In a time when right wing manbabies are causing IRL borders to become more restrictive, URL borders are essentially non-existence, worldwide musical notoriety is no longer limited to a select few countries.
With the support of 88rising, who are skilled at making number generating moves for their artist, a plethora of Asian artist have seen their notoriety continually rise, where they can sit comfortable with the upper echelons of raps’s new school. With the duality between Joji’s sensitive melancholy and Filthy Frank’s trashy shock comedy making him a fascinating interviewee, Yeaji’s collecting accolades as house’s most exciting new voice and Rich Brian comedic abilities allowing him to create viral moments to entice millennials. It’s only a matter of time before Higher Brothers’ can sit alongside the rest of the 88rising gang, and freshly released EP ‘Journey To The West’ is the first step.
It’s certainly the perfect time for the quartet to truly conquer another market, as China’s government has just enforced bullshit restrictions to keep hip hop culture off tv, surely a major roadblock in the ascent of Higher Brothers’ career in their home country, and especially tragic given member MaSiWei’s recent starring role in a Chinese sprite advertisement.
Fortunately, the four songs on Journey To The West – an EP created to complement their upcoming American tour – feel incredibly tailored, as the ep title gives away, to the West, particularly the healthy SoundCloud rap movement. It’s a major step away from the sleek, anthemic trap flavour of Black Cab, it’s all grittier, messier and, subsequently, more relevant to the current climate. Usually you could expect Higher Brothers’ wit about their home country – whether proudly patriotic or highly critical – shined through the obvious language barrier, but now they’ve more in line with the lyrical subjects that are atypical of today, tracks like ‘Rich Bitch’ instead pluck for repeated mantras like “I wanna witch, rich, bitch.” The production also falls in line, it’s both weird and confrontational, with ‘Chanel’ and ‘Room Service’ heavy on the blown out bass and wild unpredictability that allowed the likes of XXXTentacion to win over fans with ‘Look at Me.’
As we’ve mentioned before, 88rising are skilled at bringing together Eastern and Western rappers, its been far more beneficial to Keith Ape’s career to be seen with Ski Mask The Slump God instead of A$AP Ferg, and they’re certainly trying to replicate that success with Higher Brothers. Ski Mask appears on half the EP’s tracks and his musical influence is omnipresent – he definitely lends a stamp of SoundCloud authenticity, boost the chaotic flavour and will surely bring a legion of fans on side. However, Higher Brothers, and the 88rising crew in general, should be a bit choosier with collaborators, Famous Dex and XXXTentacion, who collaborated with various members of 88rising, has a disturbing, well documented assault charges behind them. Without a notable social media presence, much of which is banned in China, the members of Higher Brothers could plead exemption from questioning and perhaps even awareness of these problematic rappers, but there’s a still a danger of them getting caught up in the increasing backlash, which is potentially harmful to their growth in the west.
One particularly striking aspect of the EP is the rapping abilities, nobodies slacking, with many of the group’s strongest performances found here – barring the straight fire of DZ’s ‘Made In China’ verse, of course. With the west in their sights, English is implemented for more frequently, and is far less clunky in execution. Mandarin is still the definitive tongue, however, they’re certainly aware the audience they’re targeting, who frequently make it obvious that lyricism is bottom in priorities, is unchallenged by language barrier, as long as they get those bangers. As an all-round more collaborative effort, the rappers jump in and out of each other’s verses, it’s makes for a far more thrilling experience, as the individual personalities become more defined. Brockhampton is beloved partially because anybody could easily find your favourite rapper within the disparate personalities and it’s a similar feeling with Higher Brothers (incidentally China’s best boyband) due to Psy P’s cocky charisma, Melo’s raw defiance, MaSiWei’s mastery of cool catchiness and DZ playing defiant wildcard. Ultimately Journey To The West is a group fully realising how essential their individual roles are to the groups sound.
When you consider a vast number of new rappers who are now adored in hip hop’s mainstream bubble, like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Pump, came up there on SoundCloud, it’s an incredibly smart move for Higher Brothers to infiltrate the platform’s underground first, before targeting greater heights.