Celebrate API History Month with a playlist featuring iconic API artists & musicians. Includes Silk Sonic, the Linda Lindas, Japanese Breakfast & more.
May is Asian and Pacific Islander history month and we’re celebrating with an eclectic mix of iconic API artists. From the funky soul of Silk Sonic to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ gritty rock anthems and everything in between, the API community has churned out some truly unforgettable jams over the past several decades.
Hit that play button and let us take you on a journey through some of our favorite new and throwback tracks from the API community. Hey, you might even find your new favorite artist.
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” off 2021’s Sour is the perfect example of teenage breakup songs that bring the rock. In an age when synthesizers and pop rule the charts, Filipino-American Rodrigo shows that heavy guitars can still hit number one on Billboard. But the song’s success didn’t stop at the US Billboard charts—”good 4 u” reached number one in 23 countries and is one of the 100 most streamed songs of all-time on Spotify.
On the cover art for her 2022 single “Rush,” Raveena Aurora—known simply as Raveena—features her name written in Sanskrit below a picture of her decked out in elegant gold ware.
It’s a fitting aesthetic since the singer, raised by Punjabi Indian parents between Connecticut and Queens, deftly distills her multicultural background into comforting lo-fi R&B mixed with South Asian melodies and instrumentation.
Jay Som, “Baybee”
Melina Duterte, better known as Jay Som, was partly inspired to name her breakout 2017 album Everybody Works by her Filipino parents. “[My parents] knew they had to work hard and they did work very hard when I was growing up,” she told She Shreds at the time. “At a young age I really understood that, it definitely tied into my views of music.”
Duterte certainly worked to build a life in music, but “Baybee” sounds like anything but hard work. With a laid-back groove and lush, guitar-driven instrumentation backing Duterte’s soothing vocals, the song is ideal for kicking back after a long day.
Hailee Steinfeld, “Coast (feat. Anderson .Paak)”
Hailee Steinfeld is a busy woman. The granddaughter of a Filipino immigrant, the True Grit star manages to balance a successful acting and musical career.
“Coast,” featuring her friend Anderson .Paak—who’s on this list with Silk Sonic—was released in July 2022.
Son Lux, Mitski & David Byrne, “This is a Life”
You’d have to be living under a googly-eyed rock to not know about Everything Everywhere All at Once by now. With a predominantly API cast telling a story heavily inspired by the Asian American experience, the movie is poised to make history going into the 2023 Academy Awards with 11 nominations—the most for any film this year.
One of those nominations includes Best Original Song for “This is a Life,” an ethereal collaboration between experimental trio Son Lux—made up of musicians Rafiq Bhatia, Ian Chang and Ryan Lott—previous API playlist artist Mitski and the one-and-only David Byrne.
Yaeji, “WAKING UP DOWN”
While Korean-American singer-producer-DJ Yaeji was born in Queens, she spent most of her early life on the move, having lived in Atlanta, Seoul and Tokyo with her family. All of those places and local styles influenced her own blend of house, hip-hop and electronica, which is best shown in this mellow track from her 2020 mixtape What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던.
H.E.R, “Do To Me”
Known professional as H.E.R., Gabi Wilson has been making waves in the music industry since performing on The Today Show at 10 years old. The daughter of a Filipina American mother and Black father, her 2016 EP H.E.R. Vol. 1 brought attention from Rihanna, Issa Rae, Taraji. P. Henson and more
The reggae-inspired non-album single “Do To Me” is an uptempo R&B ballad from 2020 about how love can hypnotize and blind us.
Lux Prima (Karen O & Danger Mouse), “Turn the Light”
Can you blame us for putting Karen O on this playlist twice? While the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blasted back to life on their 2022 album Cool It Down, we wanted to highlight Karen O’s underrated collaboration with Danger Mouse on 2019’s Lux Prima. “Turn the Light” features the producer’s brand of hi-fi rock with Karen’s undeniable punk vocals.
Run River North, “Spiders”
Originally named Monsters Calling Home, based on a song that singer Alex Hwang wrote about his parents’ journey to the U.S., the Korean-American trio often explores themes of identity and finding one’s way, as on this sunny track from their 2020 album Creatures In Your Head.
Swet Shop Boys (Heems/South Asian-American & Riz Ahmed/Pakistani-British), “Aaja”
When British-born Muslim actor Riz Ahmed isn’t busy winning Oscars and advocating for representation in Hollywood, he’s making politically-conscious bangers with Indian-American rapper Heems and British producer Redinho as Swet Shop Boys. This single from 2016’s Cashmere, plus its vibrant music video, borrows from Bollywood and traditional Qawwali music to both tell a story of young love and take a stand against injustice and persecution.
Miya Folick, “Bad Thing”
For a quintessential “happy-sad” tune with confessionally cathartic lyrics balanced by a breezy dance groove, look no further than this 2022 single from Japanese-American songwriter Miya Folick. And with a co-write by Mitski, it’s no wonder why lines like “I don't wanna call first thing in the morning/ Desperate for help to feel normal” hit so hard.
Silk Sonic — “Love’s Train”
On “Love’s Train,” the dynamic duo of soul reboot Con Funk Shun’s ‘80s R&B classic with their trademark all-analog retro vibe in a cover version that’s all wide lapels and polyester.
Besides sharing a love of classic soul music, Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars have another thing in common—their API roots. .Paak’s mother was born to South Korean and African-American parents near the end of the Korean War. She was found at a Korean orphanage shortly after birth and adopted by an African American family in Compton, CA.
Bruno Mars was born in Honolulu, HI to Filipino and Puerto Rican parents who were accomplished local musicians with an eye for talent. When young Bruno was just six years old, he impersonated Elvis Presley on the Arsenio Hall Show.
Mars and .Paak formed Silk Sonic “as a joke” while touring together in 2017. Since then, the soul supergroup won four Grammy Awards, hosted a Las Vegas residency and even made an appearance in the popular online game, Fortnite.
Mitski — “Me and My Husband”
The enigmatic Japanese American indie-pop singer, songwriter and pianist Mitski Miyawaki balances domestic darkness with sunny, major-key indie rock a la Elephant 6 and the Decemberists on “Me and My Husband,” from Mitski’s blockbuster fifth album, Be the Cowboy.
The artist who UK newspaper The Guardian calls the “[United States’] best young songwriter” was born in Japan in 1990 to Japanese and American parents. Mitski learned Japanese as a child in Japan’s Mie Prefecture, but her father’s job with the US State Department took the family to Turkey, China, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and finally, the United States.
After self-releasing three albums and completing her studies at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music in New York, Mitski signed to indie label Dead Oceans, kicking off a string of hit albums that includes Puberty 2 (2016), Be the Cowboy (2018) and her latest, 2022’s Laurel Hell.
The Linda Lindas — “Oh!”
In their Bandcamp bio, The Linda Lindas portray their “Half Asian / half Latinx” band as “two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend.” Pretty modest stuff for a group who can list feminist punk icon Kathleen Hanna and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen among their biggest fans.
After a clip of their song “Racist, Sexist Boy” went viral in a Los Angeles Public Library API Heritage Month livestream, the school-age punk band caught the ear of Epitaph Records, who signed the band roughly 48 hours after the original tweet.
In July 2021, the Linda Lindas released their debut single, “Oh!” from their Epitaph debut, Growing Up. They also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and performed at Head In The Clouds festival at the Rose Bowl.
Blonde Redhead — “23”
Blonde Redhead vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Kazu Makino was born to a strict musical family in Kyoto, Japan. But a chance encounter in the streets of Tokyo with composer, painter and saxophonist John Lurie—on tour with his “fake jazz” group the Lounge Lizards—was enough for Makino to pack her bags and move to Manhattan.
Blonde Redhead formed in New York City in 1993 when Lurie introduced Makino to Italian twins Simone and Amedeo Pace, jazz musicians he’d met while on tour in Europe. Together, the trio released nine albums fusing chaotic NYC no-wave dissonance with ethereal dream pop melodies, shoegaze guitar soundscapes, jangly pastoral folk and adventurous electronic textures—landing on numerous critics’ “best of” lists along the way.
On “23,” Blonde Redhead’s shoegaze period is in full effect. They scrap the scraping, Sonic Youth and Fugazi-influenced sounds of their early work in favor of glitchy breakbeats and My Bloody Valentine-ish swatches of sound.
In 2019, Makino released her first solo album, Adult Baby. In 2022, Blonde Redhead opened several dates with Tool in support of the alt-metal band’s album Fear Inoculum.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs — “Maps”
The prolific solo artist, music video director, fashion icon and Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O was born in Busan, South Korea and grew up in Englewood, New Jersey. That’s just an hour's train ride from the Mercury Lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where the YYYs played their first gig in September 2000, opening for the then-unknown White Stripes.
It was at Ohio’s Oberlin College where O met future Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase, then a student at the jazz conservatory. She then transferred to NYU and started performing with guitarist Nick Zinner in an acoustic duo called Unitard. At Oberlin, O grew enamored with the lo-fi art-punk bands that toured through campus and desperately wanted to go electric.
After a false start with another drummer, O convinced Chase to join her and Zinner in New York to start the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But despite a well-received EP, two singles and support from Interscope Records, the band’s debut album Fever to Tell was a slow seller. “Maps” changed that. The edgy art-punk love song peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Alternative Singles Chart and tripled album sales overnight.
Beastie Boys — “So What’Cha Want?”
That’s no sample. When new copyright laws made the sampled, cut-and-paste style of beatmaking heard on Paul’s Boutique too expensive, the Brooklyn hip-hop trio expanded their sound with producer Mario C and keyboardist Money Mark stepping in for the MPC sampler.
And the funky organ riff at the top of “So What’Cha Want?” That’s all Money Mark.
Mark Ramos Nishita was born in Detroit to a Japanese-Hawaiian and Chicano family who moved to Los Angeles when he was six. Nishita was a set carpenter on Pee Wee’s Playhouse when he received a call to fix the gate at the Hollywood mansion where the Beasties were working on Paul’s Boutique, but it wasn’t long before he swapped his tool belt for a synthesizer.
As the “fourth Beastie Boy,” Money Mark is heard across their post-1992 albums and tours, cooking up crazy sounds and crunchy keyboard riffs on Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty and more.
Besides the Beastie Boys, Money Mark has recorded or performed with Karen O, Iggy Pop, Linkin Park, Yoko Ono and Beck—with whom he played the electric piano throughout “Where It’s At,” the breakthrough hit from the 1996 slacker-rock masterpiece Odelay.
Toro y Moi — “Ordinary Pleasure”
Disco rules on “Ordinary Pleasure,” a shiny electropop jam and the second single from Toro y Moi’s 2019 album Outer Peace. For his sixth album, Toro y Moi—who goes by Chaz Bundick offstage—was inspired by the “club” energy he experienced playing DJ gigs.
“The [club] nightlife energy is way different than the concert type of nightlife energy,” he says.
Bundick was born in Columbia, South Carolina to Filipino and African American parents and attended the University of South Carolina, where he met Ernest Greene (Washed Out), who would soon join Toro y Moi as one of the ‘10s most popular chillwave acts.
Japanese Breakfast — “Be Sweet”
If Michelle Zauner’s journey from working the coat check at the Philadelphia music venue Union Transfer to having it named after her isn’t inspiring enough, watching her perform “Be Sweet” on the season finale of Saturday Night Live sure is.
When Zauner was nine months old, her family moved from Seoul, South Korea to Eugene, Oregon, where she was raised. Her musical career began in the Philadelphia DIY scene, where she performed as Little Girl, Big Spoon and with the indie-pop band Post Post. In 2011, Zauner started the emo revival act Little Big League, releasing two albums and a split 7” with Ovlov.
Little Big League disbanded in 2014 when Zauner returned to Oregon to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer. In her work as Japanese Breakfast, Zauner’s experimental tunes touch on shoegaze, indie rock and dream pop in equal measure—vast soundscapes overflowing with production tricks that make great headphones albums.
In May 2022, Time named Zauner one of the most influential people in the world.
Kelis — “Millionaire”
Kelis got an early start in music with her church choir and learned piano, violin and saxophone at the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
The childhood R&B prodigy Kelis Rogers was born in 1979 to Chinese-Puerto Rican and African American parents. Despite leaving home at sixteen, she continued her education and formed an R&B group called BLU (Black Ladies United) before finishing high school.
After a string of hits with The Neptunes, Kelis worked with a variety of producers on her third album, Tasty. On “Millionaire,” Kelis teams up with Outkast wordsmith André 3000 for a fun electro-funk romp released exclusively in the UK. “Millionaire” peaked at number three on the UK singles chart; her third consecutive top-five release.
SASAMI — “Mess”
“I just want people to listen,” says Sasami Ashworth. That’s easy enough for SASAMI’s “Mess,” a smorgasbord of crunchy lo-fi drums, fuzz overload guitars and Ashworth’s snarky verse that was released in 2020.
The Korean-American multi-instrumentalist and songwriter that The Fader calls “rock’s next big thing” toured with the grungy noise-rock band Cherry Glazerr before going solo in 2018. Now that she’s on her own, SASAMI’s idiosyncratic indie rock concoctions put her musical talents in the spotlight. Ashworth is an accomplished French Horn player, in addition to being a vocalist, keyboardist, bass player, guitarist and music teacher.
In February 2022, SASAMI was named “Artist of the Month” by popular music blog Consequence of Sound. On the 25th of February, she released her second full-length album Squeeze to positive critical reviews.
The Smashing Pumpkins — “Blew Away”
Japanese-American guitarist James Iha steps into the spotlight and gives Billy Corgan some vocal rest on the Smashing Pumpkins B-side “Blew Away,” as heard on 1994’s Pisces Iscariot.
On the “Disarm” B-side, Iha leads the semi-unplugged Pumpkins through hazy, nearly Neil Young & Crazy Horse sounding country rock verses which eventually surrender to Iha and Corgan’s layered and fuzzy guitar heroics.
After making grunge history as a founding member of the Smashing Pumpkins, Iha joined Tool singer Maynard James Keenan in the art-rock band A Perfect Circle and in 2005, wrote the soundtrack for the Japanese film Linda Linda Linda—the movie after which the Linda Lindas would name their band. How’s that for taking this playlist full-circle?