As artists have become more visible and accessible in recent years, the full scope of musicians’ artistry has become more clear for listeners. No longer is music the sole attraction; the complete picture of a creator makes them more interesting now than ever before. All of the dimensions of an artist are on full display: their inspirations, their record label, their music taste, their personal goals. What can sometimes be overlooked is the origin of the person holding the microphone and the culture that made them into the creative we appreciate. In the most diverse era of music we’ve ever seen, acknowledging the cultures and heritage that developed our favorite artists is incredibly important. Although AAPI Heritage Month is now over, we have compiled a list of artists who have been shaped within this particular community that you should listen to all year long.
To open our list, here is a statement from Austin Thach, publicist at The Forefront Group for artists including thuy and Blxst;
“The music industry needs more AAPI representatives, we deserve to be in these rooms. AAPI members are underrepresented and we're often looked as if we're hard workers but not great leaders. I've been fortunate enough to work with some of the greatest and lead teams. There's still a lot of work to be done when it comes to Asian representation across the board, from film, tv, and music. There definitely has been an increase in recent years. There are many AAPI artists that we may not know that have risen to Billboard charts such as Bruno Mars, Tyga, Aderson .Paak, H.E.R., and Saweetie.”
Boyu is a finance bro-turned-dream chaser with insightful lyricism and gentle vocals that have earned him a spot among indie pop’s most innovative emerging talent. Themes in Boyu’s music are often centered on coming-of-age commentary about romance and big city life. Among his music chops include a background of training in classical piano as well as drums, guitar and songwriting.
The Hu is a Mongolian Rock band making waves all across the United States. With long hair and clothing in traditional Mongolian style, the quartet put on a striking display and unique show that is appealing to the masses. Playing traditional instruments, the rock music sounds guttural, earthy and surreal to untrained ears. Unlike anything else out right now, The Hu have been taking on major stages at festivals like Outside Lands and Coachella and are named as one of Rock and Metal’s most innovative bands.
Currently opening for Omar Apollo’s desvelado tour Deb Never is both an asian and queer music icon. Deb Never’s effortless skater-girl style is compounded by the aloof, if not elusive, air about her. Deb’s music is a mix of soft rock and indie-hip-hop, really creating a lane that is true to her.
Xelli Island is a dreamy bedroom pop artist that weaves playful synths and tropical beats into her ethereal music. Xelli is the kind of artist I would expect to perform in a back-bar speakeasy with lots of rugs and incense. On a larger scale, Xelli Island’s music has endless remix potential in the electronic realm. Recently Xelli wrote a peice on her Phillipina roots and her experience in the Hollywood music scene.
True to her Bay Area roots, thuy’s vocals are laid back and charismatic, pairing nicely with her swift pen displayed in her songwriting. While the place she calls home has a recognizable influence on her work, it is also her Vietnamese heritage that rounds out her identity and journey within music. “I think growing up, because I didn’t really see anybody that looked like me in media, I never thought it was a career choice,” she told NBC Bay Area last year, acknowledging her nonlinear path in the music industry. “I definitely want to pave a way…where there’s more representation of Asian Americans in the music industry in general. I’m not an anomaly.” Inspiring with both her talent and empowering mindset, thuy has become an artist worth celebrating.
While the internet stars-turned-musician pipeline has been growing into a cliché recently, Wolftyla is an artist who supersedes the trope with her demonstrated passion and merit within music. Her comedic presence of Vine helped her accumulate a fan base appreciative of her personality, which then developed into a keen audience for Wolftyla to launch her music career. Debuting in 2015, she has built a career most artists would envy: she’s received tens of millions of views on her music videos, co-produced songs with Timbaland, and performed with PARTYNEXTDOOR. Inheriting a Korean background, she has found support in the AAPI community from BTS member V and BLACKPINK’s Rosé, who both sing her praises. A true multidimensionalist, Wolftyla has something for anyone willing to invest time in her work.
– Kieran Kohorst
Having risen to fame in the last three years, Maia (professionally known as mxmtoon) steadily built a following founded upon her truthful and relatable storytelling. Like many young adults, she’s always lived her life somewhat online. From an attempted vlogging channel to a short-lived cartoonist career, she struck gold with her third, and most recent endeavor, when she started posting covers, as well as original songs, online. Now three years into her professional career and having recently released her sixth studio album, mxmtoon continues to provide good pop tunes representative of her life as well as her fanbase. As a member of both the LGBTQ+ and the Asian American community, she strives to give visibility and offer relatable music to her listeners. And as expected, she does so beautifully.
When making a refreshing and sunny summer playlist, Yoshi T. is the musician you need. The Japanese-American multidisciplinary has been making his rounds in the underground scene and is finally ready to shine through the cracks right onto your daily mix. His sound, a well calculated and feel-good combination of hip-hop, pop and neo-soul, is sure to bring light to your day. Along with his steady journey up the ladder, Yoshi’s latest EP, which he describes as a “summer baby” is due June 8th. So I would definitely recommend checking out his previous singles – including “MCQUEEN” to hype yourself up for the big day.
– Olive Soki
Rich Brian is one of my favorite rappers and he didn’t even speak English 10 years ago. From casually recording tracks like “Dat $tick'' back in Indonesia to living in L.A. making a wildly successful career out of his music, Rich Brian found a way to beat the odds and live his dream. This dude learned English through YouTube videos and quickly went on to write songs that ended up in Marvel movie soundtracks. He’s a relatable personality and artist who can make you smile, laugh, and cry… sometimes all in the same song. That’s why “Flight,” a track about leaving home and taking a leap of faith, is one of my favorites. Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean.
– Nate Rummel
Singer Estée Evangeline, professionally known as estée, is a fresh face that you should have on your radar. estée, who is 20 years old and based in Adelaide, Australia, creates a euphonic and beautiful mix of soft pop and R&B music. Her extremely angelic voice makes for some very soothing and comforting music that is reminiscent of Ariana Grande in the best way possible. Throughout 2021, she put out her most popular release, be my somebody new, and her most recent release, twenty eight. I’d definitely recommend combing through her discography and keeping your eyes open for what’s to come from her next!
– Teddy Tran
French-Korean-American artist spill tab has become one of my favorite artists across the last year. From being Gus Dapperton’s merch manager on his 2019 tour to releasing her stunning 2021 sophomore EP Bonnie with him on it, she has seen quite the meteoric rise across the last two years and shows no signs of slowing down. Her first release of the year, “Sunburn,” saw her delve into a new style, partnering with Solomonophonic for two minutes of fun chaos. She followed this up with what is undoubtedly a top song of the year with the alt-rock sensation “Splinter,” that no matter how many times you listen just never gets old. A project is expected to come from spill tab later this year, and it will certainly be a can’t-miss.
– Freddie Fine