Why the Next Jay-Z Might Come from Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia
When Singapore’s Yung Raja remixed Gucci Gang by US rapper Lil Pump, he swapped the original’s flashy cars and a prowling tiger for a beer can and Tamil food in a viral YouTube video that caught the attention of US hip-hop label Def Jam.
His 2018 remix – Poori Gang – was a trial run for the “concoction of Tamil and English” the 24-year-old says defines his flow. The overnight success, even among non-Tamil speakers in ethnically diverse Singapore, proved to Yung Raja that he could embrace his own identity without copying other Western artists he admired.
He is among a growing number of artists from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines snapped up by the label behind superstars from LL Cool J to Jay-Z and Rihanna. Def Jam is hoping to capitalise on a new wave of regional rap stars from the untapped Southeast Asian market where streaming platforms are flourishing.
“It’s just exploding,” says Yung Raja, who has drawn comparisons to US superstar Kendrick Lamar. Moving from DIY passion projects to big stage shows, regional rappers are now touring beyond their borders, delivering verses in slick videos streamed online.
Asia’s dominant music-streaming platforms, such as Tencent-owned Joox, have been swift to take notice. In 2020 its user base reached 290 million in Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, according to company data.
Hip-hop became the second most popular genre, after pop, on Joox in Thailand late last year.
The new roster of rap artists weave heritage, local culture, and their roots into their music. Asked for his influences, Singapore’s Yung Raja ticks off a melange spanning continents, from Canadian artist Drake to famed Indian actor Rajinikanth.
Jakarta-born artist A. Nayaka, the first Indonesian rapper signed to Def Jam, has rhymed about the Indonesian capital’s gruelling traffic and other local landmarks in a long-standing hip-hop tradition of name-checking neighbourhoods, streets, and communities.
“Basically if Jakarta kids heard my lyrics they’re gonna say, ‘oh my god, that’s that’,” he says.
The diversity of Southeast Asia – with dozens of languages, religions, cultures and ethnicities – is its strength, according to Joe Flizzow, a Malaysian considered the godfather of the region’s rap scene and a Def Jam executive.
Whether snatching samples from the traditional gamelan – a brass glockenspiel-like instrument – or with lyrics touching on corruption and oppression, artists are representing their origins in different ways.
“You are not going to see some Bentleys and Rolls Royces,” he says. “You are gonna see some Honda NSXs and GTRs … we want to be unique.”
Source : AFP | South China Morning Post
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