We have all been there. Trapped and stifled by the mundane obligations of our lives.
It seems that even badass hip-hop stars are not spared from such tribulation, as evinced by Masia One’s collaborative track with C.O.W. 牛 featuring rappers Supa Mojo and General Ling. Born Singaporean and raised in Canada, the 37-year-old self-professed “Far East Empress” has reconnected with her Asian roots after spending time in America and Jamaica to pursue her passions in hip-hop music for the better part of her career, that include international collaborations with Dr Dre. Masia surrenders to serendipity and surprise, having just penned the theme track for Mediacorp’s primetime show Ti Tao Dao and released her very own Jamaican jerk marinade, Suka Suka Sauce, that is currently the secret sauce within Jerk Tacos served up at Vatos Cantina.
In their latest release, the lasses portray various states of distress. They receive a phone aid message from ‘da jie’, or big sister, which kicks off the search for a higher entity to rescue them from their demise, but along the way discover that the spirit of the almighty General Ling resides within. The result is an authentic set that truly fits the narrative and a newfound companionship with the auntie at Restoran Kuala Selangor Seafood, an unassuming venue sliced from daily life, juxtaposed with outlandish circumstances in over-the-top fashion.
“I hope to convey for my listeners to believe in their higher selves and have fun along the journey. Everything can be ordinary and boring or everything can be extraordinary and exciting, depending on our perspectives and ability to use our imagination.” – Masia One
Masia had been a fan of the German-Chinese electronic act C.O.W. 牛 for a while now, before deciding to collaborate. “When I got the beat, I was in Starsound Studios KL, with my homegirls and we started freestyling a song out of one of the girls nicknamed “General Ling”, Masia recalls the birth of the track, stating that it first began as a lighthearted freestyle rap to cheer her studio companion on. Unbeknownst to the trio, the track would later get picked up by Compost Records.
Fortunately for artists, getting a leg up in their careers does not have to be left entirely to chance with the opening of 222 Arts Club last month. Inspired by Collective Minds’ first venture in Hong Kong, The Rooms and run by the same man that is dubbed as one of Asia’s forefront taste-makers, Zaran Vachha, who has booked hip international acts such as Ramengvrl, Jaden Smith and most recently, Ezra Collective. His modus operandi is to inspire and educate the local community by exposing them to global music standards.
“We don’t want to pigeonhole Singaporean artists as support material for international artists. Our aim is to create development for their careers. As for 222 Arts Club, it is not just a music venue, but a modular hub that supports all creators in general. It is a space for them to collaborate, network and showcase their works.” – Zaran Vachha
He has partnered with his long-time business partner, Alfredo Castillo, YC and David Toh from Ebenex for this fresh new venture. “Our hope is to guide young artists in terms of production and marketing”, chimes Zaran and has hopes for the communal space to address a problem he has witnessed in the creative community.“Artists don’t get to play much locally, except at events or at larger scale festivals. As personalities, they have stronger value to brands via their Instagram followings, rather than to be known by their musical careers. Hopefully, 222 Arts Club will allow them to explore regular shows (e.g. 400-cap shows, to 600-cap shows), and then allow them to build from there.”
Masia concurs with Zaran on the need for Singaporean artists to break out of the “support artist” mindset. Emerging in North America as an Asian female emcee meant that there were stereotypes to break through in her career. For many, this is a daunting task but to her, it was simple—confidence, consistency and being unapologetic about her craft paved the way to an ultimate goal of “being dope AF”. Whether in Asia or America, Masia’s passion for hip-hop has not wavered; and names tracks like Toast by Koffee and Boomerang by Jidenna that have constantly made rounds on her playlist. At the moment she shares her enthusiasm with reggae-fusion Indonesian Rice and local singer-songwriter, Joshua Simon.
Zaran adds that the pop-up event space is looking help fill the gaps of “music exposure” for up-coming talent of diverse artistic genres through lowered rental costs: “We envisioned a space where people are comfortable to do their thing and not be hindered by costs or because they can’t find a suitable venue.” 222 Arts Club also reflects their free-spirited mindset to host all things artistic, and even right now to private or corporate events, that, however, will not be listed on their official events calendar. All are welcome, and the final rate is flexible, as it would depend on the based on the strength of the creative proposal.
Opening 222 Arts Club was also a response to the broader global cultural trend, as keenly observed by Zaran.
“Kids these days want experiences. By creating a space which has multiple experiences, it holds their attention and is the meeting point of minds of creativity in Singapore. What we are trying to achieve – is to be the focal point for the creative scene for Singapore. We want them to look at our events calendar, see that it’s cool, and want to check it out. Similar to when you go to a museum and they change up the exhibits.”
The independent music culture in Singapore is very different than that in the Western hemisphere. “Lots of open mics, hip-hop battles where artists were raw and hungry, talent unapologetic about their own style and unique flavour. Musicians lived with one another as roommates and co-creators” , recounts Masia, on the supportive environment in Toronto that cultivated the beginnings of her career, including independent media publications that eagerly covered the scene. Strikingly, this is deeply contrasted to the culture she encountering when relocating to Singapore; where calls for hip-hop battles were met with apathy from local artists and art felt more catered towards the marketing a brand, rather than being artist-led.
“As I explored my roots, I took time to trace the differences and similarities in culture throughout Southeast Asia I was deeply moved by the uniqueness and vibrancy of the culture,” which continues to inspire Masia. This is a view that Zaran resoundingly agrees with too.
“Anyone who’s been to Seoul or Hong Kong, has seen and felt the vibrancy of cultures. Singapore used to have key focal points, like certain nightclubs, where the creative community congregated. We are going through a period where everything is opening up. For example, we see more graffiti. Even the Art Science Museum did a series on street art. The internet allows you to find your tribe, to find your music and to see what’s cool.”
No one knows what is really cool now. That is exactly where Zaran sees 222 Arts Club fitting seamlessly into the Singapore creative landscape.