When Sean Miyashiro founded the record label and collective 88Rising in 2015, it was impossible to imagine the heights they would reach a mere six years later when he was approached by Marvel to produce the soundtrack for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” As the first Asian American led superhero movie in the Marvel universe, it was important to Miyashiro that the soundtrack project was also spearheaded by Asian artists.
While most soundtracks are produced to underlay their respective films, the Shang-Chi soundtrack was made to accompany what the viewer sees on the screen. Each song was carefully curated to enhance the scene and is left lingering in the back of the viewer’s mind long after it has ended. For example, rapper Rich Brian melds his experience from the San Franciscan music scene with his memories of his youth in Jakarta to create the insanely catchy beats and flows heard on “Foolish” and “Act Up.”
NIKI, another member of the 88Rising collective, explained that her experience creating songs for the album occurred in almost complete isolation due to the pandemic.
“Most of my songs were done in my guest room. I just plugged in a USB mic into my computer and just tracked my vocals,” she shared. “It reminded me a lot of when I was working on my first EP with just my headphones in a bedroom. It was kind of like paying tribute to that era.”
“Every Summertime” was one of the results of this process, an upbeat tune with a rich, boppy piano instrumental reminiscent of the 1970s. NIKI found herself writing a story of two Asian-American kids falling in love during a San Francisco summer and rediscovering each other as they grow older. She was also inspired by the character Xialing, Shang-Chi’s sister in the film, who she felt represented female power and strength on screen.
NIKI also shines in the opening track “Always Rising,” along with Rich Brian and fellow rapper Warren Hue. The first 50 seconds of the track feature NIKI’s beautiful vocals echoing the words “I’m gonna set the world on fire / Dreams come alive when I lose my mind / Look in my eyes, you can see desire / Truth in a world that’s full of lies.” These lines echo a direct call to her ambitions as an artist and how her desire to succeed has pushed her in life. As she finishes her verse, Rich Brian and Warren Hue come in with a bang. Rapping on top of an intense instrumental, the pair echo that, “We the warriors, behold, behold, behold.” A powerful introduction, not only for the film, which sees Shang-Chi taking on the role of a warrior to protect his family, but also for the singers themselves. 88Rising uses the film as a vessel to proclaim themselves powerful and to let the world know that they are not going anywhere.
Keshi, a singer that 88Rising brought in to feature on the album, pulls no punches in his featured song “War With Heaven.” Displaying his falsetto vocals, Keshi paints a picture of a person who would fight through all of heaven in order to save their lover. It is one of the most striking songs on the soundtrack. The following track entitled “Hot Soup” features members of 88Rising, as well as Simu Liu who plays Shang-Chi in the film. It laments on the loss of a love and only having their memory left behind. In succession, these songs not only coincide with the plot of the film, but also detail the struggles of love and loss in Asian American communities.
“We were thrown themes to write on and used our own creative direction on the song,” said Warren Hue. “For the most part, we wrote from our perspective and what we knew from our culture. It really goes alongside the movie because we’re all Asian artists and we’re just speaking from the point of view of how we grew up, which is what the movie is about too. It really worked out.”
From front to back, the “Shang-Chi” soundtrack does not disappoint. Some of my favorite tracks include the upbeat, bass-boosted “Run It” and the beautiful verses seen on Keshi’s “War With Heaven.” It is one of the first albums I have listened to where I can put it on and play it beginning to end without having the urge to reach for the skip button.
The soundtrack is such a breath of fresh air for the industry as a whole. Not only does it compliment the movie, but it tells a story all of its own. Influenced by the cultures and experiences of every artist on its tracklist, the soundtrack is able to tell a beautiful, ornate story of love and loss. It is one of the best of our generation and is a must listen for this year.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now available for streaming on Disney+.
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