating this concept of a digital content hub with these cool Asian creatives and building a brand that exuded that.”
Miyashiro’s vision has taken shape over the past six years, and the label now represents formidable artists from around the globe, including Japanese singer-songwriter Joji, Indonesian viral rap star Rich Brian, Indonesian R&B songstress NIKI, South Korean rapper Keith Ape and Chinese hip-hop group Higher Brothers.
“I think we did inspire a new way of thinking that anything could be achievable if the quality is good and if you as a creative have a distinct point of view.”
88rising’s YouTube channel has racked up more than 2.2 billion views to date. Its inaugural music festival, Head in the Clouds, was held in Los Angeles in 2018 and pulled in more than 10,000 fans. More than 20,000 people attended the event the following year. Last December, the company partnered with SiriusXM to launch 88rising Radio—the first all-Asian, multi-genre music radio channel available across the U.S.
The label has also resumed planning for its highly anticipated takeover at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (rescheduled for April 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). In addition to individual sets, its roster is expected to come together for “88rising Double Happiness,” a group performance on the label’s dedicated stage.
Outside of K-pop groups, it’s been traditionally difficult for musicians in the East to cross over into Western markets. What 88rising has accomplished, giving a platform to scrappy, DIY-inclined Asian artists in hip-hop and R&B—genres where they haven’t received as much attention before—makes the company’s rise to the top even more groundbreaking.
“After we started, there are so many different independent Asian artists getting really big on their own,” Miyashiro notes. “I think we did inspire a new way of thinking that anything could be achievable if the quality is good and if you as a creative have a distinct point of view.”
As a first-time entrepreneur, Miyashiro attributes his success to hiring people whose business acumen complements his creativity. “You’re going to battle whenever you’re in business, and so you’ve got to have a lieutenant general, you have to have all the right people in place to win,” he says. He adds that it’s important to establish the operations and ensure the financial practice is sound so the talent “can do what they were born to do.”
As the media company continues to evolve by exploring projects in film, television and beyond, Miyashiro is eager to dream even bigger. He says finding values-aligned partners has been key: “East West Bank has been super supportive since day one by providing financial fluidity.”
The bank’s expertise in cross-border financing has been a distinct advantage for a company whose cross-border projects have cemented its global influence.
“I’ve seen East West Bank throughout my whole life (in 99 Ranch supermarkets)—it’s part of my Asian American experience,” Miyashiro says. “It’s all about the familiarity, the connectivity between our companies’ missions.”
With K-pop band BTS consistently topping both global and U.S. charts, and Jon Chu’s all-Asian “Crazy Rich Asians” becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy in nearly a decade after the film’s 2018 release, Miyashiro recognizes that Asian representation in pop culture is at “an all-time high.” What’s also clear is how this progress is now juxtaposed against a sharp rise in anti-Asian attacks and hate during the pandemic. Being at the helm of a company that “strives to give platform to Asian faces in the arts,” Miyashiro feels an urgency to support the community by doing what he knows best—putting out music and giving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) a public platform to voice their views.
For AAPI Heritage Month, 88rising launched new programming, partnering with Asian celebrities such as Daniel Dae Kim, Ali Wong and Harry Shum to dedicate songs on its SiriusXM channel. They also produced a speaker series featuring conversations with AAPI leaders from various industries exploring the Asian American experience.
“A lot of what has happened really made us look into our history here in this country,” Miyashiro says. “There’s a lot of discourse and dialogue, a lot of education and self-reflection and, hopefully, self-acceptance too.”