The 5 torchbearers for the future of Singaporean Hip Hop
Enter: AE$OP CA$H, Mary Sue, Bazeel, BGourd & ABANGSAPAU
Each month, LiFTED takes a look at tomorrow’s biggest rappers today in The Torch.
In order for a tree to grow, it must rely on its roots. The roots absorb and deliver water and other minerals gathered from the soil to the rest of the tree. It also acts as its anchor, ensuring it doesn’t falter over in erratic weather conditions. The same goes for the Singaporean Hip Hop music scene. It may be a borrowed art form, but Hip Hop has imprinted itself on many cultures. Like Hip Hop, Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and sounds all at once.
Singapore has four official languages - Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, and English. When incorporated all together, the result is Singlish. There aren't many places in the world where you can get sworn at in four different languages, and still understand exactly what’s being conveyed to you. Singlish is uniquely splayed throughout Singaporean Hip Hop music as well, which makes it accessible and relatable to its people. Take the current rap stars such as Akeem Jahat, Yung Raja, and ShiGGa Shay for size; you’d immediately hear the distinct flavor that comes with Hip Hop from the Singaporean channel - its language.
But how could it be what it is today without the OGs and the rap-scene pioneers who paved something out of nothing? Where would one start building it from? Singapore turned 57 this year, and one of its rap-scene pioneers, Sheikh Haikel, who turns 47 this October, will release his final album on his birthday and retire from music completely. The rapper first made waves in 1991 when he won a Japanese music competition with Ashidiq Ghazali as Construction Sight - Singapore’s first-ever hip-hop group.
He performed with a bevy list of Singaporean upstarts earlier in February, and he shared in an interview with Hear65 his sentiments of how the scene has prospered, “I’m happy to say that Hip Hop is in a much better position today and with the likes of having the rappers we do now, the future could not look any brighter.” That’s a lot of praise coming from the OG himself.
The foundations have been laid, and the roots are strong. Who’s building it on from here on out, and what makes them so special? Here are the five MCs who have The Torch for the future of Singaporean Hip Hop, and how in their own ways, beyond language and artistic formulas, are taking it to the next level.
AE$OP CA$H is the glorious product of Singapore’s underground scene - raw and unapologetically authentic. From outrageously in-your-face lyricism to tapping into the realms of dancehall and reggaeton, AE$OP CA$H constantly displays fantastic range on all of his releases. But take a closer look into it, and you’d find that there’s a prevalent theme running throughout - his unwavering loyalty to his people and staying true to who he is.
“This isn’t the internet/Really, you can check the set, you might get wrecked by em/The scene is filled with rats, making up storylines in music videos just so they can act violent,” he furiously declares on his remix of Shiva’s ‘Fendi Belt’. And if you think he doesn’t live the life he speaks about, you’re gravely mistaken. There’s no room for imitation or pretense in AE$OP CA$H’s domain, he’s as real as real gets.
AE$OP CA$H ‘Know About It’
Mary Sue is an MC who has no qualms about wearing his heart on his sleeves. While some might conceal their innermost feelings, he showcases them in the brightest of lights. Mary Sue isn’t afraid to delve into agonizing themes or confront grief. Instead, he faces them head-on and converts them into cathartic exhales through the bars that he spits. Doubling as a producer, Mary Sue’s baritone voice and sample-heavy production has crossed borders via international collaboration in the States and the UK, alongside an hour-long mix on the famed NTS Radio. Put any of his tapes on, and you’ll find your head bobbing along while a feeling of melancholy sweeps around. It’s a strange blend, but Mary Sue does that to you. Feel it for yourself.
Mary Sue ‘Calvary’
“Let the streets tell my story,” opens Bazeel’s stellar single ‘Kerja.’ There aren’t many who can proclaim such a feat, and there definitely aren’t any rappers in Singapore who are causing tidal waves in its scene right now other than Bazeel. The 23-year-old rapper started writing his rhymes while he was incarcerated in Singapore’s military prison, armed only with a dictionary beside him and cellmates who made beats by banging on their cell gates. Now, these jail time songs are out in the ether, along with an EP slated to drop in October. In July, Bazeel performed his debut show to a sold-out crowd who were chanting his lyrics back to him, as if the songs have been rinsed on the radio for ages. Keep your eyes and ears on Bazeel because a cult hero is being born right before you. If you blink, you’ll miss it.
Being dressed in a green unitard might make someone come across as whimsical but there’s always more than meets the eye. BGourd’s unique approach to his stage persona is one thing, but so is his sound on all four of his EPs released thus far. On his first EP, Veggie Wraps Vol. 1, he enlisted the help of Halal Sol, a Singaporean House DJ to produce the entirety of it. For Vol. 2, a seasoned vet when it comes to producing, the ever-experimental Fauxe helmed the production duties.
There is not one BGourd track that sounds similar to another. He’s often accompanied by a live band and backup singers for his live sets–bringing on a new element to an already unique character. Think everything sounds the same these days? BGourd will point you in a whole different direction and make you rethink everything you thought you knew about Hip Hop.
BGourd ‘Fresh Air’
ABANGSAPAU is arguably the biggest name of the lot, with releases distributed by Def Jam SEA. On top of that, he has collaborations with stars from the Lion City and worked with grammy-nominated producers. Yet ABANGSAPAU remains authentically himself. His musical identity is deeply rooted in his vulnerability and bravery, speaking on issues closest to his heart, and also challenging those who aren’t keeping it real. ABANGSAPAU sonically paints all of that in his music for everyone to pay witness to his truth. It doesn’t matter if you need a track to rile you up or one to fuel your introspection, because ABANGSAPAU has it all in his collection. Scariest thing? He’s just getting started.