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With a Marathon of a Debut, hella (˃╭̣ ╮˂̣)✧♡‧o· ̊, 88Rising’s 1999 WRITE THE WORLD Defy Continental, Cultural, and Epochal Boundaries with all their Friends

Evan Dale // Feb 12, 2024

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The bubble-lettered Y2K aesthetic that found itself colorfully gel-penned across CDs for most of the collective’s prolific run of eight leading singles between the end of last year and the beginning of this one, speaks to one bookend of their rangy stylistic influence. 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE: a loose confluence of artists, producers, rappers, vocalists, instrumentalists, and friends – born from the hearth of 88Rising, and expanded into a debut album of sorts – is exceedingly hard to define. And yet, still true to the mission central to 88Rising’s identity, 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE orbits the hip-hop, Neo-Soul, and R&B artists of Asian heritage and descent that have been part of the label’s journey and mission at every stage of their continued success since 2015, weaving their names into the greater fabric of musical representation.

But this moment marks what is undeniably their largest creative success to date. A hyper-collaborative marathon spanning 24 tracks, and weaving in features from upwards of 30 artists spanning not only cultures and continents, but eras and epochs, too, hella (˃╭̣ ╮˂̣)✧♡‧o· ̊ is more than a celebration, but a statement of 88Rising’s cemented stature. They are still a platform for predominantly Asian artists to garner an audience, collaborate, create, and share, sure. But moreover, 88Rising is a force in music in general, impossible to ignore. Music itself has bought in, and hella is a display of that.

But at its core, hella is also simply a great project. Not only for its collaborative massing, but for the way in which the album feels cohesive from beginning to end, even while transcending across so many stylistic and epochal boundaries. And that cohesive flow is credit to 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE itself, however hard it may be to define.

From the very beginning, with the introductory avOcadO SHaKE, there’s a soulfully experimental, instrumentally rooted throughline that feels reminiscent to something like The Internet’s wavy prowess, to the Free Nationals and their jam-packed jams, to producers and DJ’s like Kaytranada and NappyHigh who hold the heading of their projects steady and true to themselves, even while folding in the featuring creativity of so many sonically diverse artists. Here, too, 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE taps into the vast collaborative ability, without ever losing a grip on their own direction.

In that sense, the project again feels reminiscent of its millennia transitionary namesake, where the Khaled-produced, twelve-features-on-a-track formula defined the hip-hop of the early 2000’s. hella, however is much less epochally entrenched, and will remain a blueprint of collaborative breadth woven into timeless production for the foreseeable future.

Following avOcadO SHaKE, with the first collaborative track on the album, SPIKY BOiz, Ghostface Killah, Smino, and Rich Brian trade quick-firing verses overtop an upbeat instrumental foundation from quintet, Surprise Chef. The collection of names on the track alone would be not only hard to come by, but frankly hard to imagine before this moment. A legendary lyricist from Staten Island, an experimentally indefinable auditory alchemist from St. Louis, and a tough yet oft lighthearted rapper from Indonesia link up with an Australian Neo-Funk ensemble for a hard-hitting introduction to a collective’s debut album, hellbent – and successful – at spreading the hip-hop and R&B of artists with Asian heritages. But 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE takes the absurdity of that run-on sentence, repeats the process for an hour-fifteen, and crafts a no-skips masterpiece to be appreciated and rinsed repeatedly by anyone who imbibes any corner of the album’s vast sonic range.

MiNt cHoCoLaTe is another early standout. With the continued advances of Griselda and all of its subsequent soloist maneuverings, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine delicately spread their gruff signatures across the silky-smooth instrumentals of a soulful BADBADNOTGOOD foundation. But its transition into JoEys song, tumbling into a breakdown from pianist, Joey Alexander, is a testament to the flexibility confidently molded into the bones of the project by 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE’s compositional accumen. A rough-and-tumble rap duo from Buffalo let their poetics dance across a Canadian band’s soulful beat, before a Balinese jazz protégé immerses a listener in three minutes of multi-instrumental bliss. Anything seems not only possible, but plainly expressed from hella beginning to hella end.

SLOPES is an exhibition of seeming juxtaposition bleeding seamlessly into something that should have always simply been collaboratively obvious all along. Trading verses, Jakarta rapper, Warren Hue, who inhabits spaces particularly hype and high energy, shares his rapscape with a rapper from Atlanta whose own description is pretty damn similar: Offset. There’s a lesson on expectations, stereotypes, and international affairs in here somewhere, but we’ll just leave it there for the listener to find themselves.

And that’s the same lesson that underlines the entire extent of hella. Music is international, and so are hip-hop, R&B, and Neo-Soul. So, when defying the cultural, continental, and epochal boundaries that need not exist any longer in a world so connected by the internet, 88Rising – and by extension, 1999 WRITE THE FUTURE – are pushing music further into an evolution that should have always been hella obvious to anyone really paying attention.

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