On September 3, Marvel released the long-awaited Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a film marking the beginning of the MCU’s Phase 4. With it came an 18-track album featuring a plethora of notable Asian talent, paralleling the film. Team EnVi breaks down the masterfully-created tracks.
Asian Representation on the Big Screen
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the origin story of Shang-Chi (played by Simu Liu). The titular character is the son of a warrior. His possession of a weapon, the Ten Rings, has brought him power for thousands of years. After Shang-Chi grows up and leads an everyday life, he is dragged back into his father’s organization, the Ten Rings.
However, hidden behind an exciting plot and a star-studded cast are countless hours of effort and build-up to Shang-Chi‘s release. Originally planned to release last February to coincide with Chinese New Year, the film was pushed back and delayed several times because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, Shang-Chi is a triumph for Asian representation both on the big screen and behind the camera. Aside from the majority Asian cast, Asian-American director Destin Daniel Cretton heads the project. In addition, the film boasts a soundtrack highlighting Asian artists from across the globe, led by Asian-American production company 88rising.
Behind the Soundtrack
“The music on this album is the beating heart of our film. As we were editing Shang-Chi, we were constantly inspired by the early recordings coming in from these incredible musicians,” Cretton shared. In addition, 88rising used the film’s setting of San Francisco to tell a deeper story about the Asian-American experience. A familiar theme reflects in the album and movie: family. Both explore the relationships between past generations, present, and future.
“With this album, I wanted to bring artists together to tell the stories of unconditional love and memories of growing up—the distinct warmth of mom’s hot soup or cut fruit—and how she was always there for you whether you appreciated it or not,” said 88rising’s founder, Sean Miyashiro.
Always Rising (with Rich Brian & Warren Hue)
The album kicks off with “Always Rising,” produced by Craig Balmoris, Bēkon, and The Donuts. The track opens with NIKI’s vocals accompanied by soft guitar strings. The use of reverb and echo delays on NIKI’s vocals leaves the listener in a dream-like state as the track builds up the drama with the help of orchestral elements. Looping the background vocals to transition into a trap beat with heavy bass lets Warren Hue and Rich Brian join the track. The lyrics highlight the combination of themes of family, perseverance, and the Asian-American experience.
Diamonds + And Pearls (with DPR IAN & peace.)
The Donuts, Sean Miyashiro, Craig Balmoris, and Bēkon come together to produce a heavy 70s rock-influenced sound for “Diamonds + And Pearls.” The start of the song gives off Queen vibes with layered acapella-style vocals are combined with piano. But as the melody picks up and the beat kicks in, the vocal effects quickly become reminiscent of the well-known electronic music duo Daft Punk. DPR LIVE, DPR IAN, and peace. grace the track with their unique DPR sound.
You’re now listening to 88rising ➕ coming to you live!! One of our favorite moments of the album pic.twitter.com/vQG3tDcoAI
— 88rising (@88rising) September 3, 2021
As 88rising shared with the New York Times, the pair were the “two most exciting artists coming from Korean R&B.” Want to read more about the DPR and peace. track? Check out our article dedicated to the release here!
In The Dark (with Jhene Aiko)
Swae Lee and Jhene Aiko come together on “In the Dark.” This lo-fi hip-hop beat track, produced by Louis Bell and Teo Halm, blends Swae Lee’s melodic tone and Jhene Aiko’s sultry touch. The lyrics are written from the perspective of someone in a relationship, asking one’s partner not to leave them “in the dark.” Aiko’s verse adds more personal touch as she sings about understanding space and privacy in a relationship.
Lazy Susan (with Rich Brian feat. Warren Hue & Masiwei)
The fourth track, “Lazy Susan,” was initially featured in the film’s trailer. This track combines the talents of 21 Savage, MaSiWei of Higher Brothers, Rich Brian, and Warren Hue. With a combination of different flows, tones, and languages, this track is sure to keep listeners on their toes. The heavy piano brings a haunting style to MaSiWei’s verse. Though the only rapper outside of 88rising, 21 Savage showed he was right where he belonged with his impressive flow. The beat change, with synth-pop influences, provided Rich Brian with a smooth foundation to glide on the track. The organ behind 21’s verses continues the haunting energy during MaSiWei’s verse. Giving the track an almost villainous style, Warren comes in heavy with his old-school flow.
Nomad (with Gen Hoshino)
South Korean hip hop artist Zion.T and Japanese singer-songwriter Gen Hoshino team up for the fifth track on the album. “Nomad” is a hip-hop track heavily filled with a strong bass line, synth, and an eerie electric guitar. The combination of these gives the track an almost retro feel. Zion.T opens the song in English, singing about feeling like the only one lonely and lost. The song’s chorus is catchy, filled with emotion as the two artists showcase their raw vocals. Hoshino starts the second verse in Japenese with an impressive flow, vocalizing how he will persevere despite all obstacles that face him.
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Fire In The Sky
The sixth track on the album, “Fire In The Sky,” is an easygoing song that incorporates a robust acoustic guitar and percussion. The simplicity of the track gives it a relaxing Bossa Nova vibe. Anderson .Paak performs the song, one he co-wrote with Bruno Mars. Throughout the song, .Paak tells a story about wanting to be with the love of his life, from the beginning of the relationship through to the present. He sings about how his significant other has positively affected his everyday life and makes everything feel as simple as watching fireworks in the sky.
The seventh track on the album is Singaporean singer JJ Lin’s “Lose Control” is a song with an electronic disco feel, with a consistent and funky bass sound. The music slowly fades in as the tempo picks up with the surprising usage of a string instrument, as he sings about wanting to live without worries, feeling free, and empowered. The melody stays upbeat throughout the song but takes an unpredictable turn towards the end of the song. Through the use of percussion, piano, and string instruments, the orchestral sound makes the listener feel as though they’ve entered another world and gives off a feeling of nostalgia.
NIKI returns for the eighth song, “Every Summertime,” with a dreamy, laid-back melody incorporating the jazzy sounds of brass and keys. She sings about feeling so in love that every day feels like summertime. The music video features Minari actor Alan Kim and rapper Dumbfoundead, where they play father and son, grooving to the song as they drive home. In addition to her music video, NIKI released a special track video on the film’s release day. The track video takes place at 99Ranch, an Asian grocery store popular in California.
Never Gonna Come Down (with BIBI)
GOT7’s Mark Tuan and Korean female soloist BIBI came together on the gentle pop duet, “Never Gonna Come Down,” produced by SickDrumz and Nick Audino. The song opens with a bouncy guitar riff featured throughout the song and Mark Tuan’s soft vocals. BIBI’s signature conversational flow blends with Mark Tuan’s voice as they sing of the frustrations of a love they cannot help indulging even though they should not. As a result, the song lends itself to bright and playful energy, which juxtaposes the desperation in the lyrics.
Foolish (with Warren Hue & Guapdad 4000)
Rich Brian, Warren Hue, and Guapdad 4000 worked together to create a loud and fun song for the tenth track of the soundtrack. “Foolish” is reminiscent of early 2000s hip-hop, with a catchy snare and bouncy bass. The song is a haughty anthem, calling out those who are all talk, as stated explicitly in the chorus by Guapdad 4000. Flashy and highly exuberant, “Foolish” is a song easy to sing and enjoy.
Clocked Out! (with NIKI)
“Clocked Out!” features a warped and dark beat joined by a heavy bass that suits AUDREY NUNA’s voice and rap style. Her lazy and breathy rap style, in conjunction with her rising and falling intonation, keeps the listener engaged right up until the simple but powerful chorus. However, while AUDREY NUNA’s style fits the song, NIKI’s completely opposing style of music brings a fascinating aspect to Clocked Out! that slows down the piece.
NIKI RAPPING AGAIN ON CLOCKED OUT! IM BREAKINGFGFFFGF
— hufasa (@bugabIue) September 3, 2021
Act Up (with EARTHGANG)
The album’s twelfth track, “Act Up,” is an ominous hip-hop track heavily inspired by traditional Chinese music. The track begins with a guzheng’s suspenseful sound before giving way to the typical hip-hop style of heavy bass and snare. The chorus is sung by American hip-hop duo EARTHGANG, starting with an arrogant rap before breaking into a taunting melody. Rich Brian’s deep voice and fast-paced rapping combined with the high-pitched and autotuned rap style of EARTHGANG work together to create a rap track that complements the darker side of the movie.
Baba Says (with Adawa, Shayiting EL, and Henry Lau)
“Baba Says,” made in collaboration by Chinese hip-hop artists Adawa and Shayiting EL, features vocals from Henry Lau. The track is a trap-influenced mix of hip-hop and synth-pop. The song begins with an aggressive rap intro from Adawa, transitioning into a dreamy chorus filled with synths. She takes on the second verse as well, leading into Henry’s chorus singing about the advice “baba says,” like “life ain’t perfect.” Shayiting EL’s powerful rap verse leads the latter half of the song, which closes with Henry’s smooth vocals.
Run It (with DJ Snake feat. Rick Ross & Rich Brian)
“Run It,” produced by DJ Snake, Diamond Pistols, and SIM, and performed by Rich Brian and Rick Ross, is powerful hip-hop and EDM fusion, with deep bass and pounding percussion. Pulsing bass introduces the track and leads into Rich Brian’s intense verse. Following him is an instrumental refrain with the deep sounds of synth, transporting the listener into a fight scene within the film. Rick Ross’s deep tone and flowing verse lure into the song’s second drop, catapulting the listener back into the ambiance of a battle. The music turns towards the end with heavy brass and choral voices mixed in, leading to an epic ending for the track.
Swan Song (with Saweetie & NIKI)
The typical idea of a swan song is given new life in this collaborative track between Saweetie and NIKI. “Swan Song” hits hard right off the bat with punchy piano chords and the two artists singing together, “out with the old, in with the new, it’s a new dawn, and it ain’t you.” In both of their verses, they rap about being “in with the new gen,” again making it clear that what once was no longer is, and they are here to stay. Their “Swan Song” makes its appearance in the final post-credit scene of the movie.
Do you know that feeling when you step out from the cinema feeling like a brand new character, can do whatever you want because you feel ✨powerful✨?
— NIKI Updates (@nikiupdate) September 4, 2021
War With Heaven (with keshi)
“War With Heaven,” a more groovy track in the album, is candy for the ears with keshi’s soft and dream-like vocals. The prevalent bass-line throughout the song mixes with plucky electric guitar. The lyrics in the chorus, “might go to war with heaven for keeping me away from you, so long,” bring to mind a journey one of the characters in the film goes through, and the lyrics perfectly translate that journey into a guitar-filled love song.
Keshi’s war with Heaven… too smooth
— 88rising (@88rising) September 3, 2021
Hot Soup (with Simu Liu)
“Hot Soup” leaves one feeling sad and nostalgic with the piano and orchestral strings. Lead actor Simu Lui’s voice is heavy in emotion as he sings about the memories of what once was. “Memories stay walking with me, like you did every day to school,” he sings. The vocal layering has a heavy presence, as the lines “I miss you” are constantly repeated throughout the song. The raw emotion felt in this song makes it a statement piece amongst the closing tracks.
— ૮₍ ˃ ⤙ ˂ ₎ა♡ (@MiaZainal1) September 2, 2021
Warriors (with Seori)
The album comes to a strong close with attitude as South Korean singer Seori lends her fierce vocals on the eighteenth track with Warren Hue. “Warriors” starts softer, but when Seori chants the chorus, the percussion kicks in, and the tempo quickens. Hue showcases his capability to ride the beat, and listeners can feel the emotion as he tells his story. The bridge slows the tempo again and will have listeners entranced by Seori’s vocals.
Finishing the Journey
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: The Album is a unique interpretation for a soundtrack already part of a groundbreaking movie. The album is a journey for Marvel fans alongside the film, between the songs inspired by or featured in the film and artists’ diverse and impressive lineup. From the violin-laced rock sounds of DPR’s “Diamonds + and Pearls” to the sentimental lyrics and instrumentals of 88rising and Simu Liu’s “Hot Soup,” Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: The Album has something for everyone.
Are you still craving more Shang-Chi? Then check out our other coverage on Mark Tuan and BIBI’s collaboration for the album.
Thumbnail courtesy of Marvel Studios.