Singapore gets a new rap

JULY 18 — I like rap. I always have.

Perhaps it’s because when I was a young child, my super hip uncle whom I adored introduced me to N.W.A. and I find the rat-a-tat sound of the genre familiar.

Or perhaps I find it familiar because the rhymes and rhythm of rap are reminiscent of my mother tongue – Tamil.

Clearly, I am not alone in thinking this – the very excellent Tamil rap scene proves this complementary relationship.

A music genre that I especially enjoy is Tamil/English rap and I would say the best Tamil/English rappers come from Malaysia and Singapore.

But don’t take my word for it... ask Questlove, one of rap’s leading voices and self-proclaimed “hip-hop nerd.”

I believe he gave the local Singapore rapper Yung Raja his stamp of approval and rightfully so, in my humble opinion.

The chronology leading up to the endorsement is clumsy but an excellent showcase of both Singaporean talent and the power of positivity.

It started when American TV host – Jimmy Fallon – featured a track by the boy from Serangoon Road on his “Do Not Play” list where he highlights music to avoid (considering the subjective nature of music, the concept seems inherently flawed but nonetheless popular).

The song Mami is a little repetitive but the couple of seconds featured did a massive disservice to Yung Raja’s complete catalogue which is truly excellent.

Fortunately, pursuant to his trademark positive persona, Yung Raja took the diss in stride and flipped the script into one of gratitude and excitement.

File picture shows television show host Jimmy Fallon talking to reporters on the red carpet for the taping of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor ceremony and performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington October 19, 2014. — Reuters pic
File picture shows television show host Jimmy Fallon talking to reporters on the red carpet for the taping of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor ceremony and performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington October 19, 2014. — Reuters pic

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Posting on Instagram he said:

I think @jimmyfallon isn’t a big fan of mami BUT HELLO WE MADE IT TO THE TONIGHT SHOW

His fans piled on. And Questlove chiming in with, “this is about to be a thing.”

In the end, even Fallon found himself dancing to the tune as he played it on his show – this time as music to break, pulling it firmly out of “Do Not Play” and into “Must Listen.”

And just like that, Yung Raja has effectively become one of our region’s most successful ambassadors.

Singapore is well-known but we are very rarely known for our creativity or our entertainment. Our most famous entertainment export to date was a movie made by Hollywood.

But I think this is the start of an important conversation with the world. The local rap scene – which has so many other strong voices in other languages – in many ways epitomises the Singapore story.

We take the “West”, and we make it our own. We take rap and we have a couple of lines in Tamil, we have a rap battle in KL and a music video featuring Asian faces and we have an entirely new genre of music.

One that augments the genre, pushes it further and one that is worthy of a Netflix documentary.

Fallon, you listening?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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