- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
No stranger to the Singaporean Hip-Hop circuit, rapper Yung Raja continues to lay the bricks for his ever-expanding empire. In 2018, the artist, whose real name is Rajid Ahamed, was propelled into the musical eye with his debut single, ‘Mustafa’. Since then, Yung Raja has released a string of upbeat, joyful and kinetic tracks, with the latest being ‘Spice Boy’.
The single opens with a dizzying pan of horns that quickly interpolates with a rumbling, heady beat and Raja’s signature Tamil-English rap. As usual, he sparks joy and spreads positivity with his music, and he is not afraid to light up his listener’s world.
‘Spice Boy’ is a strong follow-up to his March single, ‘Mami’, which was, very notably, featured in The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last month. Not only that, he also unleashed his fashion brand, Peace Oeuvre, and is in the process of exploring other streams of income. In this interview, Yung Raja pulls back the curtain on his projects and breaks down his single, fashion brand, getting name-checked on one of the most popular late-night talk shows, and the people who contributed to shaping Yung Raja as an artist and as a person.
It’s been a few weeks since you dropped ‘Spice Boy’. How do you feel about it now that it has garnered over 300k plays across YouTube and Spotify?
Wow, what can I say? I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the fact that we are able to do this kind of work with people and a team that I consider my friends. We’ve been building together for the last four years. It’s been a long journey, although you could say we just started, but it took a long fight for us to get here. Technically, we just started with Def Jam Southeast Asia, but it started out with M03, since 2018.
It’s been a very interesting journey thus far; a lot of learning, a lot of ups-and-downs. But we are still here and I’m just so grateful that we are still here with the core team and building on the synergy that we’ve nurtured over the years.
With ‘Spice Boy’, it being the fifth song that we’re putting out, we were working with the closest collaborators of ours such as Flightsch and Jasper of Vadbibes, as well as Def Jam Southeast Asia, too. So, it’s fun, it’s fulfilling, and it’s exciting as always. I’m very fortunate and grateful for the place that I’m at.
For how long was ‘Spice Boy’ in the works? What can you share with us about the production and the making of the track and the video?
‘Spice Boy’ was made sometime around January 2021, I think. The process started when Flightsch and I got in the studio, trying to figure out what the next sound is gonna be like. It’s a very interesting process that we share, because, from day one, it’s never been about what’s hot that we can be inspired by – it’s never that. We don’t analyse Rap Caviar, we don’t look at what’s popular now for references. I mean, granted, we do listen to whatever’s out there to kick-start ideation, but the approach to the sound that Flightsch has been creating with me has always been a very unique and original thing unlike any other.
That’s the reason behind why ‘Mad Blessings’ and ‘The Dance Song’ each has a certain type of sound, and that’s why ‘Spice Boy’ has its own sound, too. It’s magic – he knows where I’m at, I know where he’s at, and it’s a process we’ve refined over the years. Of course, it’s a little tricky not to get too comfortable, but we also keep each other close to see what we can come up with. What allows us to do that is that, every time when we go into the studio, we have the future in mind. We think about what the Yung Raja six months later will sound like, and we plot accordingly.
Working with Flightsch is really the most fun I’ll ever have in the studio. When we made this new track, we wanted something that’s fun, joyful, light and colourful, as per what we’ve put out and what the “Yung Raja” brand has been thus far. But, at the same time we want to do something new and super creative to put the last nail in the coffin as to what the Yung Raja sound is.
The sound of ‘Spice Boy’ is inspired by the production of early-2000s music when we had your Timbaland, Black Eyed Peas and such. And it has been a long time since we’ve heard anything from that sonic space; nobody has brought that sound back yet. As fans and enthusiasts of Hip-Hop, to bring a sound back that is so iconic at that given point in time was a very fun process and we were also discovering ourselves through that process.
In terms of writing, we kind of brought back what we did with ‘Mustafa’. It goes, “Call me Yung Mustafa”, so the writing is very persona-based. It’s still Yung Raja, it’s still me, but I’m wearing a different hat; I’m personifying myself in a different manner for this song. What that does is that it allows people to be a part of that too, the video is like a movie and I’m playing a character in the film. I did that for ‘Mustafa’ but not for the other songs like ‘Mami’ and ‘Mad Blessings’. So, we brought that persona back for ‘Spice Boy’, which was very exciting; a full-circle type of thing.
With the video, Jasper, being the creative genius that he is, always comes up with the craziest, most unorthodox ideas and visual references. What people might not understand is that the process between us and Jasper is that the process is very fluid and very organic. He tells us what he thinks is fucking dope, and we go like, “Oh what? You’re right man, I’ve never seen that in a video before.”
From day one, Flightsch and I have been in awe of this guy and his crazy ideas. He’s such an original thinker, and we want to nurture that and let him be in a space where his creative process is not hindered or inhibited.
As an artist, I am not shy about executing his ideas. I don’t care if it makes me look a certain type of way. A lot of musicians have a certain bravado about them and they want to control how they appear and how they want to showcase themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that, at the end of the day it’s your art and your life, and I understand that it’s vulnerable and personal to you. But that’s not what Jasper and I have built. He’s always been a creative thinker and I’ve always believed in his ideas, and I’ve always trusted that his ideas are so dope that it’ll be ground-breaking, and we just let him do his thing. Now it’s like clockwork – he comes up with his ideas, we get blown away, and we charge full-force into them.
You might also realise that some familiar faces have appeared in the ‘Spice Boy’ music video. It’s the same core group of myself, Fariz Jabba, Shorya (RIIDEM), and more. You have no idea how much joy that brings to my heart to know that I still have these guys by my side despite the changes and the things that have evolved in our lives. The fact that the core group remains and that we are able to work together on something that brings the most joy to us, it’s amazing. I’m getting goosebumps as I’m telling you this. I’m so happy that this is the reality that I live in.
If there’s one thing that listeners take from the song, what do you want it to be?
The one thing that I want them to take away is the fact that music has the power to make somebody feel great.
A few weeks ago, you and your track ‘Mami’ were checked in The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. How do you feel about that now? Has this impacted any of your expansion plans?
Now that I’ve taken the time to unpack that whole situation, to tell you the truth, it was one of the most emotional moments of my life. It felt like it was a testament to all the work we’ve put in over the years. It’s a part of the grand dreams that I’ve had since I was a child – to go to America, to go to Hollywood, and all that stuff. So, what happened aligns very well with my childhood dreams.
Granted, it was a very emotional moment, but it was very interesting to know that anything can happen anytime. It’s very reassuring to know that there is an unseen force out there that is guiding certain things and it’s completely beyond our control. Here you are thinking of what your next steps are going to be, but after that happened, I feel that I gotta dedicate 30 to 40 percent for God or the Universe to come in to guide things to where it needs to go. That was what I took away from that situation, because, it was the most unexpected situation. Nobody knew that it was going to happen. The Universe works wonders and it works in mysterious ways.
What’s even wilder is that Jimmy Fallon followed me back on Twitter and DM’ed me saying that he actually loved the song – he said that The Roots played it out during break and they enjoyed the song! That was the cherry on the cake that I did not see coming, so, it might just be one of the greatest moments of my life so far.
When it first happened, I had people asking me if I was upset that he seemed to be making fun of the song – people were asking me all kinds of questions. I was like, “Yo, are you crazy? You’re not seeing this right!”
Jimmy Fallon introduced me as “Singaporean rapper”, do you know what that means to all of us that are hustling and trying to put the city on the map? He didn’t introduce me as “Indian artist”, “Tamil rapper”, “Southeast-Asian rapper”, none of that! He said, “Singaporean rapper, Yung Raja”. Not only did he put Singapore on the map, he also put out music scene on the map. It’s a different game now, it’s a win for all of us!
Now we know that it’s possible for us to get recognised. Singaporeans have got to wake up. Those people that are thinking we have no talent or whatever the fuck the narrative is – this is testament that we can flip the script. Although we didn’t orchestrate it and it just happened, but I see it as proof that anything can happen. It shows that Singaporean artists can one day be globally recognised; and people could one day come to Singapore to watch a Singaporean music festival like how we want to go to LA to watch Coachella.
We all know Yung Raja as this fun, colourful figure who loves expressing himself with his outstanding style and fashion sense. What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion means, to me, one of the truest forms of expression. I can choose what I want to say in my raps, and, just like that, I can choose what I want to wear – and what I wear says something. What am I trying to say when I paint my nails or wear whatever I want? I’m trying to say that I don’t give a fuck about what you think I should be like as a straight, masculine man. I’m wearing dangling earrings, I’m trying to say something. I’m not going to say it, but it shows.
There’s a Tamil saying that my mum always reminds me of that roughly translates to “Half of a person is their clothing”, because what you wear says something, and through what you say is how the world perceives you. And because of this mindset that I have about fashion, I’ve never put myself in any box or any particular style. I’ll wear anything I want. For all we know, three months down, I could be wearing a crop-top! I’ll wear it because I like it and it’s whatever the fuck I want to put into the world.
As an artist, my fashion only helps me. Through how I choose to present myself as Yung Raja, I have only discovered more about who I am as Rajid. It was a subconscious process of self-discovery.
So, now, is there a difference between Rajid and Yung Raja?
Nope. Now, it’s the same person. But, when I first started, I saw a dissonance. But today, whoever I was struggling to bring out of me in my early days finally came through. The artistry and the artist, “Yung Raja”, who’s essentially my job, was the gateway to discovering my true self.
You just launched the first collection of your fashion brand, Peace Oeuvre (translated as Peace Artwork). Are you able to tell us more about what it is all about?
Fun fact: We chose that name because it sounds like you’re saying “Piss Off”, which is the complete opposite of the message of the brand. [Laughs]
The logo is two of the most powerful and most widely known symbols to mankind: The peace sign and the heart sign. The reason why the peace sign is in the heart sign, which is also out there as a universally recognised symbol, is because there’s an underlying message that we have not explicitly said yet. What we are trying to say with that logo is: “We wish there’s peace in your heart forever.”
So now, if I paste that logo on anything, a suitcase, a handkerchief, a bandana, what I’m trying to say is that when you wear Peace Oeuvre, you’re sending out that same message to everyone.
How long did you spend conceptualising the brand and its idea, and how did you go about putting it together?
I’m in no place to give business advice, I’m no expert, but what I’ve learnt in the last two years of making Peace Oeuvre is that, I realised, for anyone to build a brand that has a vision to it, the best way to do it is through collaboration and teamwork. Regardless if it was for my music as Yung Raja, or if it was for my fashion stuff with Peace Oeuvre. The Peace Oeuvre brand was the union of myself and Darren, a good friend of mine and the Creative Director of Peace Oeuvre.
Darren and I met sometime last year and we’ve been discussing the possibilities of how we can start a brand together. Darren has his own brand called AHDCO (pronounced Ahead Co.), he’s been running this streetwear fashion label for some time now. What’s interesting about his brand is that he runs everything in-house – ideation, manufacturing, shipping, everything is done in-house. So, he has the freedom to build brands.
I collaborated with Darren and started Peace Oeuvre as a new brand and we’ve been ideating for about eight or nine months now – what the brand means, what’s the blueprint of it, what we are trying to achieve with Peace Oeuvre, and our five-year and ten-year plans. All that, all the foundational conversations, has been happening for almost a year.
I’m so happy that it finally launched on 6 August. Our site is up and our first collection Verdure, a nature-inspired line, just came out. All in all, it’s good vibes man.
You’ve basically transitioned from the role of a fashion ambassador to the role of a business owner. How was the transition for you and what was it like for you to make the switch?
Wow, it’s very flattering to hear it being put like that! I’m very fortunate to be able to include fashion in my job, my music. Music is something that I do for a living and this could very well be my nine-to-five, you know what I mean? I’m just very lucky to be able to include fashion in my occupation because I love it. And with that, I’m very grateful that you even consider me a fashion ambassador.
Hip-Hop and fashion goes hand-in-hand and you cannot separate that. Given those circumstances, I’ve always wanted to create a kind of style that I love the most, that I would want to wear everyday. For example, Pharrell has his style that never changes, it’s the hat, the tee, the shorts and his Adidas shoes. He may switch it up once in a while, but that’s his staple. I’ve wanted to emulate that since I started my journey as a rapper. I want to find what style anchors me. That’s when I started to think, “Why not start my own brand and make the style of clothing that I love?”
Pharrell did it, Kanye did it, why can’t I do it? Do I need to be a millionaire to start my own brand? No, I don’t. Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can be started left, right, centre. I could collaborate with people and build brands because I have a certain value that I’ve built for myself over the years that I can utilise to build other brands. Not only am I working on my clothing line, I’m also working on a café. I’m keeping my mind open to all the different branches I can grow into because these are the same blueprints that I used to build Yung Raja, so why can’t I duplicate that for other businesses?
I don’t see myself making music and jumping around on stage at 45, no way! I want to make money while I sleep, I want passive income from different streams. Music is one of them, and it’s something that I love. But, at the end of the day, it’s one stream of income. I’ve always seen it in a very entrepreneurial sense. Art is sacred and comes from a vulnerable space, and not everyone can see this as an income source or a business. But it is the show business, and I’ve always seen my artistry as aligning with that.
I’m turning 26 soon and I’m thinking about what the Rajid at 30 is going to be like. I’m laying the blueprint now for the 31-year-old father Rajid – a young married man that is still an artist, but not have to worry about money. For every artist, there’s a shelf life and that’s the nature of being one. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m still going to be booking shows ten years down the road. I mean I could, but not everyone’s able to sustain that. So, the transition has been a very interesting stage in my life that got me thinking about all that.
It’s known that you’re influenced by Will Smith and the prolific Indian actor Rajinikanth. What do you like about each of them? Is there one you lean on more than the other?
These two guys are my two pillars – one from the East and one from the West. I was exposed to Rajinikanth films way before I knew who Will Smith was. Rajinikanth was foundational for me growing up, and Will was foundational for me at a different time. I guess when I started to expose myself to Will Smith’s artistry, it helped me sculpt my personality and my closest reference point to who I want to be.
I was exposed to Rajinikanth since I was five and was a huge part of my life, but I cannot pin-point a single reason why he spoke to me. But these two are separate timeframes of foundational inspirations. I was pulled towards Rajinikanth’s magnetism that he had with his style. He wasn’t the most handsome guy, he wasn’t the most buff guy, he wasn’t the most conventionally attractive guy but there are no words to describe his influence. Even though he’s mad unconventional, he’s pulled in hundreds and millions of people with his magnetism. He’s 72 years old no and he’s still at it. His influence in Kollywood has anchored it for the last 46 years. He’s one of the greatest influencers in history, not only in Kollywood, but across history.
There’s a documentary called For the Love of a Man on Netflix about him, go watch that. It’s made by a group of indie filmmakers who aren’t from India. They were so intrigued by the superstar that is Rajinikanth and his influence that they went to Tamil Nadu to find out more. You’ll understand more about where I’m coming from if you watch that. He helped lay the foundations for me to build my own persona as an artist. He inspired me to be in touch with my own unique mannerisms. I have certain habits that I just realised I possess, but my mum tells me that she’s seen that since I was five. Whatever you see as Yung Raja, she’s not surprised because I’ve been emulating him since I was a child.
Then, Will Smith came along and he helped to flesh out my personality a little bit more. Rajinikanth was the mannerisms and Will was the charisma – the way he carries himself and the way he lights up the room. There’s an aura that Will Smith has worked on for many, many years, I’m sure, that makes him the likeable person he is today. 12-year-old Rajid was so blown away by his ability to walk into a room and make his presence felt, and I wanted to be like that. I have posters of him on my all and they remind me of the people that had a pivotal hand in making me who I am today.
What’s next for Yung Raja? What else can we expect from you for the rest of the year?
I recently worked on ARtistry@Somerset with Zendyll and ARtistry, which was a very interesting project that involved augmented reality. I was one of the artists who was asked to be part of this project. Essentially, what they did was that they planted QR codes all over Somerset. If you scan the QR codes, mine is right in front of Cineleisure, a filter pops up and you can watch an AR version of me me performing ‘Mami’ right in front of you and I think it’s really cool! I literally pop out of the QR code! It was a glimpse into the future for me, into what could be possible when it comes to the music experience. I’m very grateful that the organisers thought of me to be part of this project.
On a personal note, I feel that I’m at a crossroads of my career and my artistry. I think it’s something that every artist goes through after a few years in the game. What is looming around the corner for me, for Yung Raja, is an evolution and I’m in the midst of figuring out what it’s going to be, what I want it to be, what the necessary steps are for me to take, and what the final objective is going to be.
For the first time in my career, I’m asking myself some very difficult questions. So, whoever sees this interview, I’m just being honest about what I’m going through now, but I’m confident that I can figure this out and that this process will be meaningful and important to my artistic journey. I don’t want to rush this process; I want to fully go through the motions of it. I’m very excited to be able to present an evolved version of Yung Raja to the world soon.
This article Yung Raja Keeps It Spicy with Latest Single, Fashion Brand, Fallon and Career Crossroads appeared first on Popspoken.