5 Up & Coming AAPI Musicians to Add to Your Playlist Immediately

The current rising of multi-talented Asian diaspora – or people who have immigrated outside of their ancestral homeland – artists is note-worthy in all ways, given the historical lack of Asian artists in film and on the radio. This history has made it difficult for others to believe that those of Asian ancestry have the capacity to thrive in creative settings, and that lack of representation also detrimentally affects the self-perception of many hopeful Asian artists. It contributes to a “self-fulfilling” prophecy of Asian Americans unable to envision themselves going into the arts, therefore leading to less representation in the arts (as opposed to white-collar jobs), which then contributes to the model minority myth. 

A model minority is a demographic group whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average. This success is usually measured by income, education level, family stability and low criminality. However, in 2018, the PEW Research Center found that income inequality was rising fastest among Asian Americans. Median household income varies widely among Asian origin groups in the United States; Indian households earn a median annual household income of $119k, while Chinese earn $82k, Vietnamese earn $70k, and the lowest, Burmese, earn $44k. 25% of Mongolian Americans live in poverty, showing that the Asian community is vast, as opposed to a monolith. Asian American artists, too, are of great variety, diving into all kinds of genres of music like R&B, Pop, Jazz, indie, folk, and more. 

However, times are changing, and we are seeing more folks of Asian heritage come onto the scene with powerful vocals, multi-instrumental backgrounds, and the flair of individual artistry; they are forces to be reckoned with. It’s important to recognize that while these artists represent the Asian diaspora and what people of color are capable of, they are also more than their race or ethnicity. Their talent and skill make them not only awe-inspiring Asian artists, but simply artists – in every definition of the word. 

To celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month, here is a list of five Asian up-and-coming musicians that you should already be listening to, and their thoughts on what it means to be Asian in the music industry right now. 

  1. 1. Wilchai

    Wilchai, a half Chinese, NYC-based music producer, recently released the song “Deluge” this past spring. It's a soft and melodic song that reflects on the contrasting nature between memories and selfhood. Wilchai told Beyond the Stage that she often recalled memories from her childhood, but that many of them were rewritten in her head each time she thought about them. Like a flood that inundates everything, washing away all of the most prominent markers of your previous existence, the current self finds itself navigating a strangely unfamiliar place. Wilchai also stated that "Deluge" was a homage to her late grandmother from Hong Kong, someone who has a large place in her memory.

    Wilchai tells Her Campus, “My music has always been a conduit for connection with other people, and my experience as an Asian American woman has undeniably informed these relationships along with the way I view the world. I'm proud to be Asian American, but also very cognizant of the fact that there are a slew of stereotypes attributed to the Asian experience that can cause people to categorize our artistic expression into homogeneous genres of themes of hardship and struggle. In the face of the rise of hate crimes against Asian people in America, I feel a responsibility to create art that reflects the wide range of the Asian American experience — and doing that by writing about things that are true to my individual journey and not only what characteristics people might attribute to me because I'm Asian.”

  2. Hailing from the South Bay, Chow Mane is bringing colorful, infectious lyrics and beats to the California music scene. Chow Mane is a first generation Asian American (Chinese and Vietnamese), who's currently producing music in SoCal. Chow Mane has gained a loyal fanbase for his representation of the San Jose music scene, as well as shedding light on the challenges he faced growing up in a low-income Asian American household. 

    As a rapper, he has undeniable flow — talent that cannot be constrained or confined to just being “good for an Asian rapper.” Chow Mane certainly has the qualities necessary to take the industry by storm, perhaps best exhibited in his songs “Sorry” and “San Jose.” 

    He's collaborated with other well known rappers such as Guapdad 4000 on the song "ICEJJFISH," which was released on Chow Mane’s album South Bay Summer. More recently, he created an entertainment label known as FIVE SPICE with @wesdaboy and @sawhee_415

    Chow Mane tells Her Campus, “I think it's a good time right now for Asian Americans to express their individuality and tell their stories, as we don't have to rely on mainstream media and can build our own ground up platforms. It's more important than ever to connect with our own communities and make sure our stories are told across others, to promote understanding.”

  3. With a voice like satin and a knack for catchy, yet heartfelt lyrics about love and life, Dom McAllister is just one step away from taking the world by storm. He's released music since 2016, starting with “In Time.” More recently, McAlllister released the mixtape Low on a Wave, a complete set of his most vocally stunning songs. "MG" by Izzy Bizu, an infectiously feel good single from 2020, also featured McAllister. Listen to any of McAllister’s stripped covers (such as Sinner’s Suicide by Jungleboi) and you'll be blown away — guaranteed. 

    McAllister is half Filipino, half Scottish, and queer, with a discography representative of the challenges of life that he's navigated through. 

    McAllister tells Her Campus, “This [is] the first time I get to speak on what it means to be Asian and working in today's music industry. Growing up, I never really thought about being a person of colour and the impact it could have on myself and others, just by being present and representing alongside artists like myself. As I got older, it created a lot of self doubt about whether I can achieve what I want, because I didn’t see a lot of representation.

    “I’m also half white, and my Scottish name would look great on paper to a head executive. I definitely recognise that it’s a privilege, as we live in a white man's world. But most people just take one look at me and only see my Filipino heritage. So it has definitely been an elephant in the room in the past whether major labels think I’m marketable enough for the UK. However, I’ve always been proud of both sides of my background, and I wouldn’t change anything.

    “It’s important to be proud of every single part of me, because supporters have reached out and said they love seeing someone like them do exactly what I’m meant to do. It gives me hope that anything is possible by just sticking to what we love. I see it as finally an equal opportunity to really create a platform for ourselves that doesn’t feed into the delusion of only one type of person achieving success. I’m truly excited for what’s next to come whilst I’m working on new music.”

  4. 4. West

    West’s music is charming — although the beats may be complex, the lyrics are often simple and make each song’s meaning easy to understand. They’re perfect for a summer sing along with friends or for relaxing on the beach, thanks to the pure feeling of joy that emanates from each tune. 

    West tells Her Campus, “As an artist in the industry, it’s just an incredibly invigorating time to be making music. Especially seeing a lot of Asian American artists ascend at the same time as me. At the end of the day, it will only ever be about making genuine music, and giving back the inspiration that I received from listening to my favorite artists growing up. 

    “So if I can do that for people, Asian or not, I’m happy. But I've always been very proud of my heritage and people, and I think it’s cool seeing the mainstream music industry shift towards not highlighting Asian artists’ ethnicities, but instead just focusing on their talent and music. A lot of minorities just want inclusion and acceptance, and that starts with treating everyone the same. 

    “If some young Asian kid can listen to my music, have something to relate to and be like, ‘That guy looks like me, so I must be able to do it,’ I'll have achieved my goal of providing something that I didn’t have growing up.”

  5. Perfect for a late night kickback or a post-pandemic party, Luis Villanueva’s music feels fluid and lo-fi, with vocals that often carry the listener to another realm cast in moonlight. The bass of each track keeps you grounded, but the vocals of artists Villanueva strategically features helps the reader feel like they’re floating in the ocean. Like medicine, the two songs “HOW ABOUT NO” and “Cloud 9” are must-hears, perfect to play at night to recover from a hectic day. 

    Villanueva tells Her Campus, “For me, an international Asian student in the US, working in this industry can be both incredibly challenging and rewarding. Many AAPI artists and I celebrate our identities despite some of the barriers, stereotypes, and stigma we may face.”

These are some of current favorite up and coming Asian musicians, but you can check out even more on the Spotify playlist Asian (Diaspora) Up and Coming Musicians.