Hip-hop singer and Cal State Fullerton student Paolo Ombao, better known by his stage name Apollo Hill, said it’s an uphill climb to get where he wants to be as a successful musician. To Hill, the representation of Asians in the arts is low and even lower in the music industry.
“People may not take me as serious because I’m Asian,” Hill said.
But he wants to reverse that trend and be as prominent as his role models Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, significant figures who have “kicked down the door for Asian people.”
Hill’s musical passion started when he was a child, but amplified when he started to record himself and create his own beats at the age of 16.
Now 23 years old, Hill continues to make his own music and distribute it on Spotify, SoundCloud and YouTube. While he has performed in Reno, Nevada as well as Programme Skate & Sound in Fullerton, Hill focuses on social media as his primary means to spread his name.
In the seven years since Hill started to record and make his own music, he has drawn from rock, hip-hop, modern rhythm and blues and ‘90s R&B to develop his own musical style.
“Honestly, I don’t really have a genre. I guess I am making a new genre. Like pop songs, it’s kind of like a mixture of everything,” Hill said.
Quinton Hal, a friend of his, said Hill has the ability to transform a song.
“They all start from something so tiny and random, but they always come out so good like he’s just been plotting on it his whole life,” Hal said.
Music has grown into something beyond just a passion for Hill. Making music has become a sanctuary because of a stutter that makes it difficult for him to speak and connect with others.
“With the stutter, I can’t really express what I feel sometimes, but I guess with music you can fully express yourself,” Hill said.
Hill’s friend Dalton Robinson described the influence music has on Hill and how it tells a different story.
“His music brings out his personality so much. With his stutter, (he) is a really reserved, humbled person. In his music, he is a total opposite, a contrast. He is a superstar,” Robinson said.
Hill said the music-making process is lengthy and can take him anywhere from a few days to a few months.
His upcoming EP, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” will feature around five songs and has taken him about three months to develop. Hill said one of the songs from the EP, “91 WILLOW ST,” represents him as a person.
“Most of the album really draws from my anxiety and depression. It also comes from drug use and some experiences in my past, in my childhood. It’s pretty much what inspired the project,” Hill said.
In the future, Hill hopes to tour and gain recognition from other popular artists. He also plans to keep pushing the boundaries of different music genres and continue to develop a unique sound.
However, Hill is apprehensive about being a part of a major label.
“I feel like major labels take advantage of artists. I kind of want to be more independent,” Hill said.
It’s a future Hill knows won’t be easy, but he hopes he can eventually prove the people who doubt him wrong and inspire other Asian-Americans trying to break into the music industry. To Hill, music has no boundaries.
“I keep putting myself out there as a musician, as an artist. People will get over the fact that I’m Asian and accept my music,” Hill said.
Both Hal and Robinson can see Hill breaking out and making a name for himself as an Asian in the music industry.
“If you’re Asian and you see Apollo Hill, and that doesn’t break barriers for you, then I don’t know what will. It doesn’t even matter if you’re Asian or not,” Hal said.