88Rising Keeps the Sun Shining on, “Head in the Clouds”
For years now, New York Record Label, 88Rising, has built its brand on content intended to go viral on the internet. Now for their debut compilation, the group takes each members’ unique sounds and transforms them into a series of summer jams perfect for teens to party and make out to.
88Rising has done a marvelous job in recent years of blending contemporary urban music with various Asian cultures. The official roster of artists on the album includes, rapper/singer August 08, Chinese rap group Higher Brothers, former YouTuber and Japanese R&B singer Joji, South Korean rapper Keith Ape, Indonesian R&B singer NIKI, and the label’s viral frontrunner, Rich Brian.
The opener, “La Cienega” with Joji and NIKI sounds like an alternative R&B version of the forever bland soundtrack single, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” by ZAYN and Taylor Swift. Joji’s falsetto feels incredibly hollow and NIKI does not do a lot to save the track. The only positive side to this song is that the instrumental shift on the back end is super luscious and sounds like it would have fit quite nicely on NIKI’s recent EP, “Zephyr.”
“Swimming Pools,” with Higher Brothers and 03 Greedo was a track I was not expecting to like as much as I do, mostly because of Greedo. However, Greedo manages to pull together one of the better features on the album. Him and Higher Brothers compliment each others’ sounds surprisingly well. Of course Greedo’s voice is slathered in auto-tune, but it actually builds to the song’s aesthetic.
“Peach Jam” with Joji and BlocBoy JB was a song I was initially underwhelmed by, but after further listens I’ve come to appreciate just how tongue and cheek and blissful it is. Joji ventures outside his moody safe zone while BlocBoy brings his usual quirky sense of humor in the lyrics.
The main single, “Midsummer Madness” continues to be a beautiful pillowy summer anthem. A smooth party track over soothing guitar arpeggios with a tasteful hip-hop beat to give it a little bit of extra punch. Joji sounds more passionate than ever, especially with his ascending falsetto hook. Rich Brian, August 08 and Higher Brothers keep the vibe consistent with their youthful party-oriented bars.
“Plans,” with NIKI and Vory is not one of my favorite NIKI songs although Vory’s appearance does manage to be a high point on the album sounding like a cleaner Ty Dolla Sign.
“History” with Rich Brian feels like a nostalgic trip regardless of your previous life experiences. The woodwind instrumental over a trap beat is a lofi hip-hop masterpiece. Brian regurgitates his typical flows, but he does show a bit more melody than usual.
“Lover Boy 88” is a serene guitar ballad with Phum Viphurit and Higher Brothers. Viphurit sounds smooth as hell although does sound like he is merely doing his best Frank Sinatra impression over a K-pop instrumental. This is actually one of two songs on the album that is actually a previously song with just 88Rising artists featured on it, the other being “Japan 88” with Famous Dex, Keith Ape and Verbal which was originally a Dex song. Both tracks are good in that they fit well into the vibe of the record although it is questionable whether the simple addition of 88Rising artists justifies a new rendition of these respective songs.
I love the synths on “Poolside Manor” with NIKI and August 08. Unfortunately, neither of their voices really do anything for me. Of course they both have a great deal of chemistry, but their respective vocal performances feel average when compared to what they’re capable of.
One of the only true blue trap bangers, “Beam” with Playboi Carti and Rich Brian could have fit snuggly into Carti’s last album, “Die Lit.” Carti’s ear grabbing repetition over this dreary psychedelic instrumental is a heavenly experience. Brian spits a flow that blends well with his and Carti’s style.
August 08 has his wildest performance on “Disrespectin,” which in all honesty is not saying a lot, but it is entertaining regardless. Rich Brian spits his most cold-blooded verse on the compilation over this cartoonishly ridiculous instrumental that plays right into Brian’s quirky personality.
NIKI’s “Warpaint” is fine enough on the verses, but as soon as it explodes into the chorus, it instantly becomes a generic overblown self-empowerment ballad. It sounds like something that would be played on an adult contemporary radio station in between “Roar” and “Fight Song.”
“Nothing Wrong” with Higher Brothers and Goldlink is interesting in the way Goldlink’s influence allows the instrumental to have a much more hip-house flavor. Other than that, however, the song fails to leave any other kind of impression.
The album’s closer, “Head in the Clouds” is underwhelming to say the least. It had potential, but the instrumental was not as enveloping as I would have hoped. In the end, Joji’s performance is not bad, but he does sound overly exposed.
“Head in the Clouds” is the perfect testament to vast amount of potential from every artist on the label. While there is plenty of room for improvement, 88Rising has proven themselves capable of maintaining long term success while producing art just as legitimate as more mainstream labels. The biggest downfall of the project was simply there were too many unnecessary tracks. Had a few songs been left on the cutting room floor, then the record would have significantly improved. Regardless, the album manages to keep a consistent style while simultaneously showing off the diverse array of talent.
Favorite songs: “Midsummer Madness,” “History,” “Japan 88,” “Beam,” “Lover Boy 88” “Disrespectin,” “Peach Jam”
Least favorite song: “La Cienega”
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