Mention Malaysian hip hop and you’ll have Kartel Records rolling off your tongue. Heading the game is Joe Flizzow, then one half of legendary hip hop duo Too Phat, now a solo MC with a successful career and a laudable album (President, released last year) to his name. This year, Kartel Records aims to be larger than life, and Joe is ready to see to it that the label flourishes under his guidance and leadership. JUICE found some time to kick it with the Kartel roster and the label’s allies. Introducing… the Kartel Records Class of 2010.
Kartel Records was founded in 2006 upon the release of Too Phat’s album Rebirth To Reality, for the initial intention of being able to own the master recordings. That sparked the inklings of an idea for both Joe and Malique. Fast forward to this year and Kartel is now a full-fledged music label. With partner-in-crime David Tee (aka EmceeDavid) on board, this year Joe plans to focus more on his role as CEO and push the label to the fore. With 6 acts signed under Kartel Records and a Made Men compilation in hand, they’re definitely keeping busy this year.
It takes more than just talent to be a Kartel recording artist; it’s a brotherhood. “There’s no real criteria; it’s the desire,” says Joe. “There are a lot of acts out there who are very talented, but we’ve got boys who’ve been running with us who are not signed.” The quality of acts is a high priority for Kartel, whether it’s checking out a demo CD by Richard J or discovering MicBandits on MySpace. But ultimately, it’s the music that binds. Adds Joe, “We share the same love for hip hop to begin with, without any other objectives in mind.”
President has been referred to as Kartel’s guinea pig for 2009. As exciting as the album sounds, Joe admits his solo debut had a lot of flaws in terms of marketing and video release dates-for instance, his ‘Duit, Do It’ video only came out 8 months after the album was released. This time, for the Made Men compilation, Kartel has smartened up and gotten 3 videos ready even before the album release. There’s a club tour in the works too.
As for Joe’s role as an artist, he’s certainly proved himself as one of the most prominent Malaysian hip hop figures today. Already racking up about a quarter million digital downloads from President, he currently holds down a dope Saturday night residency at Rootz with DJ Cza and DJ Ash called The Get Up (which incidentally has its own theme song). He plans to bring President to the Indonesian market in the hopes of repeating the success that Too Phat once had.
Speaking of Too Phat, the seminal duo are back in the game, with Joe and Malique currently in the studio working on their giant comeback. It’s history in the making. Joe recalls what prompted the return, “Recently I did a show with Noryn Aziz at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. I was told I was the first rapper to perform there. Performing with a 12-piece band with [that] ‘hall’ effect, I just pictured Too Phat there with our hardcore fans.”
This Singaporean started rapping when he was only 12, but it was when he joined a talent search competition 3 years after that he got called to do shows. It was at one of these talent search competitions that Richard Mark Jansen got his big break, becoming one of the selected 3 to get radio airplay. From then on, he continued to shoot singles out to the local radio stations. A few years back, he watched Too Phat perform in Singapore and passed them his CD, which eventually got him signed to Kartel. “It’s a whole new level compared to what I’ve been doing in Singapore,” says Richard. “[Being signed to Kartel] can definitely bring me to another place.” This young MC from the Lion City is definitely the commercial jewel for Kartel-expect some club hits on his upcoming, tentatively self-titled album. So far, fellow Singaporeans Muzique and Syaheed from Bedsty Music have been roped in to produce the album. Get ready to get crazy fresh with Richard J.
Rappers and beatmakers Zed Peace, The Kro and S the Khaos hail from Brunei. Their Malay-language single ‘Cantik Rupamu (Hello)’ made waves on radio in 2009 and garnered 10,000 hits on the internet within three weeks of its release. Two years after their first Retrospective EP in 2006, they gained more buzz with the release of their first music video ‘Here Comes The Rapper’ off their third album Of Mics & Men. “Kartel Records is a growing record label. Everyone’s very good at what they do,” explain the boys of their decision to sign up with the label. “Hopefully we’ll get to collaborate with each other. It’s going to be something special.” They’ve already received huge recognition this year by winning the VIMA Award for Best Hip Hop Group. Their soon-to-be-released, KL-produced Malay-language album Mahkota will definitely be one of the most anticipated hip hop albums of the year. JUICE got a taste of it and we approve.
Having been in the scene since Teh Tarik Crew formed in 1999, Altimet has been going hard and strong as a solo MC. His single ‘Chantek’ is his proudest project thus far; it’s had major airplay on radio and he’s even performed it at a wedding. “People can expect a new sound from me and the direction is going to be Kanye jamming with Coldplay,” reveals Altimet of this year’s music endeavour. Altimet’s official solo debut Jian (meaning “guardian” and “to build” in Mandarin) is going to be a personal project for this Spongebob fan. As one of the key players in Malaysian hip hop right now, there will be no less than a “star-studded” cast of producers working on the album such as Bedsty, Qumran, Jit Woei and Terry Lee. His ‘Syukur’ single is making mad waves on radio right now. Welcome back, Altimet!
When we first saw SonaOne performing at a small gig, we knew he was special. Years have passed since and he’s now become the 9th Wonder of Malaysia. Mikael Lozac’h played the piano and drums since he was young, and later progressed to making beats with whatever software he could get a hold of. This French Malaysian MC is currently working on his solo debut for Kartel and some mixtapes. “Kartel Records is like a brotherhood with a light that shined on [me] before I was an artist,” declares SonaOne. “I used to work for Kartel as a designer, so it was a [natural] progression.” We’ve been told that the album will sound “organic with a lot of programming”-imagine real drums and 80s synthesisers giving out that nostalgic, soul-warming vibe. A big chunk of the album will be produced by Sona himself, with highlights from Tatsuro of Global City, DJ Iman, and a number of local and international acts.
The only indie rock act signed to Kartel, Sakti features Ashraf, who is also the brother of Joe and Iman-the ties that bind definitely play a big role in Ashraf and Iman’s belief in Joe’s vision. Sakti banded in 2001, the result of classmates sharing a mutual interest-the band name means “magic” in Malay, which is a reflection of their strong brand of music. Sakti has since gone through a few lineup changes, but that hasn’t discouraged the band from staying together. Their debut with Kartel Records will be called Mengejar Bintang. With the current lineup of Ashraf, Boy, Wan, Hanim and Ajee, the boys hope to come out with a unique sound that will set them apart from the rest of the bands out there. This is only the beginning for Sakti.
Iman was making beats for Too Phat since the duo’s 360Ëš album, but it was on Joe’s President that he made his big debut-with the remake of Search’s ‘Isabella’. “I see Joe and David as visionaries,” Iman extols of his Kartel family. Enrolling in DJ school Playaz Universe when he was just 13, it was there that Iman learnt how to concoct beats. His peer SonaOne likens Iman’s work to that of DJ Premiere, Madlib, J Dilla, Hi-Tek and 9th Wonder all in one-that’s a major compliment for the law student and we couldn’t agree more. Iman and SonaOne even worked on a remix album for President and tracks for the Made Men compilation, both evidently showing off their diversity and styles. Right now, Iman’s #1 priority is his studies, but we’ll definitely be hearing more from him very soon.
One third of Stylustiks and a Bum Squad DJz member, Cza has been making music since 1994 and is definitely a big deal at Kartel Records. Believe it or not, the Indonesian first started out sporting long hair as a member of a black metal band. He eventually mellowed down to grindcore and mellow core, then moved onto straight-up hip hop. Cza joined Ahli Fiqir as the group’s DJ in 2004 where he travelled extensively, met new people and performed with the likes of Ratu, Gigi and Agnes Monica. “Kartel Records is fresh, current and [has] a variety of individuals with talented skills,” he boasts of his family unit. ‘Da What’, Cza’s track with Bangkok’s MC Dandee from Music Exchange Movement (MEM), is featured on the Made Men compilation. Soon, he will be debuting a new hip hop and rnb night at Sultan Lounge on Wednesdays.
Respect the hustle. Head on over to www.kartellohello.com to find out more about the goings-on at Kartel Records.
Images Miranda Yeoh