Warren Hue: Indonesian rapper gunning for the title of ‘Boy Of The Year’
Written by ABR on 17/01/2022
2022 has barely begun, but there’s already a candidate for ‘Boy Of The Year’: Warren Hue. A known name in Indonesian rap circles, Hue burst onto a global stage last year when he signed to 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’ – and then hopscotched across 88rising’s soundtrack for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Hue is booked and busy – not to mention hard at work on his new album ‘Boy Of The Year’. “There’s some personal moments on this album, and some sounds that I’ve never touched before this album,” the 20-year-old NME 100 member says when we finally nail him down for a Zoom call. “I’m in a very new space, and I feel like it’s visually going to go crazier than my older projects. I’m really honing into my sound… It should be unexpected.”
We’re talking days after the release of the song ‘Internet Boy’, produced by frequent collaborator Chasu, whom Hue has lovingly described as the “Monte Booker to my Smino”. Over the South Korean producer’s housey beat, the rapper supplies a short, sweet explanation how Warren Hui became Warren Hue: “Hello hello I’m an internet boy / GarageBand star I’m an internet boy / Made all this money from the internet boy / Now I do it nonstop I’m an internet boy.”
Like thousands all over the world, Hue started making music in his bedroom. When he was 16, he rapped over the beat of Valee’s ‘Womp Womp’, stirring together references to WWE, Phineas and Ferb, luxury threads, the NBA and Iron Man and dropping it on SoundCloud (it was tagged “ASIAN SWAG”). He began releasing music under his gamertag, warrenisyellow, including 2019’s ‘Sugartown’, a joint project with Chasu that could share playlist space with Brockhampton and Aminé.
Hue, a Jakarta native, is now based in the US. He didn’t experience much culture shock, he says, having fallen in love with American culture and hip-hop via the internet. An only child plugged into the computer and video games, he grew up idolising Odd Future, who not only made music but also created their own visual universe with skits and music videos. “I was grabbing pieces of the internet and studying and analysing what these artists do at the highest level of creativity,” he says. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do: create my own world, almost, with my music.”
warrenisyellow collaborated with several Indonesian artists, but as an artist who was incubated online, Hue doesn’t 100 per cent identify as part of the Indonesian hip-hop scene. He does heap praise on Kareem Soenharjo, who makes beats as Yosugi, raps as BAP. and leads the band BAPAK. When Hue found the 2016 Yosugi song ‘Messages’ on YouTube, it blew his teenage mind.
“First time hearing it, I was just like, ‘Whoa, this is like crazy. This sounds like on some American rap stuff’. At that time, I was just super amazed that Indonesians could actually pull off something like this. So that really inspired me – and I still get inspired by him now.” The 2021 BAP. album ‘MOMO’S MYSTERIOUS SKIN’ is “incredible”, Hue says (NME agrees).
“That’s what I’ve always wanted to do: create my own world, almost, with my music”
Another Indonesian rapper that a young Hue admired is Rich Brian, whom he proclaims “an idol for Asian rap”. They first met at a mall in Jakarta when Hue was a round-faced 14 or 15-old, their encounter memorialised as the very first post on Hue’s Instagram account. Brian, leaving a comment years later: “THIS WAS YOUUUUU????? WHAT THE FUCK”.
Now they’re labelmates, Hue picking 88rising 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, guesting on a song by 88-repped Japanese girl group Atarashii Gakko! and making a statement solo debut on the label with ‘Omomo Punk’.
Supercharged with a glitching beat produced by Klahr and LIOHN (who both worked with Lady Gaga on ‘Chromatica’), the single is Hue yanking the listener into a joyride through this hectic new phase in his life. Drip and dominance beckon, while in quieter moments Hue wonders if he can sort things out with the girl he loves: “Maybe you will play my songs?” he ventures. A hectic and vulnerable self-portrait, earlier this month ‘Omomo Punk’ won Best Song By An Asian Artist at the BandLab NME Awards 2022.
Hue got more breathing room on ‘California’, released two months later as one of the first previews of ‘Head In The Clouds 3’, the upcoming third edition of 88rising’s marquee compilation. Hue, Brian and NIKI reflect on being transplants in the sunny state; anti-Asian violence early on in the pandemic shadows Hue’s otherwise awestruck lyrics: “LA, Westside, mama scared most of the time.”
Does Hue feel like he’s changed since moving to America? “I’m still gonna always be Indonesian at heart. I’m always gonna bring that to the table. I’m showing my [own] different perspective when it comes to my music and I’m talking about how I grew up in Indonesia, so that factor will always stay with me… Maybe I’ll just write more around [being in America] and how my life is going on here. But I’m definitely not trying to let go of my Indonesian culture.”
Hue beats the drum for Asian representation even more loudly on the Shang-Chi soundtrack, which 88rising co-founder Sean Miyashiro told him about a month after he signed with the label. “I was just like, whoa, this is too insane to be true. I didn’t really process it. Because it’s Marvel, man. Everyone’s on Marvel. And especially [in] Indonesia, the culture of Marvel is huge.” Hue appears on four of the soundtrack’s 18 songs, including closer ‘Warriors’ featuring K-pop singer-songwriter Seori, where he pointedly raps: “Comic books don’t feature Asians with hella dreams / I’m pissed off, I’m pissed off.”
“That was just me being like, why isn’t there anyone that looks like me that’s doing this artist stuff at this level?’” he says of that lyric. “I didn’t have a role model I could look up to growing up, when it came to Asian people.”
Hue might very well become that Asian role model for some kids today, but that’s not something he’s preoccupied with. “I’m just trying to be myself,” he asserts. “Make good music, like just follow my vision from day one. Inspiring Asian kids out there is definitely a goal, but it’s not, like, a wider picture. I’m not doing this music stuff just to inspire other people. I want them to look at me and be like, ‘Yo, this kid’s just doing whatever he wants without worrying about any boundaries.’”
“First time hearing Yosugi, I was just like, ‘Whoa, this is like crazy’… At that time, I was just super amazed that Indonesians could actually pull off something like this”
Now doing music full-time, with access to studios and different producers, Hue is embracing his newfound freedom from those boundaries he faced as a rookie who only possessed Apple headphones, a MacBook Pro and GarageBand. “In Indonesia, I was just doing it all by myself. But now, [in the studio with a producer], they can see all of your fuck-ups, basically,” he chuckles. “All the trial melodies, I have weird methods of coming up with that stuff, and they see all that. But I’ve grown to be comfortable with that.”
Standing alone in a vocal booth, it’s just Warren Hue, the mic, and what he’s about to rap into it. What motivates him? His haters – and his heroes. “I’m competing with everyone,” he declares. “I don’t care: I idolise someone that big, I’m still competing with you at the end of the day.”
Who’s he talking about, specifically? He laughs. “Damn! Everyone, dude, everyone I admire: Tyler, Kanye, Brian. I just want to prove to people that anyone can do it, and that I’m just super passionate about this music stuff. Passion always carries everything. If you do it for any other reason, I feel like it’s not going to go crazy far.
“I feel like I’m very passionate. I’m just set to do this, man. I’m really set to do this. Live the dream.”
Warren Hue’s ‘Internet Boy’ is out now and ‘Boy Of The Year’ is on the way
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