Text Alia Azmi
Interview Kevin Ho
Image Shavonne Wong / Zhiffy Photography
It’s hard to imagine Singaporean hip hop. But the scene is there all right, alive and well in the Lion City. And it’s definitely growing further thanks to dedicated homegrown artistes like 22-year-old rapper ShiGGa Shay.
Shay, whose real name is Pek Jin Shen, is known to offer a richly Singaporean take on the genre, as evidenced in chart-topping hits like ‘Lim Peh’, a track that sees him spitting in Cantonese, Mandarin, and Malay in typical Singaporean pidgin. Such a hit landed him the much-coveted #1 spot on the local iTunes charts in Singapore, proving that you don’t really need to be a straight up thug to make it through in hip hop.
Shay’s foray into hip hop gigs began when he was only 14. And it all started with a performance for his father’s birthday. After growing up jokingly challenging peers to playful rap battles and listening to rappers like Notorious B.I.G, Eminem, and Jay Z, it was in that moment, in that particular performance, that Shay realised what he wanted to do for the rest of his life; rap. Thereafter Shay began self-recording under the guidance of several mentors.
“Whatever message I wanted to convey to people, it was very transparent. There are no boundaries in hip hop,” says Shay, who’s been passionately pursuing hip hop and pushing the local hip hop scene in Singapore ever since. “Hip hop is the only genre that [you’re allowed to] be so free, no particular form in hip hop. In a normal song, there’s only so much you can express yourself, but for hip hop you can really tell a story like a movie.”
For Shay, as a committed hip hop artiste who’s established himself locally, and soon enough regionally and beyond, the fresh-faced founder of 14-member Singaporean hip hop collective Grizzle Grind already sees some promise in Singapore’s hip hop scene today. It would just take a little bit more work to get there.
“It’s small, but it’s growing. There’s a lot of talent, there’s not enough content; not enough people writing songs for hip hop. In a year, there’s only a handful of us putting out songs and doing this athletically like a sport.” he says. “So I think there should be more people doing this, and when that happens, the scene and industry will be bigger.”
After completing his National Service, Shay’s been ready to take on the globe with tours lined up, including visits to Philippines and Malaysia. And with a two-week trip to Los Angeles booked for October — an exciting visit that will include music videos and collaborations with L.A.-based hip hop artists and YouTubers — Shay, who’s opened for the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, will be able to truly “soak in the hip hop culture” and gain some of that Californian swagger to his craft.
If all goes well for the youthful rapper, ShiGGa Shay’s much anticipated full-length, with debut single ‘Lion City Kia’ already out, will see a mid-October release. “It’s a reflection of Singaporean culture,” he says on the yet-to-be-titled full-length. “Like when you listen to it, you’ll hear a lot of lingo inside that Singaporeans would understand, but in a hip hop format that people can relate to, but you’ll know it’s from a Singaporean.“