May is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we celebrate the journey and accomplishments of persons in the AAPI community. With the ever-rising popularity of K-pop, Asian music artists are becoming more common to see in the Western music industry. For many, the lack of representation in America provoked many to seek a career in music by moving to Asian countries, such as South Korea. Nonetheless, some successful American pop artists have Asian ancestries that you may not have realized, namely Bruno Mars, Ne-Yo, and Tyga.
Here are 10 underrated Asian-American male solo artists you need to be listening to if you aren’t already:
Korean-American singer-songwriter James Lee briefly did the K-pop thing, debuting as a member of the band Royal Pirates. However, after a horrible freak accident that left one hand severed and unable to play the bass, it seemed like his career was over. He has since had five surgeries, left Korea, and is now pursuing a career as a solo artist.
With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, he released his first EP, The Light, which did exceptionally well in Asia. The pop artist has been especially busy releasing new music since the pandemic hit. Last year, he released the album Castles, and most recently, he released his single “Heavy.” He has collaborated with other Asian-American K-pop idols, such as former U-Kiss member Kevin Woo and f(x)’s Amber Liu.
If you’re not familiar with Eden Kai, you may know him as Yusuke from Terrace House: Aloha State. Born to a second-generation Japanese-American father and Mongolian-Chinese mother, Eden grew up in Tokyo. A few years ago, he moved to Hawaii and has since made a successful career as a “ukulele and guitar virtuoso” and pop vocalist inspired by R&B.
Read Offcultured‘s interview with Eden Kai!
You’re probably more familiar with Jae for being a guitarist and one of the main vocalists of JYP Entertainment’s rock band DAY6 or even some of his side projects like YouTube, Twitch, or his DIVE Studios’ podcast. As eaJ, he independently releases self-written solo tracks. The Korean-American music artist, born in Argentina, grew up in California and used to post song covers on his YellowPostItMan YouTube channel before going to South Korea to compete on K-Pop Star.
For some time, Jae had another YouTube channel, JAESIX, where he posted a variety of fun content. After a two-year hiatus, he returned to posting, and we were introduced to eaJ for the first time with “LA TRAINS.”
With his solo projects, “eaJ” can explore various genres that he couldn’t otherwise through his company. You can expect more chill music, such a lo-fi and R&B. Additionally, he has collaborated with a bunch of our favorite music artists, from DPR Live and Crush on “Jam & Butterfly” to keshi, 88rising’s Rich Brian, and MAX.
Jonathan Edgar Park, better known as Dumbfoundead, is an Argentine-American rapper and actor of Korean descent. When he was three years old, his parents immigrated from Bueno Aires to the United States by crossing the Mexico-United States border and settling in Koreatown in Los Angeles. He began rapping at 14, and after dropping out of high school, he became a full-time rapper.
Dumbfoundead became an established rapper and has collaborated with famous Korean artists such as Epik High, Jessi, and Jay Park. His lyrics and music video concepts are both witty and socially-conscious.
Born and raised in Florida, Dominic Fike is of Filipino and African-American descent. He first received recognition as an artist through SoundCloud before signing to Columbia Records.
A multitalented singer-songwriter and instrumentalist, Fike has collaborated with music artists like Brockhampton and Halsey. His alternative sound could be described as a unique crossover of hip-hop and rap with rock. He has even garnered the attention of Sir Paul McCartney, who selected Fike to reinterpret “The Kiss of Venus” to be featured on his self-curated album McCartney III Imagined.
Born to immigrant parents from Hong Kong, Jin Au-Yeung was raised in Miami. Rather than go to college, he chose to pursue a rap career and participated in rap battles. He had his big break on BET’s 106 & Park, in which he included Cantonese in his freestyle verses. Since then, he’s achieved great success under the stage name MC Jin and became “the first Asian-American solo rapper to be signed to a major record label in the United States.”
MC Jin has released several albums in both English and Cantonese, and gained a fanbase not only in the States but also China. His music has been featured in films, such as the Fast and Furious franchise and The Foreigner (starring his friend, Jackie Chan). He has collaborated with numerous artists, such as Far East Movement, Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean, Taiwanese pop artist Leehom Wang, and Dumbfoundead. In recent years, he has also released Christian songs.
If you’re obsessed with TikTok, then you’ve probably heard at least one of Conan Gray’s songs before. Born to a Japanese mother and white father, he lived in Hiroshima, Japan, for a couple of years before moving back to the United States. Growing up in the U.S., he was frequently bullied and was only one of five half-Asian kids at his school. Gray became a YouTube content creator in 2013; and in 2017, he self-released his debut single “Idle Town.”
His most popular songs are “Maniac” and “Heather,” which coined Gen Z’s slang term of referring to someone you wish to be like as “Heather.” Once called “the pop prince of sad Internet teens,” the indie-pop singer cites Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde as some of his musical inspirations.
Nichkhun Buck Horvejkul was born in California, and being of Chinese-Thai descent, he moved to Thailand at the age of five. Over the years, Nichkhun developed quite a multicultural background (he now speaks five languages!). At the age of 12, he moved to New Zealand before moving back to the United States to complete his education. While living in California, he was scouted by and signed with JYP Entertainment.
Nichkhun has achieved great success through boy group 2PM as a vocalist and rapper. With them, he made several albums in both Korean and Japanese. As a solo artist, he releases songs in multiple languages. On his first solo album, ME, he includes the fan-dedicated song “Umbrella” in Korean, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and/or English, depending on which edition bought.
Born to a Cantonese father and white mother, Sam Tsui grew up in Pennsylvania; just a street away from Kurt Schneider, whom he frequently collaborates with in YouTube videos. While a student at Yale University, Tsui was a member of an all-male acapella group. Now, he has made a name for himself on YouTube releasing song covers. However, he has also made a couple of his own original studio albums. In 2020, he released various songs throughout the year to make up the album Yearbook.
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Korean-American Eric Nam was one of the only Asian kids at his school. Like most Asian kids, he never saw a future career in the entertainment industry due to the lack of representation. His exposure to K-pop was through a Korean rental video store.
Nam initially pursued a career as a business analyst until, after one of his cover songs on YouTube went viral, he was invited to compete on Star Audition: Birth of a Great Star 2. From then on, he pursued a music career in South Korea; but struggled since he spoke little Korean. Even his singing was critiqued. He would be told, “Sing like a Korean person” to which he said, “I can’t do it. I didn’t grow up with that sound.” Although he has made a name for himself through K-pop, writing and singing acoustic, EDM-pop and R&B songs, he hopes that now the United States will be more open to Asian-American artists.
Which artists are you currently listening to? Share your song recommendations below!
Header: Conan Gray (Republic)