Welcome to Time Out Singapore's 52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG – our commitment to showing you the best of what's going on in the city this week. Every Monday, a guest writer who's "in" with the scene shares a recommendation on what to see, eat, do or buy in the city. This week, we chat with the Far East Empress of reggae and dancehall MAS1A (Masia One) who is set to headline – and doing various collaborations with other artists – the street culture convention Culture Cartel happening on December first and second. The rapper and singer tells us all about her new album, the local music scene and her Halal-certified Jamaican Jerk sauce – irie!
What gets you excited about Singapore?
The fact that it’s truly a global hub! In one weekend, I can eat Peranakan food in Joo Chiat, shop for the latest tech gadgets at an IT convention, have a jam session with Jazz players at Cool Cats, attend a lecture on essential oils privately held by some woke millennial (check out @henn.drawn and @Yuuuxuehan), get into entrepreneurial mobile working mode at Straits Clan (order the grain bowls at their cafe while working – brain food!) and end the night at with a Singapura Dub Club Reggae show.
As one of the music headliners for Culture Cartel 2018, what can we expect from your set?
Hip-hop and Dancehall with a unique Southeast Asian twist. Think Jamaican sound system-level bass meets Chinese fans and mahjong! The show brings the vibes of an island style street party complete with Lion City dancehall dancers, Ragga Waka.
How would you define your musical style?
Raised by the love of hip-hop, inspired by reggae and dancehall and informed by the vernacular and street culture of Southeast Asia. My message is always to be brave and remember your inner royalty.
Talk us through your new release – Far East Empress. What’s the inspiration behind the album?
I released three albums before returning to my birthplace – Singapore – and achieved a lot working in the music industries of America and Canada. That said, moving back to Asia was humbling. I had to start from zero again and re-learn a new culture. In the process of writing the album, I explored the region from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam and was inspired by the diversity and culture.
In starting over, one can lose their self-confidence or conviction. Those that believed in me called me the queen of hip-hop and dancehall in Asia, so I used this as encouragement to remind myself of my position as a trailblazer, as a community leader and a creator – a Far East Empress. The music on the album brings together vocalists from the East with producers in the West and is the result of blood, sweat and crowns.
You’ve collaborated with big names like Pharrell Williams, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Talib Kweli and ex-Red Hot Chilli Pepper John Frusciante – tell us what’s it like working with them? If you could collaborate with any artist (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
It’s incredible to work with your musical heroes. And to be in the studio collaborating, songwriting and treated as a contemporary is not just an honour, but it allows me to grow exponentially in my craft. We challenge ourselves to be our best self when working with the best. A dream collaboration would be with Damian Marley, Major Lazer, Rihanna or Kendrick Lamar. A legendary artist I’d love to collaborate with is Bruce Lee – can you imagine Bruce in a rap battle? Deadly!
What are your thoughts on the local music scene?
I think it’s beautiful to see not only the amount of talent here in Singapore but the diversity of the sound. It’d be great to see more resources put toward developing audience appreciation of music Singaporean artists have to offer. Events like Culture Cartel that celebrate Street Culture don’t only bring creators together, but educates the public on a range of artists and their craft. These occasions inspire collaborations between artists and encourages collabs between artists and brands.
Any local artist you’re into right now?
I’m really into Ae$op Ca$h. As a hip-hop head, this kid is the real deal – raw, truthful and talented. I think Clement Chow (who sang and co-wrote Count On Me Singapore) is one of Singapore’s unsung heroes. I performed a cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling with him once and discovered how versatile he was as an artist – and what a falsetto! I admire Inch Chua, not just as a singer-songwriter but as a true artist and creator in all mediums from theatre to her merchandise. I’d recommend keeping your eye on Joe Flizow’s 16 Baris series where he features the hottest emcees and rappers in the region – truly a great platform that showcases fresh and ambitious hiphop talents.
What can we expect next for MAS1A?
I will be embarking on a Far East Empress tour of Southeast Asia March 2019 starting in Philippines, traveling through Indonesia and Malaysia and ending in Singapore. At this time, I’ll also be launching my Jamaican Jerk Marinade called Suka Suka, which is the first SEA-grown and Halal certified Jerk sauce. Call it Ayam Bakar Reggae!
For more of MAS1A, check out masiaone.com