Joanne Tang’s moniker, 9m88, is a testament to her cross-cultural background. Pronounced “joe-EM ba-ba,” using the Mandarin pronunciation of its numerals, it’s a combination of her English name spoken in a Taiwanese drawl with the number of the public middle school she attended in Taiwan. Later, she moved to New York, graduating from the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music at the New School in 2018. Since then, she’s had quite a meteoric rise in the world of Sinophone R&B, landing the “Best Newcomer Award” in 2020 at Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards for her debut Beyond Mediocrity.
Her latest record, 9m88 Radio, is global in its panoply of genres and roster of collaborators: from Japan, marquee producers DJ Mitsu the Beats and StarRo; from the U.S., independent wordsmith Oddisee and Stones Throw beatmaker Silas Short; from Seoul and Australia respectively, alt-pop singer-songwriters SUMIN and Rainbow Chan. Tang has a unique way of uniting this disparate roster with her soulful croon, inspired by artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. This month, she’s planning to head to Austin for SXSW, but also bringing things back home on her next EP. “I think it’s time to go back and focus on writing some Mandarin songs,” she says. Her latest single, “若我告訴你其實我愛的只是你 What If” is a step in that direction, a jazzy number that goes back to her musical and linguistic roots, with Takuya Kuroda on trumpet and sax and Toshi Fujii slapping down a funky bassline.
Here are some of Tang’s favorite albums available on Bandcamp.
I Jahbar & Friends
Inna Duppy SKRS Soundclash
“I found this guy through an engineer’s Instagram feed, Jake Viator from Stones Throw. My first album [Beyond Mediocrity] was mixed there. But he was sharing this guy’s music on his story or something, and I was like, wow. It’s so dope. It’s a really hardcore kind of thing. I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I feel the energy, you know?
“For my first album, we didn’t have enough budget. And this guy, Jake, was like an angel. He was so nice. We told him we only had two or three days to mix an album. And he was like, ‘Okay, I could try my best to do it,’ but actually thinking back like, it’s impossible to do. It’s so silly to get a mix in two days. We did it in a decent way, but not in a perfect way, because we didn’t have enough time. At that time, I didn’t have enough experience with mixing, like sitting next to an engineer and [giving] some comments and stuff. My ears were not open enough to recognize what I wanted. So I was just like, ‘Could you turn the guitar a little bit louder? Could you put more reverb on my vocals?’ That’s it. Everything was handed to him, but it was fun. And the founder Peanut Butter Wolf, he’s so nice. He was showing us around the studio and he took us to a listening session after our mixing.”
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
“This one is really special because it feels folky, but at the same time, a little bit more than that. It’s got kind of a cult film kind of vibe. Like an Ari Aster cult film. And I really like the cover art of this album.
“I came across [the album] in the second half of last year because I really wanted to discover music out of my comfort zone. I’ve been listening to hip-hop, R&B, and jazz standards for so long, so I wanted to hear some different sounds. I started listening to Brazilian music through bossa nova. And then I wanted to dig deeper, so I went through the easy listening bossa nova to the instrumentalist kind of albums.”
Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…
2 x Vinyl LP, Cassette
“This girl (Liv).e, she’s so cool. I think I found her through Erykah Badu; they know each other. And since Erykah Badu is [one of] my biggest influences, I started to listen to her music. It’s really special because of the way she produces and mixes her album like her sounds and music is…I don’t know; it’s really tasteful. It’s different.
“I’m drawn to her singing style and the way she interacts with different genres. You can tell she has this really cool sound and she wants to sing in a jazzy way on an electronic genre or electronic songs. Because I really love jazz music, right? But I don’t think I do a great job on infusing jazz to a totally different genre. I still have this [hang-up], like when I sing jazz, it should be jazz. But I think she does a great job. And she’s so stylish as a person, you know? You can tell she has a strong persona when you listen to her music.”
Nap King Cole and Jace XL
Nap King Cole Presents: A Jace XL Christmas Vol. 1
Compact Disc (CD)
“OK, so this guy Nap King Cole. He’s a DJ and I think if you search him on Bandcamp, his name is SILENTJAY. He’s a bedroom producer, and I figure a lot of musicians follow him, like Joyce Wrice. So I guess he works with a lot of them, but he’s really low-key. [This] album is a Christmas album, but with rap and R&B singers, and […] lo-fi hip hop sounds in it. So it’s really interesting.
“But this album wasn’t the first thing [that I heard from him]. I discovered him through other stuff, like instrumental hip-hop tracks. I wanted to contact him for a song, but I didn’t do it in the end, because, you know, producers like him could be really hard to work with. For example, like him and NxWorries. Those guys, they’re so cool that you’re kind of afraid to reach out! [laughs].”
Layton Wu 雷頓狗
Expiry Dates Vol.1
“I think I have to shout out my friend Layton Wu. He’s a really devoted bedroom producer, and he’s proud of it. I really like his selection of sounds, it’s playful, and it has surprises, and now he’s singing on his tracks. And I like it! Like, he’s not the perfect vocalist, but it has a vibe.
“We met years ago; we had a mutual friend Sonia [Calico]. And after that, I think I invited him to produce a song for me, ‘Love Rain,’ and ever since, we’ve been working [together on] three to four songs altogether. We became really close friends. He’s nice to work with, but sometimes he’s real stubborn about what he likes.”
And Yet It’s All Love
Cassette, Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP
“Here’s the last one; she’s quite famous. I think I heard her so many years ago when I was doing an internship in New York. And then, I went to Rough Trade in Brooklyn, which has closed already. I saw her records, her vinyls in its beautiful cover—like really colorful.
“I went back home and listened to her records. I love her voice so much and the way she performs. I checked out some live performances online, and [they’re] really special. I think the special thing about her music is even though she works with a lot of bedroom producers, she still embraces live sounds with musicians. So you can hear some sort of orchestra in the album infused with a lo-fi hip-hop sound.”