The Malaysian hip-hop scene is known for its diversity portrayed especially in the languages used in songs.
If you pay close attention to local hip-hop lyrics, you will notice the combination of languages reflecting the country’s ethnic mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous populations.
According to RedBull, “For Malaysia, hip-hop began with the most accessible part of its culture, adopted by the largest demographic it could possibly appeal to: disenfranchised urban youth, hungry for a new avenue of creative expression.”
My first exposure to the Malaysian hip-hop scene still lives rent-free in my head. It was LITNYA, by Kidd Santhe. The song was released in 2016 when I was 16 years old.
The following year, the artist released another song, Elak Elak. I memorised the lyrics as if my life depended on them. It was then that I realised how the local hip-hop scene could actually have an impact on individuals.
The hip-hop scene has come a long way over the years. Back then, you could only find artists such as Yogi B, Too Phat, and Poetic Ammo trying to gain exposure within the industry.
However, the local hip-hop scene has grown with us. Personally, I feel there is a lot more positivity shown towards local artists and their creations in today’s world. Nevertheless, there are still mixed feelings within society regarding this.
Hence, I decided to interview four local artists who are very much involved in the hip-hop scene to gather their thoughts on the rap culture in Malaysia.
The four artists were Kidd Santhe, AlanD, Balan Kash, and ChronicalZ.
From nothing to something
Behind every success story is a person who endured hardship prior to reaching greater heights.
For AlanD, it was his stutter that first got him into the hip-hop scene. He started stuttering at an early age and due to insufficient funds, he could not afford to attend speech therapy.
“I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and figured out that music was one of the ways you could use to solve this problem, because it accesses a different part of your brain,” shared AlanD.
Kidd Santhe started his rap journey with beatboxing at the age of 10. At 16, he picked up music production and started off by recording from his brother’s wardrobe, away from all the noise.
“It was so motivating because I knew how bad I was and all I ever wanted was to get better at productions, songwriting, singing, and rapping,” said Kidd Santhe.
As for ChronicalZ, rap was always on the roadmap. The artist graduated with a Diploma in Creative Multimedia and invested the knowledge gained into his rap career.
Alongside his rap career, ChronicalZ is the creative director of Mercury Space MY Team.
On the other hand, Balan Kash pursued his tertiary education in Mass Communication prior to becoming a rapper. Since young, he always had a passion to write poetry, however, music and hip-hop overpowered it.
It’s also interesting to see that each artist has their own interpretation of the role of rap.
ChronicalZ uses rap to question society on whether they understand the current rap format or whether they are still old-fashioned and judgmental about it.
For AlanD, rap acts as a medium that allows one to express themselves. After all, he started off rapping so that he could fix his speech impediment.
Balan added that rap originated from a very dark place, but today, it is the voice of generations. “Rap which means rhythm and poetry holds power. Words can move mountains as we all know and rap music has done that from the very beginning,” he described.
Support that goes a long way
Pursuing a rap career is still an unconventional path in a lot of Asian cultures, Malaysia’s included. When our interviewees recalled how their loved ones reacted to their choice, there was a variety of answers.
From the start of his rap career, ChronicalZ always had the support of his parents. They would forward his latest release to their friends and listen to his songs over and over again, just to increase views.
“I was super lucky to have my parents’ support when I decided to pursue a career in rap. They never once judged me for the choices that I made,” expressed ChronicalZ.
Kidd Santhe’s story was on the other end of the spectrum. The artist’s parents did not believe in his dreams and weren’t confident in the career pathway.
“I told them to let me pause college for a year. If I don’t make any money from it within that period, I’ll drop music and continue college,” shared Kidd Santhe.
After working tirelessly for one year though, the artist was booked for his first show. He won the bet.
AlanD’s situation was sort of in the middle. At the start of his rap career, there was both support and resistance from his parents, the latter mainly due to their concerns.
Questions such as, “Is it financially promising?”, “Can you actually do this and make a living from it?”, and “Will people respect you, seeing as you are a minority in this country?”, were raised.
Eventually, AlanD’s parents became more supportive of their son’s rap career, especially when they saw people recognising him when they went out together.
The possible future of rap in Malaysia
At present, the hip-hop scene is much more appreciated by millennials and Gen Z. Whether it stays the same for the future or not, only time will tell.
However, the artists have a positive outlook on the future of the hip-hop scene in Malaysia.
“I can’t predict the future, but as far as I’m concerned, my team and I will continue to advocate for the rap culture in Malaysia. We are looking forward to the day where everyone will have the opportunity to eat out of their passion,” added ChronicalZ.
Balan, on the other hand, has faith that independent labels will continue making progress in the future.
“Young bedroom musicians today are turning into youth sensations. It only proves that the public is growing together with hip-hop culture,” expressed Balan.
Looking at what rap can do, AlanD believes that hip-hop culture is becoming one of the top-tier marketing tools for brands. “People really want to see more of this type of content, so the future is looking really bright,” he observed.
Indeed, the steep rise of social media app usage is a powerful factor in pushing young talents to virality and potentially, a professional career in the local hip-hop scene or beyond.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Kidd Santhe, Balan Kash, ChronicalZ, and AlanD