"I want to be involved, and I expect to be involved in every single nook and cranny of my work. I'm an artist and I love having total creative control."
Where some artists might be more hands-off when it comes to the aspects outside of their music, 88rising member NIKI is the opposite. Having just featured on 88rising's collaborative album Head In The Clouds 2, as well as releasing her EP wanna take this downtown? earlier this year, NIKI is consistently improving her sound, and is turning into a beacon for Indonesian music fans.
Her EP is a deeply personal one, and there's evident joy in her voice when speaking about it. Asked about the public's reaction to the five-track project so far, NIKI said, "I think the reception's been super positive. I guess I'm always excited to put my art out for other people to enjoy and interpret at their will. It's always interesting to see how people apply for their own personal lives." In particular, NIKI says Indonesian fans are connecting with the lyrics. "Some songs refer to certain places in LA and whatnot (like LA LA Lost You) but it's quite cool that Indonesians can apply the overall message of losing somebody or missing somebody now and then to their own lives." NIKI's lyrics can be US-centric but have a message that transcends location.
Both NIKI and 88rising place an importance on changing the faces present within hip-hop, and given the strong Asian representation within the collective, that's exactly what's happening. "We're just an authentic tight-knit group of people that are like-minded and just love music and want to represent Asia." 88rising like to keep their mission simple so that they don't muddy their message, but instead, keep things crystal-clear for all involved.
However, it didn't wasn't always explicitly intended to be that way - instead, it's something that the group has slowly recognised, and have aimed to make a more deliberate part of their musical mission. NIKI's tone shifts a little bit when talking about the concept of representation - it's clear how important to her that she's not just a musician, but a role model, too. "It was a gradual slow-burning realisation where I'm like 'oh, we're representing a group of people that have been underrepresented in the past, and they've been misrepresented by outdated stereotypes.
"My personal mission and ethos as an artist is that I want little Asian kids everywhere growing up to be me and be 88 and be like 'that girl looks like me, that guy looks like me and they're out there doing this and that. If they're doing it then I can do it too.'" Diversity is a big part of what makes 88rising so exciting, and they're making sure everyone around them is taking notice, along with the help of a few friends.
Head In The Clouds 2 is the second group album from 88rising, and features 88rising's finest, along with a few friends. The idea for the original Head In The Clouds came together a year ago, when Sean Miyashiro, 88rising's founder, first brought up the concept. "The idea was birthed last year when Sean and all of our managers had this idea of getting together, going on a two-month writing camp and seeing where it goes. It's exciting to see a lot of your favourites together on one thing. Everybody had a mutual agreement that this would be the move."
NIKI recently released acoustic versions of her songs off Head In The Clouds 2. Playing her music acoustically is something that's always come naturally to her, as it's how her musical journey began. "I started out writing songs purely acoustically. I only knew how to play guitar and piano before I learned how to produce. That was how I started writing songs - me, my guitar and my piano.
The decision to do those sessions was that I recently backtracked a little bit and re-examined my roots. I had this epiphany that this is how it started. This was how I initially wrote songs. I'm planning to do more acoustic things in the future too because I really do find a lot of joy and fulfillment in that." She was initially signed to 88rising because of her acoustic covers posted to YouTube, so releasing these stripped-back versions of her songs on the collective's album sees things coming full circle, in many ways.
Looking ahead to the future, NIKI makes it clear that there's one goal - her debut full-length project. "Right now I'm just working on my album. I've been taking this whole year super slow and just organically making songs so yeah, for the rest of the year I'm probably going to continue to work on my debut album and then next year I hope to be playing more shows and more festivals."
She's yet to tour Australia as a headline artist, but there's no doubt that a tour will be on the horizon. When asked about the sound of the upcoming project, she says it's constantly changing. "It's always evolving every week always I'm always experimenting and exploring those two things today but definitely expect something elevated or something more mature I guess." We can't wait to see what she comes out with next - whatever it is, it's going to be one hell of a ride.