Asians and Their Prominent Representation in Contemporary R&B

By: Michael Kevin |

Rhythm and Blues, or commonly known as RnB, is one of the genres of popular music that originated in the African-American communities between the 1940s and 1950s, with the music emphasizing the usage of heavy beats on jazz music. The genre symbolizes joy and freedom for the African-American people and tackles issues of ups and downs of an array of aspects, mostly about economics, relationships, and their vocal aspirations as people of color. The genre later emerged into contemporary R&B, with the amalgamation of hip-hop inspired songs, and became more known among American youth, with artists such as R. Kelly, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Whitney Houston becoming popular during the era.

Currently, the genre dominated the charts with artists such as SZA, Ella Mai, H.E.R, Khalid, Usher, and many more, with increasing numbers of streams in multiple music streaming apps such as Spotify and Apple Music, making R&B one of the most popular genres in the past few years or so. At the same time, artists of Asian descent are starting to make scenes into the R&B genre, such as Joji, NIKI, Yuna, Raveena and other artists who have built a devoted fanbase in recent times. Although the Asian representation of the genre is considerably lesser known compared to African-American or even Caucasian representatives, their prominent rise into the scene for the past few years is worth mentioning.

Two of the Asian label and music collective 88rising’s rosters, Joji and NIKI, experienced major success for the past couple of years, garnering millions of streams for both of the artists. Nicole Zefanya, known as NIKI, had built a career back in her home country of Indonesia, releasing a few singles independently, before joining 88rising following the footsteps of her fellow Indonesian, rapper Brian Imanuel or rather known as Rich Brian. It was during the time she first joined 88rising that her career boosted into another level, releasing a few hit singles, a full length album titled Zephyr, and recently an extended play titled wanna take this downtown under the stage name NIKI, receiving generally favourable reviews from both critics and fans alike.

While NIKI’s fellow 88rising compatriot, George Miller, also known as Joji, is also having a successful career with 88rising, Miller has had a modest following from his previous career as a YouTube comedic persona, Filthy Frank and Pink Guy, before eventually retiring from his YouTube channel to focus on his music career. Before joining 88rising, Miller released a project titled Chloe Burbank: Volume 1 back in 2017 on his Soundcloud account, and also released a full length album under the Pink Guy moniker titled Pink Seasons in the same year. During his time at 88rising, he has released a couple singles, an extended play titled In Tongues at the end of 2017, and a debut full length album titled Ballads 1 the year after. Ballads 1 received major praise from fans and critics and was a commercial success, reaching number 3 at the Billboard 200 charts and topping the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts.

Malaysian singer Yuna might be a familiar name among R&B listeners and enthusiasts, but her significant breakthrough from a local indie sweetheart to one of the prominent stars in R&B is something worth mentioning. Starting her music career doing covers on MySpace a decade ago, she built a decent amount of following from the platform and started to become known in her home country of Malaysia, winning a few awards in the country before signing a record deal with New York-based label, Fader Label in 2011. She then released four full length albums internationally, collaborating with some of the renowned RnB/Hip-Hop artists such as Usher, G-Eazy, Tyler, the Creator, Jhene Aiko, Jay Park, and Pharrell Williams who helped produced one of Yuna’s singles titled Live Your Life. She also performed at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza back in 2012 and also multiple late night shows in the United States, gaining a few accolades and praises from music critics and fans throughout her music career. She has recently released her third full length album titled Rouge earlier this July.

Although not really a household artist in the genre, Indian-American singer Raveena Aurora, known by her stage name Raveena, has her own unique approach to the contemporary R&B. The Brooklyn-based artist combined the genre with her South Asian influence thanks to her Indian roots inherited from her parents, who were immigrants who entered the United States during the 1990’s, resulting in a unique sound of lush and atmospheric sound of RnB which has been conveyed on the release of Raveena’s debut full length album earlier this year titled Lucid. The album consists of songs with positive subliminal messages themed around her Indian heritage, sexuality, and womanhood, with a sense of positivity and empowerment throughout the whole album. The vibes she brought out through her songs have been positively received in general, and fans and music enthusiasts have been genuinely excited for Raveena in the foreseeable future.

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