Asian hip-hop quartet Higher Brothers ship Chinese culture across borders via trap rap delivered in English, Mandarin, and their local Sichuanese dialect. Active since the early 2010s, they caught their big break in 2016 after linking with 88Rising, reaching wide audiences with international tours and the label compilation Head in the Clouds. They issued their debut, Black Cab, in 2017.
Formed in Chengdu, the capital city of central Chinese province Sichuan, Higher Brothers are MaSiWei, Psy. P, DZ Know, and Melo. Taking their name from the homegrown brand Haier, they mix strong cultural pride with defiant attitudes and sharp but playful humor. While the quartet discovered hip-hop while in middle school, they didn't actively partake in the burgeoning underground scene until much later. Honing their chops as affiliates of Sichuan-area collectives CDC (Chengdu City Rap House) and TDC (Tiandi Clan), they eventually connected to form the group, issuing early single "Haier Brothers" in 2015. The track became a viral hit and landed on their debut mixtape, Higher Brothers Mixtape, which arrived in 2016. That year, their single "Black Cab" caught the ear of U.S.-based Asian entertainment collective 88Rising. They quickly signed with the label and secured a niche audience with singles "Bitch Don't Kill My Dab," "WeChat," and hit single "Made in China" with Famous Dex. Those tracks eventually landed on their first official full-length, 2017's Black Cab, named after the unlicensed taxis that hustle under the radar throughout China. Influenced by U.S. acts such as 50 Cent, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Migos, Black Cab featured additional appearances by labelmate Keith Ape, Korean-American rapper Jay Park, Sudanese emcee J Mag, and New Yorker Ken Rebel.
The Brothers rode the wave of rising popularity into a prolific 2018, issuing collaborative EPs — Type-3 with producer Harikiri and Chenggong Mingjiu ("Successful and Famous") with fellow Chengdu rapper Ty. — and appearing on the bulk of songs from 88Rising's label showcase compilation Head in the Clouds, which featured the hit single "Midsummer Madness." That year, Higher Brothers also issued their EP Journey to the West — a clever nod to the Chinese classic starring the Monkey King — which featured appearances from Ski Mask the Slump God and production by Smokepurpp. They toured North America with the 88Rising crew on a trek which ended that September at the inaugural Head in the Clouds festival, where Higher Brothers headlined alongside Rich Brian and Joji.
In early 2019, the quartet issued their sophomore effort Five Stars. The set blended classic hip-hop production with contemporary textures, recruiting American rappers JID, Ski Mask the Slump God, Denzel Curry, Soulja Boy, and more, alongside 88Rising labelmates Rich Brian, Joji, and NIKI on a riotous and triumphant collection that bridged the cultural gap between the U.S. and China on tracks such as the Chinese New Year anthem "Gong Xi Fa Cai." ~ Neil Z. Yeung