My first exposure to hip-hop was a comedic skit (I think it was either Senario or Ah-Ha). The scene was using Too Phat‘s Anak Ayam Freak to the Beat, specifically the ya-aw-aw’s that were playing throughout the track.
Hip hop was a mere caricature.
There were also silly PSA’s on the news or in shows like Remaja (remember that show?) that warned against the hazardous influence of Western hip hop and break dancing. There were health warnings too. Break-dancing meant groups of people with saggy pants were wasting their days away exposing themselves to neck injury.
Hip hop was a danger.
But a lot has changed.
The history of hip hop in our country is at worst, nebulous, or at best, poorly cited. One of the most extensive writing on Malaysian hip hop can be found in this blog by a former entertainment editor at Malay Mail Online. It is a wonderful read but stops short around the early 2000s.
On Hip Hop Day, we’d like to celebrate one of our favourite genre by talking about our favourite hip hop tracks across the timeline of our lives. As the years pass, hip hop starts to break out from the outcast stereotype into something large and mainstream.
Now, hip hop is the big challenger.
This article does not in any way attempt at being scholarly. I will not pretend to be a certified expert in hip hop. But I would be lying if I were to say that it didn’t play a huge part in my life. This might come off as narcissistic and self-absorbed, but it’s the only way I know how tell the hip hop story. So here goes.
Hip hop did not start off local for me. I was exposed to the realm of American rap like Eminem & Snoop Dogg. My earliest local full rap song in memory, was Anak Ayam – Freak To The Beat by Too Phat. These guys were and are still legends, even though they’ve gone their separate ways for the most of it (with a few exceptions of course, such as Joe Flizzow making an appearance in Malique’s 2010 Masih Hip Hop).
For me, one of the best music videos for the local industry at that time too,
Many other faint recollections exist though. Poetic Ammo was the anthem of my older cousins, and it kept playing on XFresh.fm non-stop.
Of course, the history of hip hop goes way further than that in Malaysia. KRU was one of the pioneers of the early sounds of our local hip hop.
Styles change and vary. You have the more street side of hip hop, with baggy clothes and swagger worn on your sleeves, and then on the other hand you have the more slick and pop-radio-friendly rap of the late ’90s.
It was not just the clothes. There were differences in bar complexities and rhyme schemes too. Most raps that made it to the charts around this time (before the rise of Poetic Ammo and Too Phat of course) were simple and straightforward. Speed wasn’t really the forte, and essentially it was about that New Jack Swing pizzazz.
Say whatever you want about Nico, this was an amazing rap song.
From the beginning there were overriding perceptions that hip hop was Western, but from the very early days you could always tell that it was taking its own local shape in terms of sound and style.
But just as I was still learning as a child; hip hop at its nascent stage was mostly imitation and inspiration with a tinge of more familiar identities.
Roughing the Edges of Adolescence with Ruffedge
Transitioning into teenhood is a rollercoaster for everybody. You start to discover the opposite sex, and hair starts to grow from the weirdest of places. My relationship with local hip hop was also growing in the strangest way. Everything became about making sense of your desires and ambitions, namely, how was I suppose to woo that older girl from Form 2? A lot of hip hop marriages with R&B boybands and their beautiful harmonies became more apparent to me.
When you’re going through sekolah menengah, it was also about self-discovery. A lot of intellectual musings can cross your head, and you start to wonder about what you truly believe in, about what society actually represents and more? Ahlifiqir comes to mind in a funny way because when I first listened to them I never actually thought of them as deep. But several years later, I look back at this period, and realize that I was actually already decently exposed to Malay intellectual rap. With their cynicism (such as Angguk Angguk Geleng Geleng being about the people who are pak (and mak) turut ) and wit combined, I start to slowly look for more politically conscious rap. Rap that was aware of the society around it, instead of just bragging about the hustle, the street life, love or celebrity ‘hardships’.
My teenage years underwent another transformation when I left my sekolah harian for a boarding school. In my perspective, I started seeing more of the scene that I’ve been missing too.
Malique & Other Poets: The Boarding School Story
Both of my parents are from Terengganu. Both of them are 100% Malay, biologically speaking. So when I went to boarding school with that as my background, it was natural for people to make fun of me for speaking very clumsy Bahasa Melayu. I was called mat celup, berlagak speaking, poyo or Melayu mudah lupa (kidding about the last one, though they might as well have said it). I felt very alienated just because I grew up with English, having been raised by Disney and going to a school with an 80% Chinese population.
“Apa maksud kau? Kau tahu Too Phat tapi kau tak kenal Malique?“, asked a close friend of mine. I was 16 and felt embarrased about the fact that I only knew Joe Flizzow and never bothered to learn the other guy’s name. After a few fun jabs and insults, my friend finally passed his phone to me (discreetly of course since phones were illegal) and my ears finally heard the sound of Malique.
Talking about how great Malique is is probably the dullest debate you can have in the industry because very few people would disagree with you. To me, Malique inspired my to fix my Malay, to improve my vocabulary, to read more Malay literature. All of that mostly came from this one verse from his song Assalamualaikum.
yup, best of both worlds I’m the dopest
look into the mirror,yup yup you the closest
I flip language like sandwich
either side same phat shit like goddamn it
and if you got a problem with me being malay dude
lets take it back to 1511
ya, ya 1511
jom bertikam lidah dengan hamba dalam aku
aku pantang kalah, bangun bila jatuh
kalau patah sayap bertongkatkan paruh
At that point in time I felt humiliated internally by the fact that I didn’t follow Malique earlier (even at that time it wasn’t a new song) and that I was more fluent in English than I was in Malay. Malique also continued my philosophical phase of self-discovery with his introspective tracks like Layu and Mantera Beradu
Asrama was also around the same time I discovered a whole ensemble of amazing rappers. Legends like Jin Hackman and Aman Ra (when he was still called Kraft) started entering into the fold. And you have people slowly making it big into the scene, and some with already established roots like Altimet and SonaOne. Female rappers also became more visible to me, taking a step to the front stage like female rappers around the world – a long haul from being typecasted in the hip hop world as the girls who dance in the music, such as MizzNina and Hunny Madu.
Run This – Ego, SonaOne, Jin Hackman, Kraft, Tactmatic, Sayla, Roshan Jamrock
#AV with RubbaBend, Hunny Madu, Nadhira, Kayda, Shikara, Al Caponey & Supa Mojo
There was a tremendous amount of hip hop coming my way, and I don’t think making a playlist would do anyone justice. I’m surprised I even passed SPM.
At this point, hip hop was a vibrant community constantly growing (a lot of which I fell in love incidentally a product of the genius of DJ Fuzz). The Internet was changing the game a hundred steps at a time.
Ego, EDM and The Soundcloud Era
By the time I entered university, Malaysian hip hop was already wearing so many faces. No one was truly the symbol of hip hop. You can talk about the mainstream impact of people like Altimet or SonaOne, you can brag about the everlasting presence of Joe Flizzow, and you still wouldn’t be talking about more than 20% of the community. It was easier for people to be self-made. Ego, its positive and negative, came centerstage.
Jin Hackman’s inner ‘whiteness’ despite his Chinese ‘exterior’ speaks directly to my heart
The bass got heavier, and the 808s got more complicated, synth-y, dance-y; everything, you name it. Since hip hop as a genre thrives upon sampling other tunes and absorbing from the culture around them. Around the time my college years started, electronic influences started seeping into the local music industry and hip hop was not excluded. As smartphones became a right instead of a luxury (present in the hands of even the lower classes), the tools of music-making was in almost everyone’s hands. Of course, you still had popular rappers taking over this sound.
Even if I don’t particularly like Havoc by Joe Flizzow, it became this annoying anthem for ballers from Subang for a long time.
Although songs like Havoc is probably not the most complex stuff out there, you could see rappers everywhere reclaiming their own identity; with localized pride taking over otherwise vaguely Western swagger (yes, localized pride includes Subang anthems).
Trap rap was also the name of the game. Large, vibing beats to otherwise simple lyricism. (Simple lyricism does not mean less fire though. Entirely up to your personal taste)
This is a good example of simple lyricism filled with fire
Once in a while you still get awesome sampling that destroys all templates such as this caklempong backbeat in Aku Lawan Aku
And you still have songs with some soul in it too amongst all the roof-raising big beats.
And you don’t find these gems on YouTube, but you can a lot more people who self-produce, with no labels and probably in their own bedrooms in the seemingly endless world of SoundCloud.
Four years of university passed by really fast. Next thing I knew I was looking for a job, trying to pay my rent and other bills.
In the meantime, the many face of Malaysian hip hop just get wider, deeper and more incomprehensible. Maybe in the early days, there was rivalry between the likes of 4U2C and KRU. And maybe there were Poetic Ammo fans who hated the rise of Too Phat. But speaking of any rivalry in hip hop today is just silly. The universe of rappers and producers and DJs in Malaysia has grown gigantic that you can be a fan of Malaysian hip hop and still not know the myriad of rappers there are out there.
I sometimes look back at my life and think whether I’ve made all the good decisions in life WHILE feeling worried about my future. Hip hop also has its flaws in the local scene, and might have so many stumbling blocks ahead of it. From being perceived as ridiculous, youth-corrupting, social parasites of the industry or be smothered by a mainstream scence that just wants you to keep producing hook after hook. But from being total outcasts in off-coloured parachute pants to one of the most celebrated genres on the charts, hip hop has come a long way. The road used to be way darker than this, but now everything is lit.
And that’s why we celebrate hip hop day here at the Daily Seni. Because it makes us realize that maybe as individuals, we’ve come a long way too.
There are so many other prominent rappers and hip hop artists that we could mention like SSK, Lawalah Familia, Sayla and more. If you guys wanna check out a more interesting video on this matter, check out the video below by webe
Tell us what’s your favourite local hip hop artists and what we need to include in the timeline!
To listen to a playlist of our favourite hip hop records, check out our Spotify playlist below: