The Homecoming of RINI

The Filipino-Australian artist has done what no Australian R&B artist has done before: cracked the U.S. market and amassed a legion of fans that spans multiple continents. So, how did he get here?

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Today, RINI might be Australia’s greatest R&B export but, as he fought to break into the United States market and struggled with visa issues, there were times he worried his label might drop him and he’d have to give up and come home.

Let’s rewind. Before his Past The Naked Eye tour this August, it had been almost seven long years since RINI had played an Australian show. His growth in the interim has been nothing short of exponential: he’s racked up over half a billion streams, and his tracks boast features from the likes of Wale and Earthgang. All of which made his homecoming this year especially sweet. 

RINI is at his Melbourne show venue, taking a break from soundcheck, when he sits down with Complex Australia. Happy to be home, he’s gracious and in good spirits: “It feels like a dream being back home to perform. I’m also just really glad to be back—I get to spend time with my family and see my little brother. I’ve been through the craziest stuff overseas, so being back home for a minute is such a nice feeling.” 

Indeed, living abroad in both the United States and Europe has seen RINI deal with adversity that at times felt career-ending. Talking about his struggle to obtain an appropriate U.S. visa in 2021, he recounts that it was one of the worst times in his life. At that point he’d been living in Los Angeles for three years, having moved from Melbourne after signing a coveted record deal with Warner Music. After his initial visa expired, he had to leave the U.S. while waiting for a renewed one—he was unsure if he’d be able to return. 

Returning home to Australia didn’t feel like an option. Like much of the world at the time, Australia was in the depths of battling the Covid-19 pandemic and had implemented strict border arrangements that subjected all entrants to a costly two-week hotel quarantine stay. A reduced number of flights also meant tickets would have cost RINI over $10,000 to get home.  

He says he thought about coming home, “But my career would’ve been over!” It’s hyperbole—he’s joking. During our interview, RINI often injects levity into more serious subject matter; his light-heartedness is a constant, even when talking about his struggles. But there’s a sense that the laughter is a veil: part of him really does believe moving home would’ve meant admitting failure.  

"I’m just happy I was able to get through the pandemic—that was one of the toughest times in my life and I had so many moments where I didn’t think I was going to make it as an artist.”

Having to leave the U.S. led RINI to Europe instead of back to Australia. He spent six weeks in Paris and two months in London waiting on a visa to re-enter the States. Speaking of that time he says, “It was so stressful because I had a project that was about to come out and I couldn’t promote it. I couldn’t do a lot of things and I was scared my label was going to drop me. It was too much—I was really going through hell.”  

He was stuck in a limbo where he’d staked everything on succeeding in music but had no control over his future. The way out of this, he says, was to focus on doing what he loved most: making music. RINI’s project Constellations eventually came out in October 2021, and he returned to the U.S. with a visa soon after. 

We talk about the past couple of years before turning to RINI’s far-reaching success; he’s in the midst of a world tour, after all. Breaking into other markets as an Australian artist—let alone as an R&B act—is notoriously difficult. You could even argue that RINI is the first Australian R&B artist to pull it off. At first ask, RINI finds it hard to pinpoint what it is about him that’s gotten him to where he is. After taking a moment to think, instead of opting for an intrinsic personal quality, like being hardworking or single-minded in his pursuit of success, he volunteers that his music caters to a U.S. audience.  

“I think that’s because a lot of the artists I look up to and listen to are from the U.S.—that’s where a lot of my inspiration and influences come from,” he says. While it’s true that his music caters to a U.S. audience, the fact he’s sold out shows across multiple continents is concrete proof that his sound has global appeal.  

RINI does not say much more on the topic of “why him”, leaving room for me to engage in some conjecture. One theory has something to do with RINI’s adaptability, particularly when it comes to his willingness to move around. Having grown up in the Philippines—he was eight when his family moved to Melbourne—the prospect of moving to the U.S. to crack the industry was perhaps less scary than it might be to non-immigrants. He’s open to this idea. “I think that makes the most sense. I think maybe because of my background—I’ve been to so many different places it’s hard to put me in one spot—I’m able to adapt to different cultures and all that stuff.” 

While he’s spent much of his life living in different continents, he still calls Melbourne home. While the Melbourne community means a lot to him, he means a lot to them, too. To put this in perspective, it might help to share an anecdote.  

Roughly a year before RINI’s touchdown in Australia, on a winter’s night at an artist showcase in Melbourne's south-east, the event’s MC, Nicole Damaso, picked up the mic for the final time. Held by a community arts organisation in Dandenong in an intimate gallery space, the evening had seen emerging singers, dancers, rappers and poets perform to a local audience.

Damaso ended the showcase by telling the story of her friend RINI. His identity reflected many of the artists’ and the audience’s that night—many of them were immigrants or the children of immigrants and had grown up in Melbourne’s south-east. Damaso talked about RINI’s Cranbourne upbringing, his move to L.A. to sign a major-label record deal and his sold-out shows across the U.S., Europe and Asia. Then she assured the audience that their dreams, too, were within reach. The subtext: he’s just like us.  

Her telling of his story captured precisely why RINI is so special: his success provides a reference point for not only his immediate community but also for Australian R&B artists more generally—where previously there hadn’t been one. For Australian R&B acts, the idea of breaking into the U.S. market and beyond had always been an intangibile dream—a concept waiting to be personified. RINI has worked to shift this notion, and he continues to do so.  

Reflecting on RINI’s success after our interview, I realise there’s a third, demonstrable component to the answer of ‘why him’: tenacity. It wasn’t something he offered when he answered my question about this. Perhaps it didn’t occur to him in the moment, or maybe he thought it sounded too clichéd or even—given his humble temperament—too conceited. He did, however, speak to his grit when he answered my question about what he’s most proud of, given all he’s achieved in the last few years. “I’m just happy I was able to get through the pandemic—that was one of the toughest times in my life and I had so many moments where I didn’t think I was going to make it as an artist,” he tells me. 

He continues, “Looking back at it now—I could’ve given up a long time ago and just gone home and said, ‘Screw it, I don’t even want to pursue this anymore.’ Because I was having those thoughts. I’m just really proud of myself for not giving up, and of going back to America to pursue this, because things are so much better now.”  

Indeed, things are much better. To date, his album Constellations boasts 149 million streams and counting, and he’s been able to tour it around the world.  

The last few years, in particular, have produced a vanguard of Australian acts who are redefining what Australian R&B looks and sounds like: Dylan Atlantis, PANIA, A.Girl, Billymaree, Boy Soda, GLO, Budjerah, Gia Vorne, Chanel Loren, JKING, CD and others. RINI is a reminder that their success can be more than a reverie—it’s for the taking.

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