In addition to it being the month that brings us one step closer to the official start of summer, May also stands as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. It’s a national celebration that was put in place by the government to celebrate those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent every May since 1990. In terms of the music industry, Asia and the Pacific Islands have produced countless notable artists. BTS, Jhene Aiko, Saweetie, Rina Sawayama, HER, Japanese Breakfast, Rich Brian and the 88 Rising collective, and many more are currently making waves in the US, showing that both artists coming directly from Asia and the Pacific Islands, or American artists of that heritage, are some of the brightest and most exciting in all of music.
Within the R&B world, there are two newcomers that are working to get their name out to the masses. Thuy (pronounced “twee”), a Vietnamese singer from the Bay Area, and RINI, a Filipino singer from Los Angeles by the way of Australia, have carved respectable spaces for themselves in the genre thanks to their work over the past couple of years. Thuy is just a week removed from the deluxe reissue of her 2021 project I Hope U See This while RINI released his official debut album Constellations last fall.
Before AAPI Heritage month comes to a close, we caught up with Thuy and RINI to talk about their upbringing and how their roots helped them to grow into the artists they are today.
How did your family support your early aspirations in music?
Thuy: Well, I feel like maybe as a kid, both of my parents, knew that was my passion. I’ve always been singing karaoke, and it was [always] one song, I would go into the middle of like family parties and I would pick up the strength to do that, even though I was really shy. So I feel like maybe they knew that was a gift that I had, but I never really let them into that life when I was actually making music. I felt like I was hiding a lot of myself, like, after work, I would go to the studio, but I wouldn’t tell them where I was going because I was afraid of what they would think.
RINI: They didn’t mind me doing it, but there was a point in time where I was in a different space, and I didn’t know where I was heading with my life. My family, especially my mom, were kind of like, “Yo, you’re not doing anything. You just go into the studio, how are you even making money? You don’t have a job.” It got to a point where it was becoming a problem for them and they were worried about my future, and I don’t blame them for being that way. Everybody wants the best for the kids, but I couldn’t really do anything else but music because that’s what I love doing. Even though you know, I was struggling trying to make some money, trying to go to the city bus, make some money, do gigs, and stuff, my family never really saw a future in there and I had to fight for that.
What about your heritage influences your music, the way you approach the craft, or any other aspect?
T: What I could take from my heritage is that they’re very passionate about their music. Music has always been something that transcends past family parties. I feel like my parents have always used music as a way to bond with family members. It was just something like, that was really big in my family. I feel like it probably was the reason why influenced me performance-wise, as far as karaoke goes. I feel like that’s what I took into my artistry. I love performing, and it’s probably one of my favorite parts of being a musician. Just being able to be on stage and touch people and interact in that way, that’s probably my favorite part about being a musician.
R: When I write songs, I always write based on experience and in such a romantic way. Filipinos love to sing ballads, and they love that romantic jazz. So, me growing up there, I was listening to a lot of those types of songs. I feel like those transition into my own songwriting, the way I hear melodies, and the way I come up with chords when I make my music. Just always coming from the deepest part of my heart because that’s how that’s Filipinos like to be loved.
Was it hard to convince your parents to allow you to pursue music? If so, what convinced them that it would be worthwhile?
T: I feel like with like Asian parents, sometimes it’s like bragging rights (laughs). I feel like with school, it was more tangible because it was like, “Oh, that’s a degree and I can show that off to the family members.” With music, it wasn’t really something that they could understand. I think maybe it was a year and a half or two years ago, I was on a TV segment with the Bay Area News. My parents watch the news, so that kind of changed everything for them. I think seeing me on TV, they were like, “OH! Okay, my daughter is like, okay, this is serious.”
R: There was one time my mom and I got into a huge argument about what I was supposed to do with my life and I ended up running away from my house and just stayed at a couple of friends’ houses — still making music at that time. After a couple of months, everything started going up, like the music started paying off. To the point where I’m like, I could actually do this sh*t full time, I don’t have to worry about getting gas or not being able to have anything to give myself. That’s when I talked to my parents. I showed them this is proof I’m making money from this passion that I love doing that you thought wasn’t really a proper thing. Then, the news of me getting signed with a major label in the US blew their minds.
You’re not too far removed from your most recent projects, what do you hope these bodies of work contribute to the overall story you’re trying to paint as an artist?
T: I love creating a storyline. I feel like “X’s And O’s” and “Distance Between Us,” for example, tie into the story of I Hope You See This of closing out that chapter of like that bad relationship or leaving people in the past and that’s kind of like what “X’s And O’s” is about, just like leaving people, whether it’s the non-believers or whether it’s a toxic ex, in the past and I feel like the whole deluxe is really just like closing out that chapter of my life.
R: I want to be able to show the world and myself that I’m growing, not just in music, but as a person. The things that I write about, the things that I talk about are constantly going to be different and something new. I think that I achieved that with Constellations. I feel like I’ve evolved from what I was before. That’s what I hope to keep doing in the future.
What’s one thing you’d love to contribute back to your culture?
T: I hope that I give back a different perspective. I think that being Vietnamese doesn’t always have to be a certain set of ways. I feel like growing up, you had to follow this rubric of how you act, how you dress, and how you talk to your elders. I hope that I can show my culture that you don’t have to be those things to be a good person. Now, I go to family parties and I wear what I want and I’m not afraid to be who I am 100%. Just showing that there are just so many different types of people within our culture, and we all share a story that contributes to something so much bigger than us.
R: I would definitely love to shed light on like what’s really happening in my country. There’s a lot of poverty in stuff you know, being third world [country], but also that no matter where you come from, you can make something out of yourself. That’s the message that I’m really trying to deliver because, especially in the music scene, there are really not a lot of full Filipinos that are pushing through to the mainstream market. I just want to be the bridge for that. I would love to see more Filipino artists being more recognized.
What is one thing you’d say to younger artists who look up to you?
T: I would say, keep going. Even if you only get ten likes on your posts, keep going. It’s all about being consistent, working hard, and — you don’t have to make the best music right now – [constantly] creating — and never stop creating just because you’re not getting like the outside validation. Just know that you have something special within yourself.
R: I would say learn everything about yourself. Learn the weaknesses, learn your strengths, keep the people that push you to be better, and know who you can trust and support. As artists, [we] go through a lot of things, and once everything kind of starts to pop pop off, other people start to kind of get there and try to change things up a little bit. So, I think the most important things for artists to do is just learn about yourself, grow, continuously push boundaries, surround yourself with people you can trust, and don’t doubt your vision when you get one.
In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, WMG’s API Employee Resource Group APIECE partnered with LION’S SHARE to give emerging AAPI music artists a spotlight! Check out their Spotlight AAPI Topsify list below for some serious tunes.
Thuy’s I Hope U See Thus (Deluxe) is out now. You can stream it here.
RINI’s Constellations is out now via Warner. You can stream it here.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.