“Jake! Jake! Jake! Jake!”
The pulsing 88rising logo on the screen at the back of the stage cast a neon blue glow over the upturned faces of the chanting crowd. All eyes were fixed upon the figure at stage center. Cheers rang out from all corners of the venue and several voices demanded an encore as Jake—the maintenance guy—finished his last check of the stage.
A loud voice yelled out: “You’re doing amazing sweetie!”
It would be no exaggeration to say that the crowds of people gathered at the Aragon Ballroom for the Chicago stop of 88rising’s “88 Degrees and Rising” tour were wildly enthusiastic.
Founded in 2015, 88rising is a mass media collective focused on producing and marketing music. It has become increasingly popular due to the innovative style of music it promotes and its group of primarily Asian artists. Featuring popular names such as Joji, Rich Brian (formerly Rich Chigga), Keith Ape, Higher Brothers, and Niki to less familiar ones like August 08, Kohh, and Sen Morimoto, there is no doubt that 88rising has made itself known in the hip-hop world. Their thirst for success and talent was made abundantly clear at their concert in Chicago on October 14.
Opening their performances was Sen Morimoto. Though relatively new to the scene, he knew how to animate the crowd. People screamed when, during a break between rap sections, he started playing the saxophone, an instrument more common in jazz than hip-hop. Morimoto performed several songs, ending with “People Watching,” which discusses paranoia and the fear of judgment—a relatable topic and an infectious tune.
The temperature in the venue turned up when August 08 performed several songs from among the crowd, followed by a red, pulsing spotlight. His slower, more rhythmic songs, such as “Lately” and “Missed Calls,” kept the momentum going. Next was a performance from Japanese artist Kohh, whose music leaned more in the direction of heavy metal. It received a mixed response. Though some did not appreciate the speedy rapping, screeching guitars, and strobing lights, Kohh inarguably kept the overall mood in the room on a continual upswing.
Then it was time for Niki’s performance. In quick succession, she ruled the crowd with hit after hit, from “Vintage,” “I Like U,” and “La Cienega” to her new single “Warpaint.” She held the crowd in suspense during the self-empowerment anthem when the backing-track faded with the lyrics “Keep my head high, I’ll survive,” only to turn back up at the drop of the chorus.
Next up were Higher Brothers. Hailing from Chengdu, China, many of their songs had either Mandarin or Sichuanese lyrics, a fact that in no way hindered their fans from yelling along with the lyrics. Giving the crowd no time to catch its breath, the Higher Brothers built anticipation with songs like “Isabellae” and “7-11,” before finally leading up to their ultimate hit “Made in China.”
Joji’s highly anticipated performance came next. Lit under the spotlights and doused in a light mist, Joji, his deep voice resonating with the heavy bass, turned the ballroom into an alternative universe. His songs, more melodic and laidback than those of the Higher Brothers, did not dampen the mood. He ended his performance with a rendition of his crowd-pleasing new single, “Slow Dancing in the Dark.”
Last up was Rich Brian. The 19-year-old Indonesian rapper, producer, and songwriter has become a well-known figure in the hip-hop world since his debut single “Dat $tick” went viral in 2016. Performing hits such as “Cold,” “Amen,” and “Arizona” from his 2018 debut album, Amen, he had a frenetic energy. During several points of Rich Brian’s performance, the screen on the stage showed large photos of him. Weird under any other circumstance, this expression of self-love added just the right amount of eccentricity and hilarity to his performance.
Finally, all the 88rising artists came up onto the stage for the finale. Performing their collaborative single “Midsummer Madness,” they led the crowd to a final grand chorus, bringing the energy inside the ballroom to its exceptional climax.
With their dynamic stage presence, relatable lyrics, and unique sound bringing together music styles from the East and West, 88rising electrified the night.