LiFTED LiSTS: Best of 2023
The last 365 days have been filled with amazing shows & celebrations
Remember those low days of 2020, 2021, and 2022 when you could die just from going outside to a party? And not in a fun way. In 2023, those days are finally [fingers crossed] behind us and everything is fully back 100 percent. Concerts, festivals, live shows, theater, and sports were all well-attended in 2023, and the feeling of community in the music industry has returned.
With the Best of 2023, LiFTED is taking a moment to appreciate all the goodness that happened over the past 365 days from Rolling Loud hitting Asia for the first time to Indian Hip Hop finally getting its due to Hip Hop legends playing in Hong Kong to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop. It’s been a glorious 2023 as Asian Hip Hop keeps getting elevated.
ROLLING LOUD THAILAND
In 2019, Rolling Loud announced it was coming to Hong Kong with Migos and Wiz Khalifa as headliners and about 10 acts per day for the two-day festival. This was massive news as it would be the first time Rolling Loud would be hitting Asia. With the protests in Hong Kong happening at the time, the concert was canceled and COVID put the kibosh on live shows for a few years.
Asia didn’t get the world’s biggest Hip Hop festival until 2023 when DJ Ono and DJay Buddah decided it was time to turn Thailand into the Mecca for Asian Hip Hop. By booking a bunch of superstars like Cardi B, Travis Scott, Offset, Central Cee, Fat Joe, Rick Ross, and Ferg, the tickets sold quickly. But the genius of the lineup was that they also scanned all the Asian countries for the hottest artists and got them all together in one place, like JP The Wavy and Awich from Japan, RAMENGVRL from Indonesia, Jay Park and crew from South Korea, VannDa from Cambodia, Yung Raja from Singapore, Joe Flizzow from Malaysia, and of course, Thaitanium, Youngohm, and more representing Thailand. With the temperatures sizzling into the 40s, over 60 acts brought heat to the two stages at Rolling Loud Thailand.
Now, the big question is what comes next. DJay Buddah recently told LiFTED, “Doing the first one was challenging, but making the second one happen is even harder. More info will be out soon.”
Ez Mil signed to Shady Records, Aftermath Entertainment & Interscope Records
When Dr. Dre and Eminem do anything, the music world shakes. When they jointly sign their first MC since 50 Cent and that rapper happens to be of Filipino descent, Hip Hop shakes because now Ez Mil has a real chance of becoming the first-ever global Asian Hip Hop superstar.
Ezekiel Miller aka Ez Mil caused a lot of waves when his song ‘Panelo’ from his WISH Bus performance in 2021 got over 78 million views. Earlier this year, he released ‘Up Down’ [Step & Walk], which caught Eminem’s ear and soon Ez Mil was in Dre’s studio and they were discussing the future, which looks quite bright as he’s signed to Shady Records, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records.
Queens of Hip Hip getting the love
For a majority of the past 50 years, the women involved in Hip Hop have been getting the short end of the stick, to say the least. 2023 is making up for lost time as Missy Elliot, one of the most creative artists in the genre got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
While there is still a big gap to conquer in the genre, the amount of dope female MCs out now like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Flo Milli, Ice Spice, Sexyy Red, GloRilla, Latto, Lil Simz, Saweetie, Coi Leray, Doja Cat, and City Girls is close to the same number that Hip Hop has had in total over the past 49 years.
Women blowing up is also spreading to Asia as RAMENGVRL is leveling up all the time, Awich is releasing masterpieces, females like RayRay, Miss Ko, 7LING, and Majin are getting honored at the Taiwan GMAs, Irfana became the first female MC to sign to Def Jam India, and the Hollywood blockbuster Joyride had a soundtrack filled with female Asian MCs including VaVa, Dizzy Dizzo, Queen WA$ABII, and more. The future is female.
Indian Hip Hop blowing up
The Indian Hip Hop/Desi Rap landscape has never looked more vibrant than it does right now. While some may have thought that the DIVINE story in 2018, and subsequent Bollywood film Gully Boy might have been one-off wonders, instead the Indian game has just expanded and grown. Last year, MC Stan was added to the cast of top reality show Big Boss16 and proceeded to win it. This took the well-respected MC from Pune into the stratosphere, and he’s now a household name with almost 11 million Instagram followers.
After a few long discussions and an argument or two, LiFTED crowned DIVINE as the number one rapper in Asia. It was hard to argue his credentials. Signed to Nas’ Mass Appeal India label, his album Gunehgar featured production from major US producers Hit-Boy, Statik Selectah, and Harry Fraud. He followed with an international tour and remains at the top of the Desi Rap game.
Last summer, Mumbai rapper Emiway Bantai released his tour de force single ‘King of Indian Hip Hop’ [Prod. Babz Beats] and put the whole game on notice. In one sense, it’s a straight up Rap record, where he calls out sucka MCs [even naming names], but it’s also a verbal workout, with Emiway rhyming double-time and stopping for interludes to comment on the industry and fakeness of “some people.” He hits on familiar themes like starting from the bottom and being alone against the whole Rap game. Well it worked, the track blew up and cemented his place in the red-hot scene. The music video has over 16 million views and counting.
The year 2023 started off with a bang when Indian Hip Hop royalty, Raftaar and Prabh Deep joined forces to make a slamming 4-track EP, PRAA, a mini masterpiece, with each track better than the next. The final song, ‘Trap Praa’ has been on heavy rotation in the LiFTED office. With over 10 million YT views it looks like we're not alone.
Wu-Tang Clan & De La Soul at Clockenflap
Clockenflap had one hell of a year with its return to live shows in 2023. In March, the three-day festival sold out and featured one of the greatest Hip Hop groups ever, Wu-Tang Clan, with a live band to close out the festival.
After that amazing show, Live Nation acquired a majority interest in Clockenflap. This was a big win for local promoters, but others were worried the soul might be sucked out because the Live Nation/Ticketmaster monopoly is seen as worldwide ticket gangsters. Once Clockenflap announced their lineup for their SECOND festival in 2023 in December, there were still detractors saying that they were looking more at numbers and data in their bookings than actual cool bands that were the heart of the festival for so many years.
Those fears were allayed a few weeks beforehand as De La Soul was announced as the legacy Hip Hop act. A few days ahead of time, Joji had to cancel his show and Swae Lee took his place as the final act of Clockenflap. Both Hip Hop acts came with it and showed that Live Nation/Clockenflap and Hip Hop are a great mix.
B-boys & B-girls getting respect in the lead up to the Paris Olympics 2024
In the Tokyo Olympics 2020 [which was actually held in the summer of 2021], four skateboarding events were introduced [Men and Women’s Park and Street]. The events got a lot of younger viewers who hadn’t been so interested in the Olympics in a long time.
This led to Breaking being added as an event for the Paris Olympics 2024, which has been a real boost to one of the most forgotten elements of Hip Hop. There are only 16 slots for Men and Women, so competition is fierce, but those that are getting places in Paris will become home country heroes no matter what place they come in. Asia is expected to dominate as they have the resources to train breakdancers like the Olympic athletes that they are.
50 Years of Hip Hop celebrations
In 2023, Hip Hop celebrated its 50th birthday with huge events around the world. Stellar lineups for shows were done at Yankee Stadium, the Museum of Hip Hop Block Party, the Rock the Bells festival, and more. With 50 years of joy and pain being celebrated, it was great to see legacy acts like Public Enemy shining next to next generation artists like Gunna.
At the Grammys, there was a 13-minute tribute to 50 years of Hip Hop with 27 MCs worked into the mix by music director Questlove. This proved to be so popular that the Grammys had its own special on December 10, which was a recording of a private concert that took place in November. In it, there were tributes to the pioneers, the South, female MCs, the Native Tongues, and more. The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff closed out the show and even wore the same outfits they wore when they picked up their first Grammy in 1998.
While it’s been a great year for celebrating the 50th birthday of the best genre of music, let’s hope the parties keep going for the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd birthdays as well.
Jersey Club [and Drum & Bass] bringing uptempo heat
It’s really hard to overstate how much Lil Uzi Vert’s ‘Just Wanna Rock’ has affected the culture of Hip Hop over the past year and some change. The unorthodox song doesn’t really have a chorus and the raps are on and off beat, but it’s brought the Jersey Club feeling of uptempo music out of the dungeon of 70 BPM Trap.
A lot of Asian artists followed suit like DaBoyWay with ‘Cake Diet, ¥ELLOW BUCKS and C.O.S.A. with ‘What,’ and Jay Park doing his own Jersey & B thing with ‘Why?’. Drum & Bass has been on a major comeback in Europe, so Bryn got on board with ‘So What,’ which is a bit Poppy in all the right ways.
VannDa making Forbes 30 under 30 list
Last May, Forbes magazine - mostly known for following the money of industrialists and titans of finance - put out their Asia 30 under 30 list and to everyone’s surprise, included a rapper from Cambodia of all places. LiFTED wasn’t surprised, though, since we wrote about VannDa first! His 2021 single ‘Time to Rise’ [rhymed in Khmer] broke him out into the wider region and then the world. His inclusion of Master Kong Nay on the track and music video caught the attention of the cultural literati, and a star was born.
VannDa had the chance to be a one hit wonder, but he has followed that song [100 million YouTube views and climbing] up with a strong album and collaborations with Thai stars F. Hero and OG Bobby. Now VannDa is an institution who reps brands and has his own reality Hip Hop show to find the next Cambodian superstar on The Rapper Cambodia!
Bohan Phoenix moving back to China
Very recently, Chinese-American MC Bohan Phoenix, who was LiFTED’s first-ever cover star, made a power move back to Chengdu from New York City. It’s not like he wasn’t eating in NYC, he was selling out clubs and performing at halftime for the Brooklyn Nets, but since COVID nothing has been quite the same - including the music landscape.
Bohan, who was born in China and was a key player in the Chengdu Hip Hop space [helping the Higher Brothers link with 88 Rising, among other moves], was offered a spot on the game-changing TV show, The Rap of China. He turned it down. They asked again the next year, and he said no again. He felt like Hip Hop was getting commercialized way too fast in China, and the subsequent scandals with Kris Wu, Gai, and PG-One showed his wisdom. Then COVID happened, and the scene internalized and people got back to the roots. Bohan signed with Warner China, but couldn’t get into China due to restrictions.
Now the worst of the worst is over and he’s decided to head back to Chengdu, signing with local label RollDice, and currently on his first China tour in years. Oh, and he’s signed on to be in the new The Rap of China show. It should be interesting. There’s no one in the same lane as Bohan Phoenix in China. Expect him to deliver fresh rhymes, straight talk, and excellent advice for up-and-coming MCs.
LiFTED’s Top 50 MCs list blowing up
In 2023, LiFTED released the second ranking of Asia’s Top 50 MCs. India’s Divine took over the top spot from Jay Park. LiFTED got the interview with DIVINE as he discussed his magnum opus GUNEHGAR, which featured beats from Harry Fraud, Statik Selektah, Hit-Boy and more as well as features from Russ, Jadakiss, and Armani White.
Rounding out the top 10 was Thailand’s Youngohm at three, pH-1 at four, MC STΔN at 5, VannDa at six, RAMENGVRL at seven, Rich Brian at eight, Thaitanium at nine, and Jackson Wang at 10. One of the things LiFTED is most proud about is that one-third of the artists on the LiFTED 50 in year two weren’t on the list in year one. This shows we are scouring all the corners of Asia to keep elevating the Hip Hop going on here.