On SWOPO, Getting Signed, and Versatility in Music: AE$OP CA$H Gets Real

·17-min read

Hate to love him or love to hate him, AE$OP CA$H is among the more polarising names in the Singaporean Hip-Hop circuit. Over the last few years, the rapper has forcibly burned his name into the underground music subconscious, encased in an armour of a tough, take-no-prisoner attitude. Everyone has an opinion of him, and he knows it.

Which begs the question: Under the hard exterior he presents in his published work, who is he, really? Is he satisfied with being known as a gangsta rapper or is he hungry for more?

AE$OP CA$H answers all that and more in a frank sit-down with Popspoken shortly before the release of his upcoming four-tracker, SWOPO, set to be unleashed later this month. As thoughtful as he is articulate, the rapper opens up about the creation of the record, his recent signing to HVT Entertainment, a new Hip-Hop label created by Zendyll Music in collaboration with The Kennel Asia, and the things that shaped him to be the artist that he is today.

To start, please introduce yourself and tell us more about what you do.

I am AE$OP CA$H, el zopo nino, RSVR boy. I’m a 26-year-old rapper from Singapore.

Congratulations on your upcoming project, SWOPO! What can you tell us about this EP and how it came to be?

I’m not sure if I would call it an EP, but it’s a four-track project. Basically, this project shows growth in my artistic development and takes me further away from making songs that sound like what I’ve been putting out the last five years, for example, the hard-hitting stuff such as ‘KILT’ and ‘Plug Boy’.

SWOPO contains more than that – for example, it features a Dancehall-type track ‘VACATION’, as well as a more in-depth and reflective track ‘TENGGELAM’.

‘VACATION’ came from a session where we, basically, just caught a vibe. I had this idea for a Dancehall-Reggaeton track, and I always wanted to test my versatility and ability to pull off this kind of sound. So, it started off as just wanting to try something different. The subject matter of the song comes from a place where, in the pandemic that we find ourselves in, people need a break from all the problems that we face while wanting to go back to how life was – we want to go out, we want to resume our normal pre-pandemic lives, and I hope that people can find that break in this song.

For ‘TENGGELAM’ in particular, it was sparked by an incident that took place on Father’s Day. It’s a long story but I posted some stuff on Instagram, some people took it the wrong way and a bunch of people reported my account resulting in it getting banned.

Without divulging too much, what I posted was my view on a religious topic. What happened got me feeling weird because I didn’t have any ill intentions with the post at all and I didn’t mean anything bad by it – it was sincere and genuine to my opinions. But I think the incident shows the disconnect between members of the same religion.

I love my religion, and I think it’s a beautiful religion. Admittedly, I’m not the best representative of it, but I will never stray from it. The whole situation inspired me to capture all my feelings about it in a song, and that’s how ‘TENGGELAM’ came about. I think, especially for a matter as private as religion, people shouldn’t be too quick to judge or write someone off as a heathen, and that’s the message I want to convey with the song.

Having diversified your sound, what do you want your listeners to take away from this record? What should they expect, and how would you like them to react?

They can expect a more polished sound overall, a sound that pushes more boundaries in terms of my individual music. They can also expect elements from different genres coming into play.

Honestly, I don’t know how they’ll react to it because it’s my first time releasing music that’s so different on a new platform. But, if RIIDEM and I do our jobs well, by making the music as authentic as possible and not just making music that’s different for the sake of being different, if we stay true to the sonics and the writing, then, I think the audience will naturally be more open to digest it.

Hopefully, people will listen to the record with an open mind without any expectations of it sounding gritty and underground just because the name tagged to the project is AE$OP CA$H. Of course, we’ve kept some aspects of that sound but I don’t want to limit myself to a pigeon hole, I don’t want to box myself up.

Where do you think genres stand in this day and age when the lines in music seem to be getting blurrier by the day?

I think the old-school notions of genres still stand – we still have Country, Pop, Rap, Hip-Hop. But there are artists, both locally and internationally, who have been very successful in breaking down those barriers. There are so many types of music now that are mixed and matched. The best example from recent years is definitely Lil Nas X, he mixed Country and Hip-Hop, and that has never been heard of before, especially on such a global mainstream level.

Even the audience these days don’t really put too much thought into genres anymore, which is amazing – you simply listen to what you like, what makes you feel good, and what makes you vibe.

To truly enjoy listening to and making music, we shouldn’t be too boxed up in genres. I think genres are necessary, but only a little bit. It’s necessary but only on an administrative level – when artists fill out their metadata, when people want to give out awards, stuff like that. But on a creative level and on a consumer’s level, I don’t think it matters that much anymore, which is great because, once upon a time, it did matter a lot. I feel that, especially for something as creative, universal and free-flowing as music, it is a disservice to box it up in genres.

It is known that a bulk of the tracks on SWOPO is produced by RIIDEM (aka. Shorya). How is the working dynamic between the both of you?

It’s amazing. I often say that, in Singapore, I only recognise two OGs, and RIIDEM is one of them. When I was just starting out, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. I was a stranger. I was in deep waters without knowing anyone, and this was about five years ago. Shorya was the first guy who brought me into a proper studio – at that time it was the Academy of Rock studio down at Siglap.

It was eye-opening, dude. You’ve got to understand that I record from home, my mic is on top of a cupboard and my pop filter was a sock. It was my first time in a studio and I was like, “Wow, man, this is crazy!”

I’m so grateful to him for showing that to me at a time when nobody else was showing me any love. I don’t blame them – I was a new boy and no one knew me, I didn’t have any traction. Shorya showed me love throughout my progression in the industry and his support for me has never swayed. I trust him a lot.

Musically and sonically, I think his work speaks for itself. This guy has been working on some big records and he artists over the years, he has a diverse sound and has an ear for bounce. So, working with him is really easy. I’ve worked with other engineers and everyone has their own process, but I’m very comfortable with how he does things. He doesn’t shy away from letting me know how I can improve and do better, and he’s also very versatile as a producer-engineer. Because of that, I think we have a very good working relationship and we can always bounce off of each other’s energies.

Alongside RIIDEM, PravOnTheLoose also had a hand in producing one of the freestyles that you have on this project. What’s it like collaborating with him?

PravOnTheLoose, that’s my G! [Laughs] Actually, I met him a while back when I was working with YAØ. Prav and I bumped into each other at the studio and immediately, I thought he had great energy. I heard some of his tracks and I thought that his talent for production was amazing.

We never really worked together until this project when I booked a couple of sessions with him, and of course he’s just been getting better over time. It’s tremendous – he’s already a very skilled producer but the growth that I witnessed over the limited time I’ve been with him is amazing. I’m really proud to be a part of his journey and I’m really glad he’s here to help me out. I think I’m really blessed to have him and Shorya for their help and guidance since I started working with HVT.

You’ve had to adapt and make several changes to the release schedule. How do you feel now that these four tracks are locked-in to be put out into the world later this month?

It feels amazing. I feel great every time I’m about to drop something that my team and I have put a lot of thought and energy in. But, at the same time, I’m not trying to get too caught up in the moment. It’s a nice lil’ EP drop and I hope everyone enjoys it, but I am also focused on the future, too. After this, we’re not stopping, we’re always working.

You were recently signed to HVT Entertainment. How did you and HVT connect? And how do you feel about being signed?

We connected through, of course, RIIDEM and Jon Chua. Like I said, if there’s anyone I trust in this industry, it’s RIIDEM. He’s been with me from the start and we’ve actually been talking about this for a couple of years – but things did not line-up properly back then. I’m a firm believer in putting in effort in your career, but there are some things you cannot force. If the stars don’t align, and you force it, it might not work out the way you want.

So, this happened organically over the years, and the conversations started getting serious earlier this year. By nature, I’m a very paranoid guy, all the more so when it comes to something as critical as my music career. So, there were lots of back and forth, and at every stage, there’s trust involved – not only from Jon and RIIDEM, but the whole HVT team. They all earned my trust and showed me that they’re serious about this. Of course, it my career so they have to show me that they mean it, and they have more than proven to me that they deserve my trust. So, I feel very happy here, and I feel very safe here. The vision is very clear and aligned, and I feel good about it. I’ve been indie for five years and that’s done. This is the next step for my career, and I can’t wait for people to see what we have to show them.

Speaking of Jon, a while back, he did an interview that sparked some talk about how young Malay artists have to go through the circuit of national TV and traditional media in order to make it. How do you feel about that notion and how people reacted to the interview?

To be honest, I was not surprised by the public reception of the article. I spoke to Jon about it – it was an extremely long interview, but, of course, what made the headlines was a 10-minute segment, and I think we all expected it, but I think this conversation is very necessary.

I personally know of many Malay artists, myself included, who are successful in the underground sense – and that’s my issue with it. Of course, you can be an underground artist – I was indie for five years, dude, I know what it’s like and there’s nothing wrong with it.

If we’re talking about being an underground artist in, for example, Malaysia, it’s so sustainable. It’s even possible to support a family if you’re an underground artist in Malaysia, but I don’t think it’s realistic in Singapore – especially with how costly it is to buy a house, support a family, to get a car and such. I don’t think it’s realistic to be an artist and think that you can make all your money in the underground scene in Singapore and not expand overseas. I think that’s where the problem lies in this mentality.

Of course, I’m not saying nobody has done it before; Akeem Jahat is amazing at what he does and he is doing very well for himself – but that’s an anomaly. That’s one in so many other people who tried to do this. There are so many talented underground artists that I know, so many of them who deserves a platform, deserves attention, deserves a career, but they can’t and now they have to work a normal job and get a career that’s deemed “proper”. That’s how life is: You get older, you got a wife and kids you have to support, you got to do what you got to do. And to me, that’s not fair. These people deserve a platform to have their voices heard, even if they don’t fit a certain criteria or expectation.

So what’s the problem here? There’s a flaw in the system – and, I think, race is secondary. The primary situation is a percentage of the population who struggle to jump that gap from the underground to the mainstream, from making some money to making decent money.

After five years as an indie artist, I’ve seen so many people say a lot of stuff, but Jon is the first to put his money where his mouth is. Look at what he’s built so far and you’ll know what I’m talking about. You might disagree with the delivery or the quote in that article, that’s completely fine. But, if you’re going to form an opinion or a movement on someone’s actions, I think you need to know their intentions because that’s what matters in the first place. You can get misguided in the delivery – everybody says the wrong things at some point, language is complicated – but the intention will always show. If you have bad intentions, no matter how you deliver the message, people will know it comes from a bad place. But for me, I can’t speak for anyone else, I know Jon has the purest intentions.

Throughout my years as an independent artist, I’ve had people telling me I can’t make it because I’m a Malay boy with tattoos making this type of music, and that I’ll never get to play at a festival. A lot of people have said that, but no one told me, “Let’s try to find a way that is possible for you”. No one did, except Jon. So, my point is, we expected the reaction from the people, but let’s get to the root of the issue – what’s wrong with what he’s doing? Maybe what he said rubbed some people the wrong way, but, to me at least, his intention is in the right place: He’s just trying to create an alternative route to success for a community of people who haven’t found it yet.

Putting this whole incident aside, Jon is personally there for me as a friend, as a partner, as a guy who genuinely cares about me and wants me to do well. He knows my story, he knows my struggle, and thinks it’s unfair what I’ve gone through. And what’s wrong with that? He checks up on me constantly asking if I’m doing alright. If I’m in trouble and I talk to him about it, he will do everything he can to make me feel better. And that’s my word, that’s on me, all my friends know that. He told me the moment I entered this place that the doors are open to any of my boys who wants to change their lives and do music – they don’t even have to have a song out, he told me to just bring them in. All these things are what people don’t see while they are forming opinions on this man based on a quote in an article, not even the full article, and I think that’s unfair. That’s how people are and things like this happen all the time, but it’s unfair. In due time, people will understand.

What is it about your background that, you think, sets you apart from other artists? How has your past contributed to the artist that you are today?

Background-wise, I don’t know. There’s a lot of people out there going through stuff and no one’s struggle is heavier than another’s. Everyone struggles with something, and if you feel bad about it, it’s valid. No one can say someone else does not deserve to feel bad about something just because they are going through something else.

Speaking on my own experiences, people who I’m close to, my family, my friends, they’ve had a lot of problems with drug abuse, crime, they’ve been victims to the system. I’ve lost so many friends to these things just cause they were young and lost, and they had no one to guide them onto the right path. I think this is a product of a vicious cycle, it’s a flaw in the system, and, like I mentioned earlier, race is secondary. I’m not saying only Malay people go through this because I have so many Chinese, Indian, and even Eurasian friends who are going through the same thing.

I’ve lost a lot of friends and family to this system. I still visit my older brother at Changi Prison, I just saw him recently. He’s writing letters to me saying how happy he was for me that I got signed, and he reminds me constantly to stay humble. And that’s the stuff that I’m going through. Again, I’m not comparing it to anyone, but that’s what made me who I am, that’s what gives me my motivation and drive. That’s why I’m going at this music thing so hard. That’s what helps me as an artist – gives me a thicker skin, a stronger will, and a stronger heart. I believe that the only way to fail is death, and as long as you’re alive, you will win.

If there’s one thing you could say to 16-year-old AE$OP CA$H, what is it?

Stop getting yourself into so much trouble, and chill out a little bit. Do your ‘O’ Levels properly, and go to school, even if just for a bit – missing one day in a week is fine but four days is a bit ridiculous, so just give that a chance. [Laughs]

I’d also tell him to keep working. I think I was already writing music at 16, but I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to record anything. So, I just want to tell him that he’ll be okay in the end.

Photos courtesy of Russell Goh/ZENDYLL.

This article On SWOPO, Getting Signed, and Versatility in Music: AE$OP CA$H Gets Real appeared first on Popspoken.

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