By Sheela Sarvananda
Gravelly-voice, somber-toned, tall and with a John Lennon-esque pair of glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, Jin Shen Pek's nondescript and thoughtful demeanour would, at first glance, make you think he's a guy who is more comfortable behind the scenes.
He is a quiet, introspective sort of soul, but that's only the first layer that greets the world. Beyond that, there's a multi-faceted personality with something to say.
Even though there's little doubt he navigates his environment intellect-first, Jin can rock your world. He is a rapper — and don't you forget it.
Although he's not the proverbial poster boy for rap (his is a quieter mettle, on the surface), the 20-year-old is gaining traction in the local scene for his skills. He has just released his EP 'They Call Me ShiGGa' and in it, his message is clear: he wants you to pay attention to the man who has had to rail against the system in order to be heard.
This is no half-past-six attempt at a music career, no. Jin is a musical lyricist, first and foremost. Better known by his handle, ShiGGa Shay (he says the name came to him in a dream, in lights), he says he was born for this.
"What matters most to me is the ability to actually touch people. Not physically! To be able to have somebody come up and say, you know, I cried when I heard your song. That's what it's about. I haven't had somebody come up to me and cry because they saw me in person though, although that would be crazy too!" he laughs.
In talking to him in an interview at a Holland Village coffee joint, thoughtful responses to questions are par for the course. And he's also got a mean funny bone, often breaking into a smile and laughing in a heartbeat as he cracks a wry joke.
But jokes aside, this is no kid — despite his young age, you can see pain and experience etched on his face. After the preamble is out of the way, it becomes clear that this is someone who has had a rough track through life. And he will be the first to tell you that happy-go-lucky isn't necessarily his style.
"You know, it all started from me just wanting respect from my peers. I wasn't a popular kid obviously. I was just an average guy. I wasn't really good at sports, I wasn't an 'A' student or anything, so I wanted something I could excel in, you know?" he said.
"I mean, to be honest with you, I just wanted respect from people. Even till today. It's not about the money. I love doing music and I think the best thing you can receive from it is recognition from people you respect," he added.
To illustrate a point, he turns to one of his latest songs, "Moon Talk", which he says particularly strikes a chord with him. It's a revealing riff on the struggles he faces as a rapper and begins with the lyrics: 'Everybody thinks I have it all, but I ain't got s***. All I got is myself, my fans and my music. And I gotta use it to power your amusement. Problem is I'm from a city with no future in music.'
So who is ShiGGa Shay? In asking him this question, he laughs as he says he is a single guy with small eyes — and asks for you to emphasise his single status. Then, he turns serious when he says his music defines him.
"How do I describe my music? It's emotional, angry and dark, I think it's me as a person. I'm an angry guy because of the things that I have gone through in life, a lot of things that have made me who I am today. But I'm not angry 24/7, you know? It's just a personality thing I guess. It gives me something that I can channel into my music, that anger."
That he's taken the road less travelled is obvious, and it's a grittier path for certain. Trying to make it as an urban artist is not the easiest of gauntlets to pick up, but he's in it for the long-haul. Jin's reppin' the streets — of Singapore city, that is. Make no mistake, ShiGGa Shay has got something to say, and he's here to stay.
Go to www.shiggashay.com for more information on ShiGGa Shay or to buy his EP 'They Call Me ShiGGa'.