Celebrate AAPI History Month with a playlist featuring iconic AAPI artists & musicians. Includes Silk Sonic, the Linda Lindas, Japanese Breakfast & more.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander history month and we’re celebrating with an eclectic mix of iconic AAPI artists. From the funky soul of Silk Sonic to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ gritty rock anthems and everything in between, the AAPI 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 AAPI community. Hey, you might even find your new favorite artist.
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 AAPI 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 AAPI 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?