Higher Brothers for XXL

During 88Rising’s Double Happiness concert in Los Angeles last month, I was able to catch Higher Brothers right before their second ever show in America for an exclusive interview with XXL Magazine. Now an international viral sensation, the Higher Brothers started out in China from humble beginnings, one of them even working as a zookeeper. Scroll down below to learn more about these Sichuanese Mandarin-speaking rappers.

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On a February evening in Los Angeles, Higher Brothers have big plans for its second-ever performance in the United States.

“I hope to stage dive for the first time!” KnowKnow, one-fourth of the Chinese rap group, tells XXL (he unfortunately didn’t surf the crowd that night). The group, which also consists of Psy.P, MaSiWei and Melo, is making history as one of China’s greatest hip-hop hopes. Drawing comparisons to Migos, Higher Brothers is its country’s first internationally acclaimed rap crew of its kind.

The artists are holding court in the backstage area of L.A.’s historic Shrine Auditorium as part of the Double Happiness tour, alongside fellow 88Rising artists Rich Brian, Joji and Keith Ape. And they’re taking in the moment. “[Rap] saved my life,” says MaSiWei. “Because of rap, we had the Asia tour. Because of rap, we out of Chengdu, a small city. We toured China, we toured Asia, and now we’re here.”

Higher Brothers have had a long journey to reach its current status, attempting to break language and geographic barriers and find massive success stateside. They’re making headway, though—the Sichuanese Mandarin-speaking rappers have already collaborated with Famous Dex, Ski Mask the Slump God, Richie Souf, Jay Park and Keith Ape. One of their biggest viral moment thus far has been a reaction video that shows the likes of Migos, Lil Yachty and Smokepurpp watching and commenting on the group’s Famous Dex-featured song, “Made In China.” The song’s video and its reaction clip have combined for more than 12 million views to date.

Chengdu, China natives MasiWei, Melo and Psy.P first met at the age of 18, building a home studio where they could create music full-time. The began moving as part of a larger rap collective called CDC Rap House before meeting KnowKnow via Sina Weibo (the Far Eastern equivalent of Twitter). “We shared each other’s songs,” says Masiwei. “Then we toured to Nanjing and met [KnowKnow]. He was so young, just graduated. Then he came to Chengdu and we did some [music] shit together.”

Higher Brothers have held a certain panache for tapping into the sweet spot of rap culture that bridges the Eastern and Western hemispheres. In 2016, the group began to make waves with the release of its eponymous first project, which yielded the breakout song and video “Black Cab.” The debut album Black Cab dropped in May 2017, and they have wasted no time in releasing new music in 2018, already unveiling two EPs—Journey to the West and Type-3—in January and February of this year, respectively.

For now, though, Higher Brothers are focused on converting some new fans on this run of shows in the States, which includes showcases at SXSW later this month. “If they know us, they’ll keep listening to our new music,” MasiWei says of prospective concertgoers. “If they don’t know us, they will watch our show, follow us and search ‘Higher Brothers.’”

Get familiar with Higher Brothers in the latest installment of XXL’s The Break.

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Names: KnowKnow (a.k.a. DZ), MaSiWei, Melo, Psy.P
Age: Knowknow, 21; Psy.P, 23; Melo, 23; MaSiWei, 25.

Hometown: Knowknow, Nanjing, Jiangsu; MaSiWei, Chengdu, Sichuan; Melo, Chengdu, Sichuan; Psy.P, Chengdu, Sichuan;

I grew up listening to:

Knowknow: “My first and favorite would be Kendrick Lamar. He made me want to come to L.A.”
Psy.P: “The Chinese rapper MC HotDog.”

My style has been compared to:

Psy.P: “Comedy rappers. Because when you listen at first, our music doesn’t sound that serious, but when we make it we’re very serious. Sounds like comedy music because it’s very chill, very relaxed.”

Most people don’t know:

KnowKnow: “My own friends in my hometown, we all liked Kendrick Lamar. But they don’t know I’m in L.A. Now I don’t have any of my old friends—I’m famous.”

Psy. P: “When I sleep I snore.”

MaSiWei: “I don’t smoke, no cigarettes, no weed. I don’t like the way it smells. ”

Melo: “I used to be a soccer player. I was a forward because I ran very fast.”

My standout moment to date:

Psy. P: “My first day in America.”

Melo: “The day I decided to become a rapper. I quit my job, and became a full-time rapper. I think that’s a big deal—I was working for zoo before that! Feeding the animals. It was dangerous, but chill.”

My goal in hip-hop is:

Psy.P: “More money, new watch, nice car.”

Melo: “Better life.”

MaSiWei: “Money, fame, respect.”

KnowKnow: “Ballin’, beautiful women, food, big house. And VVS. I want people to never forget us.”

XXL.

Keith Ape, Rich Brian & Higher Brothers in Jakarta

Photographed the 88Rising crew– Keith Ape, Rich Brian, and the Higher Brothers backstage at the Djakarta Warehouse Project last December. Here are some of the photos below, taken on 35mm.

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Interview with All-Star 2018 NBA Athletes for OkayPlayer

The 67th annual NBA All-Star Game brought to Los Angeles the revelry of basketball fans from around the world. Some fans wishing for opportunities to interact with their favorite players, while others simply on a quest for celebrity sightings. It’s times like these that showcase the relevance of communal sports and their impact across the globe.

However with all the fanfare of All-Star Weekend, it can be quite convenient to forget the reason for the season; the players and their hard-earned title as some of the greatest athletes in the world. For that reason, we decided to ask the 2018 All-Star Game players to reveal facts about themselves that might be concealed from some of their fair-weathered fans.

Scroll down below to gain more insights into the lives of these talented players from my exclusive interviews last weekend, with answers ranging from music to relationships to activism.

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Lebron James

Fact: 33-year-old LeBron James is one of the world’s most famous basketball players. Starting his early career straight after high school in Akron, Ohio, King James was drafted no. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since then, he’s brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy to both the Cavaliers and the Miami Heat to the tune of three total NBA titles.

Lesser Known Fact: James is the epitome of calm, cool and collected—on and off the court—but very few people know where his peaceful resolves developed. LeBron states that “being an African American kid growing up in a single parent household and developing as I did was defeating those odds.” For that reason and many others, LeBron says that “he can never shut up and dribble” because he recognizes the impact of society on his life and his achievements and tries to be a light whenever he can.

Another Little Known Fact: Although he has yet to see it, LeBron is a huge fan of Black Panther. He recalls, “As a kid, the only people he thought could be superheroes were musicians and athletes because the only superheroes he saw in movies were white.” During his interview, LeBron acknowledged the producers and actors for their incredible job in shedding a positive light in the cinematic world by showing the beauty and strength of African Americans via a powerfully original story.

 

Russell Westbrook

Fact: Californian native Russell Westbrook is a seven-time NBA All-Star, and a two-time NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. Outside of his flair on the court, Westbrook is notably considered one of the most fashion-forward players of the league.

Lesser Known Fact: Westbrook’s wife is also a basketball player and he stated when asked about his tender relationship that his wife, “keeps him in line and because she knows how the game works, they communicate frequently about his on-court decisions.”

Another Little Known Fact: Westbrook is a huge hip-hop fan, and his current artist of choice is Nipsey Hussle, who just dropped a new album. When asked about the album, Russell mentioned that he has “already listened to it and think it’s amazing.”

 

Larry Nance Jr.

Fact: Cleveland Cavaliers player Larry Nance Jr. is originally from Ohio but has a strong relationship with Los Angeles as he was drafted 27th overall to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015 but then swiftly traded three years later to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lesser Known Fact: To get pumped for the game, Nance listens to a combo of heavy hitters that guide his focus such as J. Cole, Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. His favorite Kendrick song at the moment is “The Heart Part IV”.

Another Little Known Fact: Although Nance’s father was an NBA player himself and undoubtedly passed down many tips and tricks to his talented son, one thing Nance does not attribute to himself is showmanship. When asked about his experience in L.A., Nance shared, “It’s been fun getting out of my comfort zone. Showmanship is not my forte but this experience has taught me to get out of my shell.”

 

Dennis Smith Jr.

Fact: 20-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. might be one of the youngest athletes in the league but that doesn’t deflect from his position as a top player for the Dallas Mavericks. In 2016, he was ranked as one of the top point guards in his class by most basketball recruits.

Lesser Known Fact: Dennis might be one of the most charismatic players in the league and as we found out, old school R&B might be the impetus of his charisma. When asked what tunes in particular make him feel supreme, he handed his phone to us so we could see the exact songs he had in rotation. Top five, in no particular order were: “So Gone” by Monica; “If I Was Your Man” by Joe; “Slow Down” by Bobby V; “Suffocate” by J. Holiday and “Fall For Your Type” by Jamie Foxx.

 

James Harden

Fact: Houston Rockets point guard James Harden has the world’s seventh largest sports contract, predominantly because of his earned recognition as the best shooting guard in the NBA, as well as one of the top overall players in the league.

Lesser Known Fact: James Harden is a huge fan of the hip-hop lyricists. When questioned about his favorite MC’s he responded with his all-time top four, “‘Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z and Nipsey Hussle.”

Stephen Curry

Fact: 29-year-old Ohio native Wardell Stephen Curry II is a prime figure for the Golden State Warriors. His swift and calculated moves on court have earned him the recognition as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.

Lesser Known Fact: Last but certainly not least, Stephen Curry ended our query session by shedding nothing but light and good energy on the weekend. Most of the world is already familiar with Curry’s positive mindset so it came as no surprise when asked about his thoughts on the weekend’s rivalry between Team Curry and Team Lebron.

Curry held his clear-cut stance stating, “I’m just appreciative of the opportunity to lace up my shoes with 23 of the best players in the world. The true beauty of fame is how far reaching it is.” Although we might be cheating a bit on this one, we do realize that everyone could use as much positivity and light in one’s life, and it’s a fact, lesser known or not that Curry is full of this in abundance.

Okayplayer.

Ashanti for HYPEBAE

The early ’00s produced a slew of talented female vocalists that held their own in a world ruled by men. Though many might have their favorites from that era, there’s one artist that stands out among the rest. Long Island native Ashanti Douglas not only possesses a beautiful voice but has an infectious charisma that’ll draw you right in. Despite her chart-topping discography, she still remains humble and as engaging as ever.

These same attributes drove her to success, beginning with debut solo album, Ashanti. From there, her career continued to skyrocket landing her critically-acclaimed features such as ”What’s Luv” with Fat Joe and the love anthem  “Always on Time” with Ja Rule. Ashanti’s range is undeniable. She could partner with rap’s heavy hitters such as JAY-Z, and also churn out heart-bearing singles like “Baby” and “Happy.” 

With a healthy five albums under her belt and a sixth one on the way, Ashanti is one of the decade’s most accomplished artists. I sat down with the Princess of Hip-Hop & R&B to discuss fond memories, current lifestyle and her most recent work. Read on for more.

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Can you share a bit about your newly-released single, “Say Less“? How are you feeling now that it’s out in the world?

I haven’t released music in a while so I was super excited to share it. For the single, I teamed up with DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign and the synergy was just amazing. It happened organically and my brother Slow helped A&R the project. We were in the studio and the energy was spot on and the melodies came out to be really dope. It’s a feel-good record, super catchy and the reception has been amazing. Also, the fact that we were able to put it in a commercial for the Ciroc French Vanilla campaign has been really dope.

Since the time you released your first solo album, what changes have you noticed in the music and arts scene?

The good thing is that people are a lot more forward, a lot more to the point, a lot more willing to take risks and do things that are a lot more outlandish and different. I guess that’s kind of a gift and a curse. However, sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot of passion and soul in music or art. Sometimes it feels like it’s just for the moment, just for entertainment.

What advice would you offer women who are struggling with body acceptance?

Personally, I feel like you should always try to look for your best asset. If it’s your eyes, or if it’s your waist – whatever it is that makes you feel good about yourself, accentuate that. Just never feel like you have to change because of what someone else says or wants. You have to be happy from within. So if you’re happy with a big butt or if you’re happy with a little butt, as long as you are happy, that’s what matters. You have to be confident and love yourself first and demand that respect regardless of what anyone else thinks or has to say about it. It starts from you being happy with yourself. Don’t try to please anyone else or become some kind of carbon cutout of what someone else wants.

What would you like to see women accomplishing in the next few months/years?

I have always been about women empowerment and inspiring women to be bosses. It’s a very male dominated world, especially in the music industry. I feel like women sometimes get looked down upon or looked past. I would hope that women just continue to be strong and confident and believe in our power. It’s one of the things, my big bro Puff is always talking about, just like black excellence. I think we all need to support younger females that are taking a hold of their career, and doing it on their own as empowered women.

It’s beautiful how close of a relationship you have with your mom and your sister. How have they impacted your music career?

Yes, my mom, my sister and I are extremely close! They’ve always encouraged me to just be honest and write about real life experiences. My sister and I are years apart, and when I was writing “Foolish,” “Baby” and “Happy,” she was young and she liked the record but now that she is an adult, she absolutely understands them and has gone through those emotions. It’s just a testament to having women around you that go through pain and joy — these are real life things that we all go through. So I think these experiences pour out in my music. My Mom-ager has definitely raised two amazing women. So we’re very grateful for that and she very supportive of my career and my sister’s clothing line, Dymes Only.

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How do you stay grounded and confident everyday when things are moving at the speed of light?

Everyone is different but I was raised by a family that was humble and filled with lots of love. Whether I wanted to be an artist or a farmer, my family would love and support me the same. It just starts with that. I’m super blessed to have a genuine family. I’ve seen a lot of sad things in this industry – relationships getting torn apart, trust issues and broken loyalty. I know that it’s really a blessing to have a family to help me stay grounded. It’s just never been my thing to become a completely different person because of all of this.

Have you always had that bond with Ja Rule? Or has it just developed over time making hits after hits together?

It’s definitely grown. It’s crazy because, as much as people would think we were so close in the beginning, we were on so many different paths. When I came out with my first album, I would be touring in one part of the country and he would be touring on the other part. We were close but it was never like this, until after he went away for a while. We kind of spoke back and forth, and we actually spent four hours on the phone before that situation [going on tour] happened and just spoke about so many things that really made us a lot closer.

How does it feel like to go back on tour with another legend and one of your closest collaborators?

We’ve been on tour for a while and it’s been awesome, we always have a blast. Our chemistry is so thick and organic. We could actually not see each other or not speak to each other for weeks, and then when we get onstage, it looks like we’ve been hanging out the whole day. It’s just something that’s really sincere and to be able to perform these classic records together has been so real. A lot of people have situations where they are forced to perform together and they don’t really like each other. So onstage it’s one thing and offstage it’s another. With Ja and I, it’s genuine.

What other projects should we be on the lookout for?

I have a film called Stuck that‘ll hopefully be out mid-2018. It’s been shown at a bunch of film festivals around the country already, and won some awards. It’s been such a blessing executive producing it. The story is about seven people from different ethnicities stuck on a subway in the middle of summer and it touches on things like racial tensions. We filmed this probably two years ago, maybe more but it’s just so relevant because of what’s going on today.

I used to say, “we’ve come a long way but we still have so far to go,” and I see that now more than ever. I’m just excited for people to see it. It features Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad, and Golden Globe winner Amy Madigan.

What’s next this year?

I’m really, really excited about the album. I’ve been working with amazing people and producers. I’m working with Metro Boomin, Tory Lanez, Swae Lee, Jeremih, Quavo, Travis Scott and a few others.

If you had to choose between the two, would you rather be remembered as iconic or legendary?

If I had a choice, it would be both!

HYPEBAE.