At the tail-end of 2018, the members of the now sizable group ACN: Los Angeles held a holiday mixer. Asian American artists all around Southern California showed up–exchanging business cards, drinking, and 1-v-1-ing each other on the then newly released Super Smash Bros. While the party raged on all throughout the night, a small roster of local musicians kept the spirit of the party alive by singing operatic showtunes, pumping DJ electro-drops, and sing-alongs. But at the end of all of that, out stepped three fresh faces–a violinist and two nervous young rappers.
Unlike most of their predecessors, they made the bold decision to perform all original songs. As the three stumbled through their awkward, yet admirable short set (the violin was drowned out by the DJ, the mic cords got tangled as the rappers circled each other, and there were a few missteps), it became clear that although the trio wasn’t 100% sure of what they were doing, they still loved doing it. And if one thing was certain, it was that Casper Sun (Edward Chao) had flow and an amazing sense of rhythm.
On Casper Sun’s Pink Matter EP, released today on Nüsense, Chao puts that rap flow to the test over lo-fi hip hop beats and some additional help from the Asian American rap community. While Chao had exhibited a slightly scattered, tense energy when he was performing on stage all those months ago, Pink Matter EP feels comfortable. Right here on these three laid-back tracks, Chao is right at home.
“Mellow-hype,” the genre under which Chao categorizes his music, is exactly what these songs are. Though initial listens of the project might wash over you with a sense of tranquility (each song is backed by smoky looped samples that seem to ooze out of a late night jazz club), subsequent revisits uncover Chao and his collaborators’ classically swaggering, hip-hop inspired lyrics. In a sense, these are songs about hopeful suburban to big city dreams. On “Sonnie” and “Burberry,” Chao brings the party to their traditional 626 stomping ground by rapping about girls, cars, and of course, feelin’ fresh. Paired with rappers Sunday and Chow Mane, Chao manages to find some good collaborators who reflect that same hyped-up energy back to him. Though some of the one-liners here seem a bit out of place (Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, random Nicki Minaj references, and Pharrell get name dropped), they’re made with conviction and a cheeky sense of humor.
On EP closer “November,” rapper LATE LEE drops by with a Korean verse as well, creating an interesting crossover that cashes in on Korean fandom despite being made right here in Los Angeles. “November” is also one of the songs on the album that seems to refer to something more than just brashness: “Born in 95 / But I feel like 92 / My daddy left me to survive / Now I’m throwin up my twos,” Chao raps. Here we get a further glimpse into who Chao is–behind all the swagger and suburban malaise there’s a history that hints at a lot more.
And that’s the thing–Pink Matter EP may be an interesting mix of suburban hip hop dreams, but it doesn’t explore too much about who Chao is as a rapper. Even though Chao and his trio had fumbled a little bit during that holiday mixer, it was how energetic they were on stage–mistakes and all–that made them stand out. On Pink Matter EP, a lot of that energy is forcibly quashed due to those chill jazz vibes. Chao is at his best when he’s riffing with other people, goofing around, and kicking it up a notch or two with hype callouts. The only moment when we get that here is at the end of “Burberry,” his collaboration with Bay Area rapper Chow Mane. There’s plenty of joking and teasing within the track that the two do, and from there we start to see the more exciting version of Chao that would’ve undoubtedly caught your eye during that performance. On “Burberry,” he starts mid-rap, verses loaded, when he suddenly cuts himself off and jokes, “Nah I’m just playin!” and ends the song. Chao shows off a more fun, impromptu side of himself that sticks with you. Pink Matter EP doesn’t hit you hard with significant booms and beats–and that’s okay. He’s proven that he can comfortably create mellow-rap.
But Chao, with his infectious energy, seems much more well-suited for some hard hitting beats.
Photos courtesy of the artist and Planetary Group.
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.