For a rapper who has been on the up and up in the Singaporean scene, Abangsapau celebrated his most recent birthday simply – with chicken rice and a brand-new white pair of Crocs.

“Crocs are so comfortable, I don’t know why I didn’t get them earlier,” the 22-year-old said.

@abangsapaui will take no crocs slander (no this is not an ad crocs just a vibe)♬ I Got Me Some Bapes – Soulja Boy

Abangsapau – real name Shazuan Shiraj – has always been all about keeping it real and down to earth, even as he continues to rack up achievements within less than two years of his foray into music. After releasing singles such as ‘Buat Ape?’, ‘Clingy’ and ‘Aura’ in 2019, he appeared on The Great Singapore Replay as well as performed at the National Day Parade and Mediacorp’s New Year’s Eve Countdown concert the following year.

He said doing things his way and making his own formula has always worked the best. This includes his signature sarung fit. “My late grandfather used to wear kain pelikat, you know, and when he passed away all his kain pelikat were given to me. So I wore that like all the time… I’d wear it to school, I’d wear it around the neighbourhood. Even my mom would nag at me sometimes [about it], but it’s just so comfortable.”

He decided to keep the look when he got into rapping. “When I first started doing music, I tried to dress like how rappers usually dress, and I realize that I’m much more comfortable just being in my own element… It’s not some thinking for the brand or whatever it was. It’s always been a part of me.”

It is not that he is unfazed by changing tides and trends, Abangsapau admits. He said seeing his peers in the industry has coloured his perception as to what ‘conventional success’ should look like. “There’s been many times over the years that I have compared myself to other people and felt the need to try and be like them,” he said. “Then you realised that it just doesn’t connect with you and it’s not as fulfilling as when you’re fully yourself.”

He addressed this doubt in the video for his debut single with Def Jam Southeast Asia, hahaha, which features the quote: “If you don’t believe in your art, nobody else will.”

Abangsapau said the message acts more as a reminder for himself to believe in his voice. “As an artist, I go through a lot of self-doubts. But I notice that when you doubt yourself too much, or you’re too insecure about your art, it kind of affects the quality of your art… that’s the biggest lesson for me, was just learning to believe in my heart and understand that I am enough.”

The rapper, who names J. Cole, Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar as influences, also said self-acceptance comes easier as he grows older, “beyond the voting age” threshold.

“Turning 22 actually made me feel less pressure compared to when I was younger, because I started to realise why I was always putting so much pressure on myself to have it all figured out. I think a lot of that has to do with social media, where we see the lives of others. We compare ourselves to them, to have it all figured out at 22 years old, 24 years old – but some people are 30 and they are also still trying to find themselves, you know, but it doesn’t mean they’re any less successful than anybody else. So I think I’ve just appreciated life by the day now, and as much as I am taking it slow, I’m also making the most out of each day.”

As the pandemic shuttered numerous events and shows, Abangsapau has had more time for himself to get into his “creative space”. Aside from hahaha, which was produced by longtime collaborator ProdbyDan, he also has an album revolving around “family, mental health and the world” that is waiting for the right, “congruent” time to launch. Abangsapau said he has always played it by ear throughout his career.

“Now my immediate focus is just putting out a lot more music and making things that connect with others as much as they connect to me.”