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“I see myself being the standard of what it means to be an Asian Hip Hop artist in the decades to come”

LiFTED | LiFTED Staff | 14 Jul 2022

One thing we can say with total confidence is that Haysen Cheng believes in his abilities and is ready to wear the crown. He’s got to get there first, and we hope his Jagermeister creative grant will help in some small [or big] way.

22-year-old Haysen Cheng came up in Hong Kong and started grinding from an early age. First as a hoops player who went abroad to hone his skills among future NCAA and NBA ballers in Spain. Then as a rapper in Hong Kong, where his 2019 mixtape Durags and Chopsticks caused a stir on Spotify and numerous Hip Hop blogs – with the standout track ‘Machetes’ being added to US Hip Hop magazine’s VIBE Presents: Urban Asia Vol Vol 3 compilation on b2 Music.

In 2022 UK/China hitmaker Harikiri [Higher Brothers/Vinida] signed him to his newly formed IRIS Creative, and Cheng moved to his base camp in Chengdu. Having recently dropped the third single from his debut EP ‘Legendary’ Featuring KnowKnow from the Higher Brothers, Haysen is down with the right squad and in good hands. The single is straight FIRE and it looks like 2023 could be Haysen’s year.

LiFTED caught up with Haysen to see what’s up.

Haysen Cheng

You’ve been selected by LiFTED and Jagermeister as one of The Next 5 Asian artists to break out this year. How does that feel?

I’ve been working towards a breakout year for a while now, so although I am truly honored and grateful to be recognized by brands like LiFTED and Jaegermeister who both have international visions, I can’t say I feel surprised. All I can say is I’m ready for my turn.

As part of the Next 5, you’ll receive a Creative Grant to help you push forward in your career. What will you spend the money on?

I’m currently putting together my next mixtape and also pushing my new EP Don Chino that just came out, so I’m still deciding. Might use it to pay for beat licenses or new equipment. Either way, it’s definitely a helpful gesture from you guys.

Tell us about your local Hip Hop scene and how you plan to make moves in ’22-’23?

I left HK around July 2021 and have been based in Chengdu for almost a year now since joining IRIS [new label founded by hit producer HARIKIRI and includes Vinida Weng, SwagKelly, and Haysen Cheng]. The Hip Hop scene in Chengdu has evolved to mainstream status and fully integrated into not only Chengdu’s culture but also its economy.

Higher Brothers [the biggest internationally-known Hip Hop group to ever come from Asia] are from Chengdu, and their presence and success have truly played a major role in turning Hip Hop into a multi-million dollar industry here. I would equate Chengdu as the Atlanta of Chinese Hip Hop in terms of being a cultural hotspot where the biggest rappers in the country all came from.

For me to come from Hong Kong, where Hip-Hop is still mostly underground, it’s truly amazing to witness and become friends with artists in Chengdu who have become full-blown stars and accumulated real wealth through making great Chinese Rap music. A lot of major Chinese brands actively seek to work with rappers as their first choice for marketing. I feel like it’s truly the only city in Asia where Hip Hop is a living, breathing part of the culture and not just something that was culturally appropriated from America.

Although there is still a lot of room for improvement, there is a clear acknowledgment and respect that Chinese Hip Hop came from Black culture, and Chengdu is very warm and embracing towards people from all walks of life and that’s what attracted me the most.

I had the honor of working with many of the artists that I mentioned above from Chengdu and I look forward to putting out our music together. I have three more projects ready to put out this year so I’m just making sure everything rolls out smoothly.

At LiFTED, we’re all about cross-border collaboration and linking the Asian Hip Hop scenes together. Jagermeister has a similar vision, representing each of these vibrant markets across Asia. What is your vision for yourself in the Asian Hip Hop game?

I see myself being the first Chinese artist to truly integrate with the mainstream American Hip Hop market in the next few years. I want to do for the Asian community what Eminem did for the white community, which is to earn true respect from the Hip Hop industry and show that we deserve a seat at the table, normalizing the fact that it’s possible that an Asian artist could become a legend in American Hip Hop, win multiple Grammys, multiple Billboard Top 10 singles, BET Awards, etc.

Although Hip Hop culture is and always will be Black culture, it has been influenced by Chinese culture since the earliest stages like the Wu-Tang Clan referencing movies and clothing, Kendrick Lamar nicknaming himself Kung Fu Kenny, Nicki Minaj putting out a single called Chun Li, and Migos making a song called Stir Fry. This is true even in real political events where Black people and Asian people had to be there for each other and fight side by side against common enemies, which has usually been White supremacy or Western colonists for centuries outside of Hip Hop culture.

So in a lifetime where a White rapper like Macklemore can go up and win a Grammy in a genre of music that was oppressed by White people just decades ago, I truly believe that Asian artists [who actually make innovative music and truly respect Black culture and people] deserve a much bigger platform to show what we are capable of. Some great recent opportunities that I can think of are the soundtrack for the Shang-Chi movie and also Crazy Rich Asians.

I hope that in the next few years the all-Asian cast gimmick element will be removed, and our music can be appreciated for what it is - music that can be enjoyed by anyone and played anywhere. I actually see myself working with Edison Chen on that issue one day because he’s the only person I can think of who has the right vision for Chinese culture on an international level, and he shows that through his brand CLOT and the collabs they have with Nike. He made a legendary comment on my Instagram post of the CLOT x Jordan collab shoes, so I believe we’re about 2-3 years away from developing a genuine friendship and working on something game-changing together.

It took White rappers a few solid decades to go from Vanilla Ice to Eminem to Macklemore, then Mac Miller and Machine Gun Kelly, and now Jack Harlow [who is probably the most widely celebrated White rapper since Eminem.]

So the way I see it, I don’t mind if it takes a couple more years for us to go from MC Jin and China Mac to Higher Brothers, Rich Brian, $tupid Young, Shotta Spence, Jackson Wang, and then to Haysen Cheng.

I see myself being the standard of what it means to be an Asian Hip Hop artist in the decades to come. In my lifetime, I see myself bringing Chinese Hip Hop to the levels of success that KPop is right now globally. I see IRIS being the most groundbreaking and influential label in Asia.