THE LiFTED 50
Asian Hip Hop’s top 50 artists ranked
An official ranking of anything is not for the weak of heart. It takes knowledge, experience, curiosity, and a fair bit of IDGAF-attitude to do it. Our platform is only a year old, but we have been in and around the Asian Hip Hop game for decades - as DJs, producers, promoters, and writers - but most of all, as fans. When we decided to create the LiFTED 50, we did so with some trepidation, knowing there will be some saltiness, but also knowing that there will be great joy. We did it with honesty and to the best of our ability. We decided that in year one we could not include fan voting because honestly, we’re too new. We will definitely have fan voting in the future. We decided on a formula that is based on streaming, social media, YouTube views, and probably the most important element of all - the X factor.
At LiFTED, we have seen all the big names and most of the rest, and even put a spotlight on a few who are now blowing up. Man, that feels good. We will continue to look for the stories that matter, and shine a light where there may be none but should be. We will continue to champion Asian Hip Hop and spread the news.
Even though we love this challenge, it’s not easy. To begin with, the Asian Hip Hop landscape is now massive – and every single country is minting new rappers, producers, and DJs daily. This speaks to the transformative power of Hip Hop music, and its ability to adapt and adopt - and this has been the case ever since Kool Herc started spinning breaks in the South Bronx 49 years ago. Hip Hop first took over America, then Europe, and now it’s the fastest growing music genre in Asia. So, Hip Hop Hooray, right?
Now, we humbly submit the LiFTED 50 2022.
JAY PARK [South Korea]
You’re either nodding your head in respect to the Korean hyena, or you want to take your phone and throw it in the direction of the Nakdong River in protest. How could an American citizen who spent four years training in KPop be the number one LiFTED 50 MC? The facts are undeniable that Jay Park is the godfather of Asian Hip Hop as we know it today.
“I don’t like to put myself in barriers because if you set barriers for yourself, what if you want to outgrow those barriers? It stunts growth. I don’t want to be like, ‘I’m just a rapper, I just want to do Hip Hop. I just want to be in the States.’ I want to be an artist that translates globally,” Jay Park stated in a 2018 interview with Billboard.
Jay Park has done more in and for Hip Hop in Asia than any other artist. Jay started his career in the KPop band 2PM after four years of hardcore KPop training. He experienced being canceled before it had a name and came back from his troubles even stronger. He harnessed the power of YouTube from the start, and he’s built three record labels with successes across the board at AOMG, H1GHR MUSIC, and now with More Vision. Jay signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, was the only non-Chinese judge on The Rap of China, and he’s been a mentor on Show Me the Money. He’s worked with big brands like Nike, has starred in movies, and has done concerts all over the globe.
There is no doubt that Jay Park has GOAT status, which places him firmly at the top of this LiFTED 50 list. But just in case you thought he was just an idol or dabbled too much in R&B, here’s his Freestyle on Sway in the Morning from 2018. Over the Mos Def’s DJ Premier-produced ‘Mathematics’ beat, Jay Park goes so crazy on the mic that at the end, Sway had to scream, “We’ve got a hyena up in here.”
The ascent of DIVINE has been nothing short of spectacular, ever since his single ‘Mere Gully Mein’ with Naezy took India by storm back in 2015. He had tried his hand at rapping in English, and then by simply telling his story - in street Hindi – it all came together, and he single-handedly raised the Desi Rap game up to the point where it was competing with Bollywood for hearts and minds.
In fact, Divine’s story of coming from the gully [aka the hood] was so compelling that in 2019 a real Bollywood movie was made about it [Gully Boy], featuring India’s biggest stars, and it was a box office smash.
Enter US superstar Nas and his Mass Appeal label, who signed DIVINE and anointed him the face of Indian Hip Hop, as they opened shop in Mumbai. He’s recently been attached to major fashion brands and has a new album coming that will include music by producer Harry Fraud, with features from Nas and other Hip Hop luminaries from East and West. He even rolled up at the Oscars this year and owned the red carpet. DIVINE just keeps making all the right moves, and his power and reach are growing across the region and internationally, making him a true force to be reckoned with.
RICH BRIAN [INDONESIA]
There was a lot of back and forth chatter in the LiFTED offices about putting Rich Brian in the number one slot as he’s taken the Jay Park blueprint and updated it for Generation Z. Getting his introduction to Hip Hop by ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore, Brian started rhyming into his iPhone mic over MF Doom instrumentals. Soon, Brian had an offensive MC name and became internet famous with the release of ‘Dat $tick,’ which has racked up 200 million views to date. 88rising produced an amazing reaction video, and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan jumped on the remix. Not a bad way to start off a Hip Hop career as a 17-year-old.
By 2018, Brian changed his name to Rich Brian, stating to Genius, “I was basically just trying to make people less sensitive to the word, and take the power out of that word, but then I realized I’m totally not in a position to do that. I just don’t say it anymore.” Nowadays, his teenage slipup is forgiven, and Brian is the number one star of 88rising’s global takeover.
With two studio albums, two EPs, and a ton of features with huge names like XXXTentacion, Keith Ape, Kris Wu, Trippie Redd, DJ Snake, Rick Ross, and more, the sky's the limit for Rich Brian. His song ‘Run It’ from the Shang Chi and the Legend of 10 Rings soundtrack was the lead single for the second highest-grossing movie of 2022. Brian has been the headliner at the Head in the Clouds festivals, as well as was the anchor of their 2022 Coachella performance. He was the first Asian artist to have 10 million monthly streams on Spotify, and he’s even dabbling in acting. By changing his name, Rich Brian has manifested a great career for himself as well as a spot in the top three [and rising] of Asian Hip Hop.
EPIK HIGH [KOREA]
When you talk about OG status in Asian Hip Hop you can’t even start the conversation without mentioning South Korea’s Epik High. In the game since 2003, Tablo, Mithra, and DJ Tukutz have released 11 studio albums and too many singles to mention, plus they were the first Korean act to ever grace the stage at Coachella and were invited back this year – making them the first to ever play there twice. They have won just about every award you can in South Korea, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Artist of the Year. These brothers have influenced the Korean Hip Hop space more than anyone, and they did it without the aid of KPop beginnings.
Claiming ‘no genre, just music,’ the group has tried many different styles and sought to dispel preconceived notions about what Hip Hop should look and sound like. They’ve just been holding it down for damn near 20 years and staying at the forefront of the scene by continuing to create solid, lyrically diverse music. They started off below the underground in Seoul when Hip Hop was still fringe and broke through in 2005 going to number one with the single ‘Fly,’ doing the heavy lifting in making the genre popular. They haven’t looked back since.
In 2022, the group released their latest album, Epik High is Here Pts 1 and 2, rocked Coachella hard for two weekends, sold out shows all across the US, had a four-night stand in Seoul, and are planning an Asia-Pacific tour in July. There seems to be no stopping Epik High on their 20-year run.
There are very few Asian rappers who made a bigger splash in 2021 and 2022 than RAMENGVRL. In the past few years she’s made her bones in the Asian game with huge singles like ‘I’m The Man,’ ‘I Am Me,’ and ‘Cashmere’. This year she dropped some absolute heatrocks like ‘I’m Ugly’ and ‘Ain’t no MF’ that have racked up millions of YouTube views – the latter had a crazy remix with Korean stars PH-1, Ash B, and Bryn. She also dropped 16 bars on a dope, if under-appreciated joint with fellow Indonesian artists Marion Jola and Danilla, ‘Don’t Touch Me’ that explores male-female double standards. Oh, and she signed with Warner Music’s new pan-Asian label Asiatic Records [along with Mrs M].
Right now, RAMENGVRL has everything going in the right direction, and with her combination of memorable lyrics, ATTITUDE, and ability to spit effortlessly in English, she seems poised to break out worldwide. Her latest single ‘Facts’ just dropped on the Asiatic.wav Vol 1 playlist and its beat has one of the catchiest synth hooks so far of 2022, as well as one of RAMENGVRL’s typically hard-to-forget choruses. The future is very bright for Indonesia’s top MC not named Rich Brian.
There isn’t a single Asian MC who had a breakout year like Cambodia’s VannDa did. He literally went from being unknown outside of his country – and not even that big there – to being a name on everyone’s lips around the region. He’s easily the biggest success story of 2021, all things considered, and he regularly gets namechecked by everyone from Hip Hop fans to industry folk as a benchmark of Asian Hip Hop success.
It all started with the release of last Spring’s ‘Time To Rise,’ which featured the combustible mix of VannDa’s serious as cancer bars and the plaintive Folk signing of septuagenarian Master Kong Nay, a blind artist who also plays the indigenous chapei lute instrument.
With the backdrop of the pandemic, and the unfortunate Asian discrimination that followed, the combination of VannDa’s message for Cambodians to rise up and claim their heritage, plus Kong Nay’s embodiment of that same tradition made for a singular, spine-tingling track that resonated with everyone who heard it.
LiFTED was proud to be one of the first to champion VannDa, and he’s only gone from strength to strength since then. As ‘Time To Rise’ nears 100 million YouTube views, his other songs like ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and ‘Khmer Blood’ routinely get tens of millions and have rendered him a bonafide star on the platform. With sponsorship deals, international collabs, and a Cambodian and Asian tour happening, VannDa has given hope to every single Asian rapper, from countries big or small, that they can have a time to rise.
If this was a contest for the best mullet in all of Asian Hip Hop, Youngohm would not be number one; he’d be number one, two, three, four, and five. The 23-year-old rapper came out of nowhere to do really well on Rap is Now season two in 2016. Since then, he’s been an unstoppable force in Thai Hip Hop.
In 2017, Youngohm got his first million views on YouTube with ‘Choey Moey,’ and he hasn’t looked back since. Now, his videos rake in hundreds of millions of views with ‘Doo White’ getting 246 million and ‘Thararat’ getting 243 million. Youngohm is also unafraid of speaking his opinion in a place where that could land him in hot water. He and MILLI [number 11] bravely put out ‘THE FUTURE IS’ last year and showed how much they really care about their own country.
What sets Youngohm mullet and shoulders above everyone else is his live show. He takes chances and remixes his songs acoustically. He plays with live bands which brings a real different feeling to Hip Hop shows. Around the New Year, he put out 'Bangkok Legacy The Live Performance' and went for it. There are cranes, burnt-out buses, violin players, a neon-colored tasseled leather jacket, fireworks, and more. The whole show is spectacular, and it only could have been done by Youngohm.
For the past 25 years, Gloc-9 has been living and breathing Hip Hop. He’s not only an OG who is thought of by many as the Philippines’ best rapper, but he was called by fellow rapper Francis Magalona “a blacksmith of words and letters, and a true Filipino poet.” Gloc-9 is not about that bling-bling. Instead, he prefers to focus on social justice, patriotism, and poverty.
What’s the key to Gloc-9’s longevity? He is a machine when it comes to putting out releases. In 25 years, he has put out four albums with his first group, Death Threat, three EPs, a live album, and nine albums! That doesn’t even include the loosies he puts out or the collabs he releases with other artists. Gloc-9 stays busy.
Gloc-9’s legacy is that every album he has put out has won awards. We’re not sure, but we believe that Gloc-9 needs a new room just for awards because he has over 50 awards that he’s won over the past quarter of a century. But that’s not all. He’s got an eye for talent and has helped push Flow G’s career into the stratosphere. When anyone thinks of Filipino Hip Hop, all roads go through Gloc-9.
JP THE WAVY [JAPAN]
When we put JP The Wavy on our November cover, we knew he was special. We’d seen the videos, and we’d heard his bouncy, baritone flow – even in Japanese, it was obvious he had rhyme skills and bags of X factor. He’s been hot since his 2017 hit ‘Cho Wavy de Gomenne’ featuring SALU went viral and spawned countless TikTok clips and raked in tens of millions of YouTube views.
Since then, almost everything he touches blows up, from solo efforts like the ‘Tokyo Drift’ Freestyle he did with 88 Rising, to tracks with his regular group of collaborators, like last year’s ‘Wavebody’ Feat. OzWorld, LEX, and ¥ellow Bucks. They all have hilarious, expertly-styled visuals and they all bounce hard. Wavy has perfected a formula of rhyming over funky Trap beats that never gets boring – of course, part of that is his super entertaining videos, where he continues to be a master of costume change, and with a background in B-Boying, his movements are also hard to look away from. All in all, JP The Wavy is the most interesting rapper in Japan right now and it’s not even close.
Mrs M [Mongolia]
Mrs M has been defying stereotypes in her native Mongolia for a while now. Her 2014 single ‘Tsor Gants’ with uber-producer Lil Thug E was made on a shoestring and showcased M’s ability to sing and ride the rhythm much like her idol Eryka Badu - and out of nowhere, it went to the top of the charts. OK, it’s just Mongolia you say. Don’t sleep. Mongolia's Hip Hop scene is 30 years old and commands the attention of the country’s urban population.
She followed that up with 2016’s ‘Bang’ which was a straightforward Trap beat where she flexed her rhyme skills. That single quickly garnered over a million YouTube views and caught the attention of b2 Music in Hong Kong, who put it on the groundbreaking VIBE [Magazine, US] Presents: Urban Asia Vol 1, alongside artists like Higher Brothers, DIVINE, and Jackson Wang.
In a developing country like Mongolia, YouTube is everything, and Mrs M owns it. Her singles with partner in crime GINJIN regularly rack up millions of views, and her first English song ‘Tasty’ has over three million views. Not bad in a country of just over three million people.
She was the first local artist to release a track all in English. Then in 2021 she released TWO English singles with New York hitman Harry Fraud - the result of her recording at his Brooklyn studio in 2019 before the pandemic. The latter, ‘Daughter of Khan’ was just dropped on Warner Music’s new pan-Asian label ASIATIC, where she recently signed, once again breaking new ground as the first Mongolian artist to sign with a major label. Oh, and the single has racked up over a million views in its first week. Not bad for a female MC from Mongolia.
MILLI is skyrocketing to superstardom as you are reading this. She first appeared on the scene when she made it onto The Rapper 2. She didn’t win but she released ‘Phak Kahn,’ an anti-bullying song in 2020, which at 91 million YouTube views, isn’t bad for a debut single. She’s been putting out a steady stream of work since and everything hits seven or eight digits on YouTube.
The 20-year-old rapper is not afraid to get political. She criticized the Thai government’s COVID-19 response and got a fine. In doing this, millions of her fans signed petitions against the government. She was the second Thai performer at Coachella [behind Lisa from Blackpink], and when she did, she caused sales of sticky mango rice to double in her home country simply by eating it on stage. Now, she’s heading to the big screen with roles in movies so be on the lookout for MILLI everywhere.
PRABH DEEP [India]
At the age of one, Prabh Deep’s father and four brothers were killed in a riot. As he grew up, Prabh ran with a street gang until he found Hip Hop. Impressed by B-Boys, he joined a crew, and soon they were going to open mics. In 2015, he linked with New Delhi hitmaker Sez on the Beat and got signed to Azaadi Records. His first album, Class-Sikh was a number one hit in 2017. But no one was prepared for 2021’s Tabia. The record was a deep and spiritual journey with consciousness mixed in. His leap from album to album showed that Prabh’s mindful meditations are connecting with a lot of people in India.
Being a small country, Taiwan has an oversized role in the Asian Hip Hop world because so many good MCs are popping up all the time. E.So is not new, but he’s a freakin’ G. He got his childhood friends, MUTA [number 34] and Kenzy together to form MJ116. Soon, the group was the most popular Hip Hop group in Taiwan and even sold out stadiums in China. While MJ116 is still together, E.So the solo act is a one-man advertising machine, with his name on watches, buses, billboards, tonic water in every 7-Eleven, and more. He just released his latest album EARTHBOUND, to much fanfare in February.
How many other MCs on this list have had American president Barack Obama beatbox for them while they bust a rhyme? The answer is none, and that’s how Suboi got her kickstart in the Vietnamese Hip Hop scene. After taking a break from the music industry for seven years to become a mother, Suboi came roaring back with her album No Nê, and made big waves in the industry again.
The most Hip Hop thing Đen did was make a video that wasn’t very Hip Hop. In 2021, after 12 years in the Hip Hop game, Đen created ‘Trốn Tìm,’ a delicate Indie masterpiece with the rock group MTV band. The video is simply him as a protective tree watching over a girl’s life. ‘Trốn Tìm’ struck a chord and it has been viewed nearly 59 million times. But that’s not all, Đen also put out ‘Mang Tiền Về Cho Mẹ,’ a tribute to underappreciated workers who bring back money for their families. So while Đen may be veering in new musical directions, he’s still got a heart full of Hip Hop.
Flow G [Philippines]
Flow G burst onto the Filipino Hip Hop scene in 2020 with ‘Halik.’ Soon, he and Gloc-9 were on the Wish 107.5 bus and the video was trending number one in the Philippines. Haters gonna hate and soon Flow G was the subject of a diss track by Sixth Treat. With a few volleys back and forth, Flow G ended up incinerating the rest with ‘G Wolf,’ in what OneMusicPH called “Larry Bird telling his defender where he’s gonna shoot from and still making the shot.” Now, Flow G is enjoying his time putting out great music to inspire the Filipino people.
YUNG RAJA [Singapore]
2021 was a hell of a year for Def Jam SE Asia signee Yung Raja. The Singaporean-Tamil MC who raps in ‘Tanglish’ has steadily put out a string of bangers for the clubs including ‘Spice Boy’ and ‘Mami,’ the latter of which got him mentioned on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots. To show he had skills, Raja dropped Mike, a three-track EP flexing his lyrical dexterity. To top it off, Raja was included on Snoop Dogg’s album Algorithm on the global edition.
JB [Hong Kong]
JB has been floating around the underground in Hong Kong for many years, but 2021 was the year he broke through the ceiling and stepped into his own. As a lover of all the pillars of Hip Hop, JB is an ethnic Filipino rapper who was raised in Hong Kong and flows in tone-perfect Cantonese. JB’s got a wicked sense of humor that can be seen on 2021’s ‘Lighter,’ as well as in his fantastic live show that sold out two nights at Macpherson Stadium. With his Greytone label on the rise, look for a lot more of JB and his crew in the future of Asian Hip Hop.
Hailing from China’s spiritual home of Hip Hop, Chengdu, VAVA may be small but she packs a lyrical punch. Her 2017 hit ‘My New Swag’ featuring Ty. and Nina Wang put her on the Asian Hip Hop map for good and the track landed on the mega-hit movie, Crazy Rich Asians. Currently, the song has 30 million YouTube views. Impressive, but then think of what her numbers are in China where YouTube is ‘banned’! She’s now one of the most recognized rappers in China, period. She broke out in season one of The Rap of China and was the only female MC to make it into the top four. Her year was full of more big tracks like ‘So Bad’ with Jackson Wang, and ‘Eazy Life’ where she sings Sichuan’s praises.
HIGHER BROTHERS [CHINA]
If this list was in 2017, the Higher Brothers would be number one with an exclamation point. They roared out of Chendu and have been repping it hard ever since. In 2021, the Higher Brothers put out a lot of projects as solo artists - Masiwei released the Dark Horse album and KnowKnow put out Mr. Enjoy Da Money 2. But where the Higher Brothers’ magic lies is in their live shows. When they all did a show together for the final stop of Masiwei’s tour in Chendu, it was a night that will go down in Asian Hip Hop history.
Jackson Wang [China]
As a former KPop heartthrob, Jackson Wang is an amazing singer and songwriter with Hip Hop sensibilities and a resume of hot solo tracks. In 2021, he dabbled in fashion, headed the supergroup Panthepack [with Karenrici, J.Sheon, and Ice], and also released ‘Blow,’ a song and video that shows his impressive all-around skills as an artist.
CL [South Korea]
CL has been busy. With the release of her solo album, ALPHA, she’s shown that she can walk the line between Hip Hop and Pop music. But she also knows what people want. At Coachella in April as part of the Head in the Clouds showcase, she reunited with her KPop band, 2NE1, and was the talk of the festival for the whole week after their surprise show.
Soft Lipa [Taiwan]
Soft Lipa has been a well-respected Hip Hop artist in the underground Taiwan scene for many years. He’s performed at shows and been putting out quality music since the mid-2000s. In 2021, Soft Lipa took a huge step up into the overground as he won three Golden Melody Awards for Best Mandarin Singer, Number 1 Album for Home Cookin, and Best Music Video for ‘Home Cookin.’ The judges who comment on each award said that Soft Lipa had “brought the Mandarin music scene into the grand age of Hip Hop.”
Mongolia’s GINJIN could be higher on this list, but he took most of 2021 off to take care of an issue with his voice. Regardless, he is still the country’s top male rapper, and his partnership with Mrs M makes them both double threats. Ever since he first hit with 2014’s ‘Ugzug Saihan Bol Zus Saihan’ [If the ass looks good, it all looks good] he’s been crushing it by combining hard bars with melodic, Auto-Tuned singing on the hooks. His YouTube numbers are crazy for such a small country, and his collabs with Mrs M are equally impressive. Their hit ‘Boroo’ has 10 million views and counting. Back from his break and healthy, GINJIN is poised for a massive 2022.
Bohan Phoenix graced our first-ever cover because he’s truly a unicorn in the Asian Rap game. He epitomizes what LiFTED is all about: Asian Hip Hop, with an East-West swagger and style that keeps it one hundred. Bohan is also an original – he was born in China but came up in the US and then went back home to spread the good word and ended up in Chengdu [there’s that city again] in the Harikiri/Higher Brothers camp.
Always remaining fiercely independent - having turned down The Rap of China every year - Bohan finally signed with Warner Music China in 2022 and has been releasing a string of personal and conscious singles all year, starting with ‘But I Still Love You’, his response to the senseless Asian hate that took place after COVID-19 started. Recently, he hit again with the deeply personal ‘New York Made Me.’ He also found time to perform live at a couple of NBA games, most recently at the Barclay Center in NYC, a look any rapper would covet.
Ted Park [United States]
Ted Park is an American Hip Hop success story. He was raised in Madison, Wisconsin by South Korean parents but caught the Hip Hop bug early. Now, he’s singing and rapping in Korean and playing big shows at SXSW and S.O.B.’s in New York City. He recently remixed one of his songs, ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ with guests Dok2, Eric Reprid, Dbo, and Paul Blanco showing he knows the past, present, and future of Asian Hip Hop.
Miyachi is a mixed Japanese-American rapper from NYC who has rocked the mic in some of the toughest spots anywhere and has his official stamp to prove it. One way to stand out from the pack was to drop some lines in fluent Japanese, and that became his hook - and then it kinda took over. His single ‘Wakarimasen’ came out of nowhere in 2018 and has gained almost seven million YouTube views since. He was getting so much love in the motherland that he moved to Tokyo and hasn’t looked back. His recent singles have put him firmly in the conversation about Japan’s best rappers. ‘Chu-Hi,’ “Kansai Life,’ and ‘Tarinai’ are all singles that touch on aspects of his life in the land of the rising sun. He’s always been a master of playing roles, and that gives his visuals an edge. A great example is the hilarious ‘What Happened’ video, where he plays a Jagermeister-swilling TV news anchor.
Straight outta Johor Bahru, Malaysia, this 15-MC crew blew up because of ‘Lotus.’ Not only does it sit at nearly 20 million YouTube views, but other crews remixed and redid the song as a tribute to the FORCEPARKBOIS. One of those crews was the H1GHR MUSIC label remix from Jay Park and friends. Instead of just riding out this popular streak, the FORCEPARKBOIS have been putting out bangers like ‘SHEESH FLOW,’ ‘Public Enemy,’ and ‘All Day,’ making them a crew that looks unstoppable.
MC STΔN [INDIA]
MC STΔN was a young buck when he got into the Indian Hip Hop game, but he knew what he wanted to do. By focusing on YouTube as his main social media platform, MC STΔN built his career from scratch. Now, with more than 2.3 million subscribers, anything STΔN puts out gets crazy numbers. In 2022, ‘SNAKE’ got 36 million views and ‘BROKE IS A JOKE’ sits at 16 million as he rides the Emo Rap wave.
TUAN TIGABELAS [Indonesia]
The highest compliment an artist can be given is that they have soul. Tuan Tigabelas has a lot of soul. With his output in the last year - ‘Budak,' ’Westside,’ Enola,’ and the basketball jam ‘Ready’ - Tuan has proven time and time again that he’s one of the most soulful artists in Asian Hip Hop.
¥ellow Bucks [Japan]
If you want to party, call ¥ellow Bucks. When he’s around JP The Wavy, like on ‘WAVEBODY’ or ‘GIOTF,’ there’s always something fun going on. When he’s doing ‘Go Ahead,’ a cross-cultural duet with Taiwanese R&B master ØZI, things get very lively. Expect to see a lot of ¥ellow Bucks in the future.
DJ CHEE [Cambodia]
DJ Chee has been the beatmaster for Cambodia’s Klap Ya Handz label for some time now - producing hits for their stable of dope MCs like Vin Vitou, Vuthea, and the now-departed Reezy. His six-song EP ME with Ruthko was one of the year’s best - a deeply personal and honest journey from an artist who’s been in the game for over a decade. Don’t get it twisted, it may have been VannDa’s year, but Klap Ya Handz did it first.
Joe Flizzow [Malaysia]
Joe Flizzow is called The President for a reason. The buck stops with him. He’s an OGs’ OG in the Asian Hip Hop game and has done everything from winning awards to being the head of Def Jam South East Asia. This year, he got the ultimate sign of respect - getting on with Redman and Method Man on Snoop Dogg’s Algorithm album - but he didn’t stop there with the Def Jam connect. He also got Snoop on a song [and video] with him for the football club ranked first in the Malaysia Super League, Johor Darul Ta’zim F.C. Not bad work for The President.
MUTA has always been the oversized baritone voice in MJ116, but in 2021, he broke out on his own and showed he had the skills to pay the bills. At the LiFTED launch party, his song ‘FATBOYGANG’ got played at least twice before the song was even out, which means MUTA has the streets of Taiwan on lock. He showed love to delivery drivers with MC Hot Dog in the middle of the pandemic in ‘Bittersweet Rap Song,’ as well as raced around the mountains for ‘Phat Life,’ the single that was the title of his well-received album.
When you have put out four albums by the time you are 20 years old, you’ve got a lot to say. 1MILL is a youngster, but yet a veteran in the Thai Hip Hop game. Most recently, 1MILL was seen enjoying the Highland lifestyle in ‘F*CK IT UP’ and also rolling with VannDa, F Hero, and Sprite in ‘RUN THIS TOWN.’ Not only is the latter track a banger, but also cutting it up with Asian Hip Hop royalty is a very good look.
TWOPEE SOUTHSIDE [Thailand]
Twopee Southside is from the island paradise of Phuket, Thailand. As a scrappy skater, Twopee put in work by making underground albums and asking Thaitanium if he could open a concert for them. They were impressed with his courage to shoot his shot, so they let him. Soon, Twopee was the champion two years in a row of the Singha battle of the year and signed to Thaitanium’s label. Twopee has won major awards in Thailand, worked with Jay Park, been featured on the Yo! MTV Raps Asian remake, and was a judge on The Rapper Thailand. After the show, Twopee put out the song ‘Light’ with one of the contestants, MILLI. Recently, he co-headlined a show in New York City at the famed Downtown venue S.O.B.’s with Daboyway.
Vinida Weng has been influencing Chinese Hip Hop ever since she debuted on Sing! China in 2016. Her whole vibe was different from what came before. And she’s been prolific. Besides having massive hits like ‘Run This’ and ‘Queendom,’ this past year she dropped Truth of the Clay, a full album of Trap fire, showcasing her ability to rhyme hard bars when needed, but also to sing melodically. She writes a lot of her own songs and is the complete package. Her recent joining of forces with superproducer Harikiri means that the future looks very bright for Vinida.
Keith Ape [South Korea]
If there’s ever an Asian Hip Hop Hall of Fame, Keith Ape is a lock for a first-ballot introduction. His song ‘It G Ma’ flipped the way people thought of Hip Hop in Asia. Before it was shiny and poppy, but Keith showed it could be grimy and dirty. Since ‘It G Ma,’ Keith has kept it filthy. In 2022, he released ‘Live Long and Soul Lives’ and ‘YUH DIG,’ both designed to scare the hell out of Asian parents with lots of screaming on the former and tripped out visuals alluding to drug use on the latter. Keith keeps it G for real for real.
Balming Tiger [South Korea]
The dream of Balming Tiger is to eventually be bigger than Tiger Balm. This is a distinct possibility as the group of MCs is wide-ranging, and they label themselves as the world’s only ‘alternative KPop band.’ By doing this, one song can be Hip Hop, one song can be Rock, and one song can be EDM, and no one blinks an eye. Their originality and experimentalism make them perfect for the LiFTED 50.
Alex Bruce [Philippines]
Alex Bruce signed with Sony Music in the Philippines when she was just 12 years old. Her live freestyles created a sensation before she even dropped her first single, ‘Mind as a Weapon’ in 2018. Her subsequent singles like ‘Yakap,’ ‘Dime Girls,’ and ‘Fake Friends’ have kept her firmly on the Philippines Rap radar. Oh, and she’s still only 16.
In the past, to get attention as a female MC, one either needed to be conscious [think MC Lyte or Lauryn Hill] or be ready to shake shake shake it at the drop of a dime [Lil Kim/Foxy Brown]. In modern times, though, female MCs can be who and whatever they want to be and that’s such a positive for Hip Hop in general. In 2021, Japanese OG rapper Awich put out ‘Cheers to the Mouth,’ a sexually-charged anthem and video for right now. AND, she also put out ‘Queendom,’ an introspective story about her life moving to Atlanta, getting caught up in the trap, and her baby daddy getting shot in the street three days before her daughter was born. It’s a moving song that shows off her song-making skills.
YAYOI DAIMON [Japan]
Yayoi Daimon is an enigma. She finally got out of her record contract, so she’s doing things independently, which means she’s taking risks. She’s always been about shocking people, but this past year, she’s put out the Dancehall joint ‘Top Gyal,’ a feminist anthem that rocks the riddim. She’s also tried her hand at an Afrobeats to much success on ‘Chill Like a Midnight.’ Since the future is female, we see big things coming up for Yayoi.
Crews that run deep are essential in Hip Hop because that’s how MCs’ lyrical swords get sharpened. With nearly four years under their belt, Rapital is taking over the streets of Vietnam in a big way with songs and live shows that get their fans hype. LiFTED first caught Rapital on ‘UầYYY,’ and we instantly became fans. Like the ASAP Mob, they’ve got photographers and videographers in their crew, so everything they do not only sounds good, but it looks amazing.
26-year-old KARMA hit the Indian Hip Hop scene in 2017 and hasn’t looked back. He’s consistently dropped big tracks that touch millions of YouTube views, but 2021’s M.Y.P. [Made You Proud] album was one of the year’s best, showcasing his rapid-fire rhyme skills and cementing him as a big-time player in the frothy Desi Rap game. Check his collabs with KR$NA, SHAH RULE, and Deep Kalsi among others.
Low G [Vietnam]
From the second we saw a Low G video [‘Ôi Bạn Ơi’ with Teddie J], we knew there was something special with the way he connects to the new generation of Hip Hop kids. He brings a humorous flavor that’s missing from Asian Hip Hop taking itself too seriously at times. We wouldn’t be surprised if Low G goes way up this chart in a few years’ time.
Al ROCCO [CHINA]
Since his breakout single ‘Red Money’ in 2014, Al Rocco has kept himself in the Asian Hip Hop conversation. Singles like ‘Bruce Lee’ with Jackson Wang blew up large. Rocco reps Hong Kong, Taipei, and Mainland China, but now he’s relocated to LA and after some time off has started dropping more heat like 2021’s ‘Faith.’ His deep baritone flow is still one of the illest in the Asian Rap game.
F HERO [Thailand]
From being nervous about doing a song about papaya salad with BABYMETAL a few years back to doing features with VannDa, Youngohm, and MILLI, F Hero is an OG of Thai rap and one of the coolest guys on the scene.
SHIGGA SHAY [Singapore]
This past year was extremely good to ShiGGa Shay for many reasons. He teamed up with Jay Park and ØZI for songs, reimagined utopia, and he’s making a name for himself in the NFT space by selling 999 of them in four minutes.
K-Clique is the perfect example of the can’t stop won’t stop Hip Hop mentality. It wasn’t until their sixth album that they hit the big time. Now, the nine-MC crew is everywhere including MTV European Music Awards, the top of Spotify’s most-streamed list, and celebrating their own resilience with ‘SEBELUM/PARACETAMOL,’ a six-minute drill banger.
Hustlang Robber [Vietnam]
Hustlang is the crew and Robber is the head. In 2021, Robber put out a slew of great songs that all sounded different in the best ways possible.