Since his 2018 breakout hit single Mustafa, Yung Raja has been carving out a reputation as one of Singapore’s boldest hip-hop exports, with upbeat trap beats to boot. The 26-year-old rapper’s meteoric rise is a testament to him being one of the most exciting musicians in the city – if not the planet – right now. Going global, the Def Jam South East Asia artist has recently been signed to US label Alamo Records, home to American rappers Lil Durk and Smokepurpp.
It’s hard not to be an instant fan too. The hip-hop trailblazer’s a natural, with his fire English-Tamil bars, tongue-in-cheek wordplay, and Busta Rhymes-fast flows. His previous releases such as Mad Blessings and The Dance Song also feature unapologetic verses that centre on the hitmaker’s heritage, identity and blithe spirit.
But instead of another brag-filled banger, his next single is one for the ladies. Celebrating “beauty and the female form in all its gold-embroidered splendour,” Mami shines with his signature blend of multilingual lyrics loaded with cultural references and a mutating beat produced by FlightSch. Just like his hair – which has taken on shades of green, pink and even blue – the colourful track comes with eye-popping visuals that see the rapper surfing on dollar bills, and climbing on stacks of saris.
Released with Alamo Records, Mami is also set to be the number that introduces Yung Raja to the global market. To find out more about the rapper’s successful formula to all the “mad blessings,” we chat with Yung Raja about his latest single, exploring creativity in hip-hop videos, repping Singapore on the world stage, and his best party trick.
Photograph: Hans Goh
First things first – what gets you excited about Singapore?
The diversity of food and culture gets me most excited! I love exploring and learning more about my city. I try my best to check out a new restaurant or cafe every now and then.
Congrats on your new single Mami with Alamo Records! What’s the story behind the song?
Since day one of my career, the intention has always been to translate the fun we have in the studio to the audience who is listening or watching the music video. One of my favourite things to do is to spread that joy and vibe to people through my art. And Mami is one of those projects we had the most fun creating – a cheeky song that’ll shake the clubs!
Since day one of my career, the intention has always been to translate the fun we have in the studio to the audience who is listening...
Is the song dedicated to a particular “Mami”?
To be honest, this song is dedicated to Mamis all around the world!
We totally dig the kaleidoscopic music video. How did the idea of surfing on dollar bills, and climbing on stacks of saris come about?
We wanted to create something that hasn’t been creatively explored, especially when it comes to hip-hop music videos. We partnered up with Bless7Up and Jasper, one of our closest collaborators since 2018, to create visuals that are crazier and louder. You know what they say – teamwork makes the dream work!
Last year, you released The Dance Song – tell us, what’s your best dance move or party trick?
I’m not that impressive with the dance moves, but hey, if you want me to rap really fast, I can do that.
Most of your songs feature your signature multilingual wordplay. Besides rapping in English and Tamil, how would you describe your signature sound?
Banging and colourful.
Any particular rappers, producers or artists you look up to the most?
FlightSch, Alyph, Sid Sriram, Drake, just to name a few I’m inspired by.
You’ve also snagged a spot on the NME 100 list – the first Singaporean artist to do so too. How does it feel to rep Singapore on the global stage?
I am very grateful to be given opportunities to rep my city on a global stage. One thing that helps me stay anchored is my team. At every step of the way, we’re there for one another to make sure everything is smooth. I’m blessed to be working with amazing people and they help me make sure we tackle every obstacle head-on.
What are your thoughts on the local music scene?
It’s at a whole new stage now. So many artists are coming up now. I think it’s because they see that pursuing music as a full-time career is possible. We’re definitely experiencing one of the most exciting times for local music.
We’re definitely experiencing one of the most exciting times for local music.
What would you like to see more of?
I would love to see a hard local female rapper.
Any local music acts you’re obsessed with right now?
YAØ, Alyph, Riidem. I’ve had Regina (by Riidem and Strange Alias) on loop for weeks now.
What’s next for Yung Raja?
More songs! All I can say is that the rest of 2021 is going to be very exciting.
Lastly, if you’re not making music, where would you likely go and what would you likely do?
I’ll be somewhere nice sipping on fresh juice, prolly looking at a nice view and just tuning out of work. I love to relax when I get the time to.
P.S. I just got my mani/pedi done [as I’m doing this interview]. I really check out of work when it’s time for self-love.