88rising’s “Head in the Clouds II” Album Review

By: Leanne Yuen

Photo Courtesy of: 88rising

Asia-centric collective 88rising released a dynamic, cross-genre album titled “Head in the Clouds II” on Oct. 11. The 16-track collection is 88rising’s second album, released a year after their 2018 debut compilation “Head in the Clouds.” 

“Head in the Clouds II” is a true collaborative effort, pulling in the talents from many artists of Asian descent. Japanese-Australian singer, songwriter and rapper Joji served as executive producer and contributed vocals to three tracks. Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama designed the album cover and released a special line of merchandise with 88rising to promote the album. Niki and Rich Brian, both 20-year-old Indonesian singers whose careers took off while under 88rising’s label, wrote and performed on multiple songs. 

Non-Asian contributors include Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, Jamaican-American DJ trio Major Lazer and LA-based producer Barney Bones. The diversity of artists gives the album a more well-rounded feel as each artist’s respective influences fuse together to defy boundaries of genre and ethnicity.

The album kicks off with “These Nights,” an ‘80s pop-reminiscent duet featuring Rich Brian and Korean singer Chung Ha. Rich Brian’s typical baritone voice becomes melodic, airy  and slightly auto-tuned, but it strengthens the song’s nighttime car-ride vibe. Chung Ha laces Korean lines in with her English ones. Intermixing Asian languages with English is common in 88rising songs and the practice is one of the company’s fortes. It replicates many Asian-Americans’ experiences of being familiar with both English and their native tongue and brings authenticity as the artists perform in their first language. 

The album segues from R&B into hip-hop with the fourth song, “Tequila Sunrise.” The collaboration features a diverse arsenal of rappers: Hong Konger Jackson Wang, Chinese MaSiWei and DZknow as well as Americans August08 and Goldlink. It’s a laid-back, casually romantic anthem featuring two rap verses in Mandarin. Rapping in Chinese is not a new practice, but the song does help redefine the linguistic boundaries of rap. The rapping itself is catchy and well-executed, showing skill on the part of MaSiWei and DZknow, but for this reason it does raise questions of cultural appropriation.

“Walking” is another star-studded collaboration, corralling four artists from four different genres ⁠— R&B’s Joji, K-pop’s Jackson Wang, hip-hop’s Swae Lee, EDM’s Major Lazer ⁠— to produce a melodic, intimate bop with standout funkiness. Major Lazer produced the song’s backing track, providing the overall synth-pop feel. The three vocalists contribute their own signature styles to solidify “Walking.” Although Swae Lee’s solos fell somewhat flat, he has proven in songs such as “Hopeless Romantic” and “Sunflower” that his voice is capable of so much more.

The most popular track is Niki’s “Indigo,” with over 24 million Spotify plays. The poppy R&B song was the album’s first promotional single, it speaks about the joys of romance and weed. It serves as a solid embodiment of the overall album, possessing the contemporary and light-hearted energy that runs throughout the entire collection.

A celebration of youth and diversity, “Head in the Clouds II” showcases the exemplary talents of 88rising, bringing positive Asian representation into pop culture.