“I’m just a rapper from Singapore trying to represent my culture and have the world see my country’s culture through my music,” asserts homegrown rapper ShiGGa Shay.
Most known for his breakthrough hit song “Limpeh” featuring Tosh Rock and “Tapau” from the 3688 Movie and having opened for acts such as hip-hop legends Wu Tang Clan and American rapper Jaden Smith, hip-hop artist ShiGGa Shay who inculcates Singlish and dialect into his art returns with a 12-track mixtape S$ that spanned five producers in two countries over four years in the making.
Influenced by the likes of 2Pac, Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre who reflected on life in Los Angeles in their art, ShiGGa decided to packed his bags to head to the City of Angels on a journey that had a profound effect on humbling the musician a couple of years ago. Shuttling back and forth whilst travelling globally to work with various creatives, 27-year-old ShiGGa Shay, whose birth name is Pek Jin Shen, speaks with a global collaborative mindset that is well documented in his S$ mixtape.
I lived with my producer in LA. We just made music every day. It was a collaborative environment. I would meet different producers and go to different studios every day, meet people I never thought I would meet. I found inspiration by looking at other perspectives to find mine.
Speaking in a low baritone vocal quality and a neutral Singaporean accent over interview, ShiGGa who also dabbles in music production and filmmaking recounts the process of making his mixtape digestible for the general public. The trick lies in helping listeners understand his cultural roots while maintaining accessibility to the masses, a balancing act of incorporating colloquial lingo and universal themes. “For people to understand what I am saying, I need to speak the people’s language,” remarks ShiGGa.
In crafting culture-specific art and presenting it in a digestible form, be it in live performance or recorded music, ShiGGa recapitulates his once in a lifetime experiencing performing at the White House State Dinner alongside Henry Kissinger for Singapore back in 2015: “when you see people from a different country react to Singlish, it’s actually quite fun.”
Growing up in a Hokkien family where his father spoke solely English and mother spoke mostly Mandarin in the household, ShiGGa expressed his childhood interest for language and respect for his ancestral roots, seeing his art as a way of paying homage to his pedigree lineage.
Dialect is slowly dying out. It is still part of our culture and I want to contribute in preserving it. That’s why I try to incorporate that into my music, into certain songs to reintroduce Hokkien.
The rapper can be deemed a true artiste, one who is unwilling to be type-casted or boxed up by the constraints or demands of the industry whilst holding on to an unwavering commitment to experimentation and exploration. His gratitude and openness towards his journey shines through in his music even as he opens up about white noise in the entertainment industry and the overwhelming pressures that could potentially drown out an artiste’s internal voice. Take his single ‘if i,” written back in 2016 and released in 2019, a song written in acknowledgement of his struggles while paying homage to friends and fans who have supported him through his journey in music.
On keeping up with mental health, he shares about the dichotomy of living in the past or present, a push and pull in response to change but acknowledges the positive traits of social media in raising awareness for blanketed issues and rights that have been ignored for generations.
We are in a state where everybody is talking about it, and bringing awareness about it helps.
In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic (CO-VID 19) that has struck the world, the S$ mixtape was written as a personal letter to CO-VID 19 and was birthed from a collaborative effort with producers Caliber, DJ 2High (Tha Dogg Pound) and OkayJJack from Los Angeles and LINEATH and RiiDEM from Singapore.
Packaged with tracks of varying genres and catered for different tastes, ShiGGa hopes it will accompany listeners and reminds fans that they are not alone even as the world goes through a collective grief of uncertainty and anxiety in these unprecedented times. He perceives the mixtape as a timely medium to update everyone about his life and promises that ‘there is a bit of something for everybody’.
Before this lockdown, I used to travel a lot and work with a lot of people. But because of this lockdown, it has forced me to be in my home studio to really look at what I have done. What I’m happy about. I listen to my own music and critique it. Whether I like this, or not like that. How can I improve? How can I get better? At the same time, it has made me more present in a way.
ShiGGa is still largely based in Singapore, and while the nomadic spirit of a creator is still clearly evident through his travels, he has taken the time during circuit breaker and lockdown to work on his craft through critical self analysis and satisfying the need to improve his music and himself. Confinement to his home studio has also helped the rapper stay present.
I don’t define myself to one kind of song or language. I’m a musician, I make music. As far as language will limit your audience, the feeling you get from listening to music will never change.
It is clear that ShiGGa Shay is dedicated to his craft and to some level made peace with the process of finding himself even as he continually reinvents himself. The S$ mixtape is a timely snapshot into the growth of an artiste on a continuous search for truth and reincarnation, all in the name of ‘doing it for the people, and not just for fun’. His approach towards music lies in longevity and calculated execution, and it is with an understated confidence and birth pride that the ravenous rapper’s art will stand the test of time and resonate with global audiences in many years to come.
Proceeds of the S$ mixtape for the next 2 months will be donated to the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles chapter.