ABANGSAPAU goes slow with a sincere intention
The Singaporean MC digs deep into his psyche & opens up on his headspace
When we think of Hip Hop artists, there are two directions people can go - underground or mainstream. Are they interested in making rhymes for the masses or are they really into the culture for the love and passion? There aren’t many MCs who can exist in both hemispheres of the industry at the same time because the lines that separate those two ideas can get really blurry in this day and age. However, authenticity will always cut through all of that noise, and there is someone who fits that very bill.
ABANGSAPAU is a Singaporean MC who is signed to Def Jam Southeast Asia. He is an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve, and someone who isn’t afraid to put his innermost feelings into song for all to take in. Although he is signed to what is arguably the biggest label in the region, and he collaborated with some of the biggest names in and around it,ABANGSAPAU remains plugged into where it all started - the underground.
Earlier this month, ABANGSAPAU dropped his third single of the year, ‘Mama.’ It’s an emotional two-minute journey through ABANGSAPAU’s relationship with his mother, while also serving as a reply to a letter she wrote for him recently. The track was produced by Allure Records’ head honcho, Prodbydan, and it features a deeply moving and soulful beat. Coupled with ABANGSAPAU’s masterclass as a storytelling lyricist, ‘Mama’ has all the ingredients to make tears roll down cheeks and goosebumps pop up.
LiFTED sat down with the magnetic MC recently to tap into his headspace when he first wrote the track, to learn about the journey as an MC through the years, and to hear about a planned rebirth.
Hey ABANGSAPAU, congratulations on your newest release, ‘Mama,’. It’s a really emotional number, and it got me thinking about the love I have for my mother, too. Could you tell us more about your headspace when you wrote it?
I appreciate you for listening. I wrote’ Mama’ in 2019. It was one of the first songs I properly wrote on what was supposed to be my debut album during that time. I decided to scrap the album simply because I’ve outgrown it creatively over the years, but I always found myself revisiting ‘Mama.’ I witnessed a lot of sacrifice and pain that my mother experienced raising her four kids alone. That’s what the song was initially about. When I revisited the song this year, I changed the second verse, as I started to see my mother in a different light - as a human rather than mother first - and that it’s her first time experiencing life alongside me. Understanding this has strengthened my relationship with her as of late, and I’ve grown more empathetic to her as a human being.
We’re sure so much has changed since your first drop through Def Jam some two years ago. Talk us through the journey, all the highs and lows that you felt as an artist, and for you as a person as well.
Yeah, a lot has changed indeed. As a person and artist, the lows in the last few years have been particularly significant. I found myself dragging my feet through life, completely devoid of the spark I once had for anything in general. I started living life in survival mode, and in times like those you don’t really think before you do things. Every action was really just a reaction to something, out of projection, fear, anxiety, or a blend of those. It was a perfect recipe for mistakes and poor judgment. I was so close to quitting music - and life - altogether, and found myself warded in the mental hospital last year due to depression. I started this year at rock bottom, working as a dishwasher, cleaner, and server as I worked on building myself up again.
The irony in that, though, is that some of my biggest highs came from the journey out of rock bottom. The thrill of performing on a big stage, or a song doing well, numbers, validation, none of that comes close to the sense of pride I felt in myself for going through this process. It was a major ego bruise to start from scratch at first, but it felt weirdly freeing, and I have never felt more clarity. My biggest high thus far has been going completely sober and living in alignment with intention. I sincerely believe that Niat [meaning intention in Malay] is everything, and I now understand why I had to go through what I did. My best friend Mateen would always say “Pelan pelan kayuh dengan niat ikhlas” [go slow with a sincere intention], and I carry that mantra with me every day. Most recently, a listener messaged me and told me that my music stopped him from suicide. That alone is probably the biggest, most sobering high I will ever feel in my life. It’s been transformative, to say the least.
You’ve mentioned that the release of ‘Mama’ will be the rebirth of ABANGSAPAU. What can everyone expect from this?
I don’t think anyone should expect anything at all. Leave all expectations at the door. Whatever idea you had of ABANGSAPAU, I simply ask that you keep an open mind. I’m still the same me, just with way more intention and drive than ever before. Artistically, I’m exploring a lot of new styles, but I don’t want to be versatile for versatility’s sake. It has to be good. I have new standards set for my work and I hope that I can keep raising the bar for both myself and my listeners. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but a lot of things are in the works, and God-willing they will all come to fruition in time to come.
One thing about ABANGSAPAU that listeners know is that you’re never afraid to be vulnerable. To speak about your innermost feelings, cathartically exhaling them into your music – that’s something you’ve always done. How vital is this to your artistry?
It is exactly what makes me me. I never intended for music to be a career. I started writing only because I wanted a canvas to be vulnerable. This is why I started and this has never changed, it is an integral part of who I am. However, over the years I have learned to separate myself from the music. The music used to be from me for me, but now it is from me for you. Of course, there is no need for every song to be piercingly vulnerable, but that sense of comfort in having someone put words or sounds together that describe exactly how you feel, will always be what I aim to do with my music.
Similarly, I think that through the revisitation of your previous releases, it’ll almost feel like a time capsule. One that pinpoints you exactly to a specific time and place of your life. Does it feel that way for you? Tell us more about that.
Hahahaha! Although that was never the intention, looking back it certainly does feel like it. ‘BUAT APE?’ in 2019 was simply an excited kid that wanted to rap. ‘hahaha’ in 2021 was a kid with a chip on his shoulder and a false sense of accomplishment, not knowing the journey that lay ahead of him. ‘Boyhood’ in January 2022 was a reflection of that journey while talking about healing in an almost idealistic sense. ‘I Used to Dream in November’ in 2022 was right after coming out of the mental hospital. It was a canvas for fear.
‘Cahaya’ and ‘Mama,’ this year is a new color, one that is as vulnerable as it is hopeful. A more balanced approach to life, as is my current perspective without projection or need for validation. But this will change over time as well, as I continue to grow and evolve as a person and artist. There are no absolutes and my mind is always open for what’s to come.
I can’t wait to revisit my music in the years to come and see how they’ve contributed to this time capsule of sorts.
It certainly feels like Singaporean Hip Hop, from its underground to its mainstream, is in a really healthy place right now. Tell us how you’re feeling about it, and feel free to wax lyrical about some of the sick MCs out there right now!
I think everyone’s finding their own color & sound and I really f*ck with that. There’s so much originality and diversity now that it’s honestly inspiring. There’s something for everyone, you know? Seeing the hunger and work ethic behind the newer cats is really inspiring as well, and I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I’m no longer a newcomer. Time really does fly! Some of my favorite Hip Hop acts now are Zaymm, Mary Sue, Thambi Natta, Yung Babylon, 730BEDSIDE, Bazeel, ahmadjohnson69, and so much more. Even within this short list, there is so much diversity! I hope that we can all continue to raise the bar for generations to come.
When you take a step back and look at our early years from the days of our first torchbearers such as Sheikh Haikel, you’ll realize that our community is still young and has a long way to go. But coming this far in such a short time has been nothing short of awe-inspiring to be a part of and witness. Even outside of Hip Hop, Singaporean artists have been killing it as well. Big ups to CURB, Subsonic Eye, nkei, Saints Amongst Sinners, Forests, Carpet Golf, motifs - they’re some of my favorites right now outside of Hip Hop.
I can’t wait for the day I can ask random Singaporeans if they listen to Singaporean artists and see them confidently name more than one. May we all keep pushing the envelope of what Singaporean music can become.
Lastly, what can we expect from you in 2023?
Lots of new music, God-willing. I’m also working on a special project called New Mongrels. More details on that when the time is right.