Setting the stage for 88rising’s highly anticipated Head In The Clouds III compilation, ‘California’ is a love letter to the Asian roots of Rich Brian, NIKI, and Warren Hue. Released on 27 May 2021, the Jason Ano-directed music video interpolates footage of the Asian community in Los Angeles with that of the three Indonesian artists bonding over meals and a game of congkak, a traditional board game predominantly found in Southeast Asia.

Speaking at a recent press conference, the trio revealed that this collaboration started as an instrumental and was recorded separately. Rich Brian elaborated that he was “going into it fresh” when he wrote his parts for the song as he did not hear any of NIKI or Warren’s parts prior to it. “I think we all just kind of talked about our own experiences with being in California and moving to California, as people that are not from here, as Indonesians,” he said.

Warren Hue, 88rising’s latest signee, called the process of making the single “very natural, [and] very lovely”. He pointed out that all three of their parts are different and unique to each of them, but it was “just magic” how it all came together so well.

Reminiscing on their past collaborations, NIKI and Rich Brian stated that making ‘California’ was not that different from the others as they usually write their own parts separately. “We have, actually, never been in the same room when we write – just shy like that,” jokes Brian.

However, the pair spoke of how they have watched each other grow and thrive over the years after moving to LA at about the same time. NIKI expressed, “It was really nice to have somebody that’s also Indonesian, that I can speak Indonesian to, navigating what it means to live in LA [with me]. Brian is one of my good friends out here.”

Lyrically, ‘California’ represents the biggest dreams of the trio coming true. It was a shared sentiment that being able to move to LA to pursue their dreams was unexpected and surreal. “As a kid, [I would watch] tons of movies with my parents [that portrayed] the American Dream. So, that’s how I always saw California growing up,” Warren explained. “The hills, the palm trees, everything, just waking up and seeing that everyday is refreshing.”

Having gone to university in Nashville, NIKI said that moving to LA was not always a part of her plan, but it was a “natural process” after her first year in college. When she started putting out music with 88rising, she was required to commute constantly between Nashville and LA. “So, eventually, it just made sense to move here, and I’ve been here ever since. And it’s been great, I love it.”

“For me, I always wanted to come to California since I was very young,” Rich Brian shared. He recalls feeling inspired by movies portraying the state when he was 16, freshly working with 88rising but did not have a visa to travel to America yet. “It made my wildest dreams very valid. And now, being here, it’s crazy. I’m still not jaded by LA, I’m still discovering it everyday.”

When asked what he would tell his teenage self, Brian states, “Be more appreciative of what you have, or what you are about to have”. He expressed that his career progressed from “zero to a hundred so fast” that he did not have the time to process everything that happened.

“I feel that a lot of artists have had to do a lot of shows where nobody comes, or make music that has like seven streams. On my first tour, I feel like it did so well, and I thought this is awesome! But all I knew was that it was great – I didn’t know the other side of it. So, when I had it, I didn’t appreciate it as much as other people would. Now that I’ve experienced more ups and downs, I definitely have a way better perspective of all the things that I have. So, I think the most important thing is to be grateful,” the Indonesian rapper confessed.

Interestingly, NIKI’s verse also included a rather introspective line: “I’m the antihero in my own damn movie”, which suggests that every story needs a catalyst, and sometimes one has to be the catalyst in their own stories. According to the songstress, the line stemmed from the movies that she watched throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, in which she realised that she gravitates towards the antihero characters. “I think they’re the most complex and dimensional characters and they always have the most interesting arcs. That kind of made me realise how I perceive myself – I think that I, for some reason, view myself as an antihero.”

“Sometimes their methods and their intentions are kind of questionable, but at the end there’s always some kind of arc or something that they do that wins you over, and then you immediately see this other side to them,” she continues. “It’s just a lens that I view myself in, I guess. I think everyone has a love-hate relationship with themselves, the same way we have love-hate relationships with the antiheroes.”

The visuals for ‘California’ presents a montage of the Asian diaspora in America. Warren Hue said that music video presents a “very heart-warming” and “wholesome” side of the Asian community. “It’s very vintage-looking – we shot it in film, so that made it look even better. It felt like an actual movie. I was really proud of what we did in the music video, I think we killed that for sure,” he gushed.

NIKI chimed in and said, “We aren’t Asian American, we’re all Indonesian and we moved here. But then we also have friends that are first generation and second generation Asian Americans. There are all these different stories but yet there’s a common thread between all of us, and that is the Asian experience in America, and I think all the stories overlap in such beautiful ways.”

Catch Rich Brian, NIKI, and Warren Hue in the ‘California’ music video below.