With the exception of Sheikh Haikel and the SARS rap vocalized by celebrated comedian Phua Chu Kang years ago, one wouldn’t really associate hip-hop and rap culture with the Little Red Dot.
But last year’s National Day Parade featured ShiGGa Shay making his first national onstage appearance with his colloquialism-laden rap singles “LimPeh” and “Lion City Kia”.
Now there’s no one else you would think of as a trail-blazer in the local hip-hop scene.
Sporting a new blonde mohawk and wearing an oversized black hoodie that zipped halfway to reveal the numbers “69”, you would’ve thought you’re staring at another cool kid – except you’re looking at a 22 year old whose rap single ‘Lim Peh’ topped the local iTunes chart upon its release.
This writer traded jokes with the Singaporean rapper when he returned from the bathroom, noticing that his hands were still damp. He cracked a small laugh and took his spot at the couch, obviously much at ease now that the ice was broken.
He might be all swagger onstage, but Shay did have his quips of nervous laughter and sometimes struggled to find the words to say.
“The tables have turned. Now it’s my turn to be interviewed,” the ex-media communication student chuckled.
Off The Beaten Track
From recording his first entire mixtape ShiGGa Shay’s In The Building in his bedroom back in 2010 to landing a spot on the local radio charts, this homeboy has earned a mark for himself in the music scene.
In 2011, Shay’s debut power single, “Let’s Roll”, climbed its way to the 11th spot on the 987FM Top 20 Charts. That’s impressive for someone with just a makeshift recording studio back in his humble abode.
A year later, he was the first Singaporean to be featured on WorldStarHipHop as “Unsigned Talent of The Week”, and most recently, he opened the Skechers Sundown Festival.
Keeping It Real
Despite his success (he has been referred to as the Eminem or Kanye West of Singapore), Shay humbly let on, “Kanye is like God and Eminem is like Zeus. I’m just ShiGGa for now.”
It wasn’t and (still isn’t) all smooth-sailing in his career, with at least 9 out of 10 people telling him to reconsider his career path and start focusing on getting a degree. Amongst the doubters, his family has been the hardest on him. “My relatives always tell me to stop even though I’ve already been doing this full time,” he sighed.
But hasn’t been deterred. Since receiving his first rap albums at age 9 from his mother, the fiery rapper has found the medium of self-expression that soon turned into his passion and fueled his career.
His life motto? “Just have fun and don’t wait to do what you love.”
The Lion City Kia (Kia is Hokkien for kid) explained that it’s the Singlish he hears and the presence of Singaporeans he misses the most when he’s overseas. “Singaporeans are not proud to be Singaporeans – that’s something I want to change,” he divulged.
The dialects and local vernacular (Singlish, Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay, Tamil) in his songs were not only influenced and inspired by the Singaporeans he met, but also his personal local experiences.
This unusual combination of rap and a Singapura essence has lent a tinge of local flavor to the rhymes he spits. After all, not everyone can perfectly condense our distinctive Singaporean humor and nuances into 4 minutes and 32 seconds (Listen to Shay’s single “Lion City Kia”).
Revolving his life around hip-hop, Shay feeds off the hip hop culture’s raw and honest ideals. Even when offstage, he seldom strays from his streetwear ensembles, often seen in baggy shorts and knee-high socks.
His venture into rap was expected. “I just like the whole idea of expressing myself through music and hiphop is a great tool to do that because it’s so free. You can say whatever you want on the song,” Shayna explained. True to form, his single ‘Monster’ is littered with f-bombs.
Having set up his own production company Grizzle Films, 2 years ago, Shay is in the midst of producing an album, conceptualizing videos and directing short films. Furthermore, he will be playing a coffee boy who supports his mother’s singing career in ‘3688’, directed by Royston Tan, set to be released this June.
According to his interview with Razor TV, Tan wrote the role for Shay, after spotting him in Ah Boys To Men: The Musical.
What Grinds His Gears
Like any Singaporean, Shay had his gripes too – but about the music on the airwaves. “I don’t understand how you can play f***ing full-length K-pop songs on the radio but you can’t play a Singaporean song with a single word of Hokkien or Singlish!” he exclaimed.
As much as he hopes that he’d be able to start a movement to allow for more local compositions to be heard, he’s also been working on songs in English, so that the local radio stations will play his “s***”.
The straight-talker also talked about the challenges of fame. “People speak to me differently. They will come up to me and say, ‘Hey bro, do you remember me? I love your stuff that you are doing now man’ when they don’t even know my surname and listen to my stuff. I meet a lot of fake people,” said Shay.
Thankfully, he has the support of his mother and close friends to keep him level-headed. The Grizzle Grind crew member is grateful for the close “brothers” he sees everyday because they’re part of his work too, to the point that work has become play for him.
He said, “It’s a blessing to be able to do what you love, and see the people you love at the same time, and make a living out of it.”
‘Lim Peh’s’ Advice
“I’m not a role model,” Shay laughed gleefully when probed for advice for aspiring musicians. “Do whatever feels right, don’t do what people tell you to do and ultimately just have fun and follow your heart.”
He wishes to use his music to reach out and influence his ever-growing following, hoping for his songs will allow his fans to “get through difficult times and motivate them to follow their passion.”
2015 is set to be busier for Shay, who is preparing for an album targeted for an upcoming release. Most of his singles will be accompanied with its own music video, directed and produced by Shay himself.
Shay talks about his new album: “It would be very me, a Singaporean product that can be exported.” The islander also promises more diverse songs in English as he’s hoping to reach out to his international fans with the added variety on the album.
At the end of the day, what Shay wants – besides world domination – is to have Singapore radio stations play his tracks that are catchy, personal and ultimately, uniquely Singaporean.
Photography courtesy of Klix Photography
For more information and updates about ShiGGa Shay, check out his website, YouTube channel, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Bandwagon and Last.fm.
Read about his performance in Skechers Sundown Festival here.
For more information about his Grizzle Grind Crew, visit their website.