2022 has barely begun, but there’s already a candidate for ‘Boy Of The Year’: Warren Hue. A household name in Indonesian rap circles, Hue burst onto the global scene last year when he signed with 88rising, making his solo debut with the effervescent single “Omomo Punk.” He completed an Indonesian power trio by joining Rich Brian and NIKI on the single ‘California’ – then hopscotched through the 88rising soundtrack for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Hue is reserved and busy – not to mention hard at work on his new album “Boy Of The Year”. “There are personal moments on this album and sounds that I had never touched before this album,” the 20-year-old NME 100 member said when we finally nailed him for a Zoom call. “I’m in a whole new space, and I feel like it’s going to get visually crazier than my old projects. I’m really fine-tuning my sound… It should be unexpected.
We speak a few days after the release of the song ‘Internet Boy’, produced by frequent collaborator Chasu, which Hue has lovingly describe like the “Monte Booker to my Smino”. On the house beat from the South Korean producer, the rapper provides a short and sweet explanation of how Warren Hui became Warren Hue:Hello hello I’m an internet boy / GarageBand star I’m an internet boy / I made all this money from the internet boy / Now I do it all the time I’m an internet boy.”
Like thousands of people around the world, Hue started making music in his bedroom. When he was 16, he rapped to the beat of Valee’s “Womp Womp,” mixing in WWE references, Phineas and Ferb, the luxury sons, the NBA and Iron Man and drop it on SoundCloud (it was tagged “ASIAN SWAG”). He started releasing music under his gamertag, warrenisyellow, including “Sugartown” in 2019, a joint project with Chasu that could share playlist space with Brockhampton and Aminé.
Hue, originally from Jakarta, is now based in the United States. He didn’t experience much culture shock, he says, having fallen in love with American culture and hip-hop through the internet. An only child connected to the computer and video games, he grew up idolizing Odd Future, who not only made music but also created his own visual universe with sketches and video clips. “I was grabbing bits from the internet and studying and analyzing what these artists are doing at the highest level of creativity,” he says. “That’s what I always wanted to do: create my own world, almost, with my music.”
warrenisyellow has collaborated with several Indonesian artists, but as an online-incubated artist, Hue was not primarily inspired by the Indonesian hip-hop scene. He does, however, praise Kareem Soenharjo, who beats as Yosugi, raps as BAP. and leads the BAPAK group. When Hue found Yosugi’s 2016 song “Messages” on YouTube, it blew his teen away.
“The first time I heard that, I was just like, ‘Whoa, that’s like crazy. That sounds like American rap.’ At that time, I was just super amazed that Indonesians can actually pull off something like that. So it really inspired me – and I’m still inspired by him now. The BAP 2021. ‘MOMO’S MYSTERIOUS SKIN’ album is “incredible”, says Hue (NME accepted).
“That’s what I always wanted to do: create my world, almost, with my music”
Another Indonesian rapper that a young Hue looked up to is Rich Brian, whom he proclaims “an idol of Asian rap.” They first met in a mall in Jakarta when Hue was 14 or 15 years old with a round face, their meeting was commemorated as the very first post on Hue’s Instagram account. Brian, leaving a comment years later: “WAS THAT YOUUUUU????? WHAT THE FUCKING”.
Now they are label mates, with Hue picking 88 out of all the labels vying for his attention in his emails and DMs. He saw in 2021 by changing his artist name to Warren Hue, guest on a song by 88-cover Japanese girl group Atarashii Gakko! and made his solo debut on the label with “Omomo Punk”.
Supercharged with a glitchy beat produced by Klahr and LIOHN (who both worked with Lady Gaga on ‘Chromatica’), the single is Hue taking the listener on a ride through this hectic new phase of her life. Drip and dominance beckon, while in quieter moments Hue wonders if he can work things out with the girl he likes:”Maybe you will play my songs?he dares. A turbulent and vulnerable self-portrait, earlier this month, “Omomo Punk” won Best Song by an Asian Artist at the 2022 BandLab NME Awards.
Hue got more leeway on ‘California’, released two months later as one of the first previews for ‘Head In The Clouds 3’, the upcoming third edition of 88rising’s flagship compilation. Hue, Brian, and NIKI ponder being transplanted to the sunny state; the anti-Asian violence at the start of the pandemic darkens Hue’s otherwise amazed words: “LA, Westside, mom scared most of the time.”
Does Hue feel like he has changed since arriving in America? “I’m always going to be Indonesian at heart. I’m always going to put that on the table. I show my [own] different perspective when it comes to my music and I talk about how I grew up in Indonesia so that factor will always stay with me… Maybe I’ll write more around [being in America] and how my life is going here. But I’m definitely not trying to give up my Indonesian culture.
Hue beats the drum for Asian representation even louder on the Shang Chi soundtrack, which 88rising co-founder Sean Miyashiro told him about a month after signing with the label. “I was just like, whoa, this is too crazy to be true. I didn’t really process it. Because it’s Marvel, man. Everybody’s into Marvel. And especially [in] Indonesia, Marvel culture is huge. Hue appears on four of the soundtrack’s 18 songs, including “Warriors” closer to K-pop singer-songwriter Seori, where he ostensibly raps: “Comics don’t feature Asians with hellish dreams / I’m pissed, I’m pissed.”
“It was just me saying, why isn’t there anyone who looks like me doing this artist thing on this level?” he says of these lyrics. “I didn’t have a role model that I could look up to growing up, as far as Asians go.”
Hue could very well become that Asian role model for some kids today, but that’s not something he’s concerned about. “I just try to be myself,” he says. “Making great music, like following my vision from day one. Inspiring Asian kids is definitely a goal, but it’s not a bigger picture. I don’t do this musical stuff just to inspire others. I want them to look at me and be like, ‘Yo, this kid just does what he wants regardless of limits.’ »
“The first time I heard Yosugi I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s like crazy’… At that point, I was just super amazed that Indonesians could actually pull off something like that”
Now making music full-time, with access to studios and different producers, Hue embraces his new found freedom from the limitations he faced as a rookie who only owned Apple headphones, a MacBook Pro and GarageBand. “In Indonesia, I did everything on my own. But now, [in the studio with a producer], they can see all your bullshit, basically,” he laughs. “All the test melodies, I have some weird methods of creating this stuff, and they see it all. But I grew up to be comfortable with it.
Alone in a vocal booth, there is only Warren Hue, the microphone, and what he is about to rap in it. What motivates him? Its enemies – and its heroes. “I’m in competition with everyone,” he says. “I don’t care: I idolize someone so great, I’m still competing with you at the end of the day.”
Who is he talking about, exactly? He’s laughing. “Damn! Everybody man, everybody I look up to: Tyler, Kanye, Brian. I just wanna prove to people that anybody can do it, and I’m just super passionate about this kind of music Passion always wins. If you do it for any other reason, I feel like it won’t go far.
“I feel like I’m very passionate. I’m just ready to do this, man. I’m really ready to do it. Living the dream.”
Warren Hue’s ‘Internet Boy’ is out and ‘Boy Of The Year’ is on the way