Yung Raja is original as original can get
His goal is to inspire & spread joy with music, fashion, & vibes
Singaporean rapper Yung Raja is one of Asia’s most complex Hip Hop stars. Born to Tamil, Indian parents and raised in Singapore, Raja is already an unlikely star in the city-state. The fact that he raps in English and Tamil makes him even more unique in a musical landscape that celebrates Chinese culture as the norm. But as any Singaporean will tell you, South Indian culture is deeply embedded in the society – from bargain shopping in Little India to eating roti and banana leaf style curries.
Yung Raja is coming along at exactly the right time to break out into the mainstream as Hip Hop is exploding not only in Singapore but all across Asia. And here comes Raja with his funky patterns, Day-Glo dyed hair, and bell bottoms – not exactly your stereotypical Rap attire, but he makes it work, and most importantly he owns it. He looks different, and that catches eyeballs. Raja’s tracks are also catchy and he’s got bars, so it keeps people hitting play. This is why he is LiFTED’s cover star for June.
His career started getting real attention with the 2018 release of ‘Mustafa’ which has a trippy video and heat-seeking rhyme over a bass-heavy Trap beat. To date, it’s racked up over two million YouTube views. His follow-up, ‘Mad Blessings,’ was a hit with a similar psychedelic-looking video. Finally, in last year’s ‘The Dance Song’, Raja went bonkers in the video – a send-up of Tamil films, with boomboxes, cultural gags, and a million costume changes - including a sari. This one really put him out there as an artist unafraid of taking chances and impossible to ignore.
All this caught the attention of Def Jam South East Asia, who signed him, and now Alamo records in the US, for his latest single ‘Mami’ which has also been added to b2 Music’s VIBE Presents: Urban Asia Volume 4 compilation with iconic VIBE magazine in New York. Everything is trending in the right direction for Rajid Ahamed AKA Yung Raja.
We’ve enjoyed watching your rise in the Asian Rap game, can you tell our readers a bit about the timeline of your meteoric career so far?
First off thank you so much for having me here. I appreciate it very much! I officially started my music career in 2018 with my debut single ‘Mustafa.’ It’s been four years now and my team and I are constantly at it to share more vibes! 2021 is going to be an exciting year.
What was it like to grow up as an Indian kid in Singapore? Did you feel marginalized by mainstream society? How deep was Tamil culture part of your upbringing?
Growing up I’ve always felt like there was a lack of representation in the mainstream space. As a first-generation Singaporean Tamil boy, I always wanted to see more people like me killing it, not just within the Indian community but outside and overseas as well. Tamil is a huge part of my DNA and it was a conscious decision on my end to always stay true to myself and make music in ‘Tanglish.’
You’ve said acting is your first love. How far did you get with your acting career before you decided to pursue music?
It’s crazy to look back and realize I spent eight years - all through my teenage years - trying to get a footing in the acting industry here in Singapore. I did a couple of TV dramas, had some small roles in movies, and even a few commercials. The trajectory I was on wasn’t aligning with the dreams I had so I had to rethink the path I decided to walk on.
When you made ‘Mustafa‘ and then shot the video, did you know you had something big on your hands?
I actually had a gut feeling that what we were doing was as original as original can get. I mean of course you have your East-West influences in it, but it isn’t a duplicate of anything, and that made me feel a sense of pride during the process. But to be honest with you I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and what was lying ahead of me as I was just trying to figure out ways to feed my family and myself. Little did I know that this would become my life. Or that this would be the thing that actually gives me life. Super cool how the universe works.
‘The Dance Song' feels like a quantum leap in terms of the video, and shows you in a very fearless and fun way. Were you just being silly the whole time and having a laugh?
I was truly just having a good time. One of the greatest blessings in my life is that I work with my friends. My closest collaborators are actually people I have amazing friendships with so work never really feels like work you know what I mean? It’s always fun. Of course, there are challenging days when we’re trying to figure things out - but it’s always fun at its core. We had a blast shooting ‘The Dance Song.’ Shoutout to Jasper Tan from Vadbibes, he’s the creative genius behind all of my visuals.
Tell us what it was like to get signed by such a legendary Hip Hop label like Def Jam, and then to get released on Alamo Records in the US, which is home to rappers like Lil Durk and Smoke Purpp. It’s a big move!
Very grateful! It’s an unreal opportunity that my team and I never saw coming. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with people from across the world to continue to build on the vision of bringing Tanglish Hip-Hop to the masses. Blessed times!
Your style is eclectic to say the least. Have you always dyed your hair different colors? I’ve noticed you like bell bottoms – is that a staple in your wardrobe or just part of your act?
I wouldn’t say it’s ‘part of my act.’ I like fashion a lot, and I love dressing up in different styles and outfits. It’s all an expression, right? As an artist I feel everything you do is a form of expression - from painting your nails to coloring your hair - everything is part of the overall vibe you’re trying to put out in the world. My vibe is colorful and filled with joy. Everything I do aligns with wanting to spread that energy!
How does it feel to be added to the new VIBE Presents: Urban Asia Volume 4 album? It’s been a great platform for Asian Hip Hop artists since it launched in 2018.
I am honored to even be considered to be honest. It’s something my team and I are deeply grateful for.
Growing up, were you always into Hip Hop? Who are your favorite all-time rappers?
I started actively listening between 10 and 11 years old, and growing up it has always been Hip Hop music mixed with some South Indian classic hits. Some of my favorite rappers were Eminem, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, The Notorious B.I.G., JAY-Z, and 50 Cent just to name a few.
Finally, what are the next moves for Yung Raja?
To continue to inspire and spread joy.