This up-and-coming rapper has been at the top of his game for the past 3 years now, but this year – with his future performance at Good Vibes Festival 2017 and the release of his first EP, Bagel under This Way Up Records (which we recently reviewed and gave it a double thumbs up), things are gonna heat up even more. Not forgetting to mention, his Asia Tour (which is wrapping up today) with Alextbh & Zamaera. We had a chat with this 19-year-old rapper/producer prodigy over some cup of coffee, and talked about bagels, Malay families and more!
If you haven’t listened to his Bagel EP yet, what you’re waiting for? Check out the short film that was made for the album to get a little preview.
How it all started
Hello my name is Airliftz. My real name is – okay, this is starting to sound like a school thing *laughs*. Okay, my name is Aliff but I go by the name Airliftz. I’m 19 years old and I come from all the way in Sg. Long, Kajang.
You’re performing at Good Vibes! How does that feel?
I feel SO excited. I remember last year I was talking to my friend last year and I said “It would be so dope if I get to perform at Good Vibes next year” and it’s happening NOW and I’m just like woah. I’m hella excited. It’s a dream come true.
Are you a fan of any of the bands/artists in the Good Vibes lineup?
PHOENIX! It’s funny because I can’t really remember the titles of the songs I like, but I remember the melodies though *starts humming the melody* . I don’t think that was distinct enough for anyone to figure out what song it was *laughs*
You started out in Soundcloud about 3 years ago, so you were 16 then? How did you first decide that you wanted to do music?
Back then, for us underground people, Soundcloud was the only platform we had to put out music. Getting it on the radio was almost impossible. It all started out in my room where I recorded myself. I was just making beats in my room, putting out song-after-song.
This was all learned mostly from YouTube tutorials?
Mostly! I learned a lot from YouTube tutorials, some by myself. When it comes to lyrics I just keep on writing every single day, back then. Not now though, now I’m just chilling *laughs*. I mean, I’ve only just released two singles, Gwalos and YAGK. Although we’re in the process of writing more songs.
You’re currently collaborating with a Singaporean producer at the moment, so tell us how that happened?
It’s all thanks to Jin (Jin Hackman). I guess, it’s my first international collab since they’re two different countries even though they’re close to each other *laughs*. The Bagel EP is produced by one of the dopest Singaporean producer I know, who goes by the name of GROSSE.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with hip hop?
It all started way back when I was a kid. I remember when I was a kid I’d be in the car and my dad would have all of these cassettes and ripped-off CDs. They were bumping to old school stuff, and I was just a kid and I was thinking “OH THIS IS SO COOL”. I kinda grew up with it. And then I moved to different types of genres and then back when I was 12 and 13, I started listening back to hip hop. It was 2010 so it was during Eminem’s Recovery album and I thought it was really cool. It was a hit so I got into it too!
So is Eminem your hip hop hero?
Naww, not really. My hero is SuperDuperKyle. ‘Cause I remember seeing him back when I was 14 back before he got with Lil Yachty. So he was making videos on YouTube of himself rapping and freestyling – I was thinking if he can do it, then why not me? Even that time, I was like “Okay let’s go into rap music”. I had a best friend who told me that I should go into rap music and I wasn’t so sure because I was still young, but I decided to do it because of SuperDuperKyle.
Bagel & Trap music
As a producer and a rapper, which one do you enjoy more? Rapping or producing?
I love producing more than rapping because I love to make sounds, but then I’m not really good at it *laughs*
I think you’re too tough on yourself man, you make sick beats.
*laughs* Thank you!
How does your songwriting process work?
I started out, well not copying people’s style, but more of the trend and how they sound, and what they would say. Like how they would say something, and I would take it and say it in my own way. I find out later that that’s not real, that’s so not me, so when it comes to songwriting, working with GROSSE helped me out a lot to make it more real. Gwalos is real me but in a more urban ghetto way, and not a school kid way.
What is the “real” you then?
Well I enjoy trap music, but trap music is not me. So like in the Bagel EP, that’s what I’m planning to sound like from now on. That’s me.
Tell us a little bit more about Bagel!
Well Bagel is my very first EP. It’s a 5-track EP, and it’s not about food at all *laughs* . It’s called Bagel because one of the tracks is called Bagel, and we got inspired by this bagel from Molecule cafe in Sunway Giza. They serve out this salmon bagel. It was so good! Me and GROSSE went back to the studio and I said “Let’s write a song about that bagel!” and he said “Why not, dude?”. But I describe it as something else, not the food. It’s a metaphor.
Is Bagel a mixtape, or they do all have the same theme?
Oh no, they all have a direction. Definitely. You can hear it. I hope. *laughs*
How would you describe the sound in Bagel EP?
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be?
SuperDuperKyle definitely. Lil Uzi Vert. And Logic. Logic helps me a lot with songwriting. I don’t really dig most of the new albums though, because it’s more driven by themes about black identity and what not, which is cool, but I can’t relate to that. I’m not trying to be racist or anything, but it’s just not me.
Why don’t you feel like trap music is ‘you’ though?
I just wanna be clear, I love trap music. But out here so many people are making rap music and like the real trap rappers are awesome, and I salute them. But there’s always a lot of people faking around, and trying to be gangster. I can still do trap beats, but it doesn’t feel like me, because I’m not that all going hard, selling drugs, throwing gang signs, but that’s not me. I do enjoy it.
Cari duit & being a role model
Do you have a music background? Are your friends and family supportive of what you do?
Back then in school, especially my family, being Malay families, they would say “Nanti lepas SPM baru boleh cari duit, sekarang ni belajar dulu” and I’d just be like “okay okay” but I don’t do it for the money though. It’s not just about having fun. It’s about making money from what I really love which is music. I remember telling my mum that, and she saod that “Music will never put food on the table”. That kinda got me because I was 17, about to sit for SPM, but I was too busy making music and she got mad about it. My grades were falling down. I told my mum “Don’t worry it’s gonna work out fine”. And now that everything is working fine, everyone’s all of a sudden “Oh we support you, Aliff!”. That’s always the case *laughs*
A lot of people on social media tend to bash you on how you look. On the other hand, some people look up to you as a role model? How do you handle that expectation?
About people talking shit about me? I don’t really care. People are always going to be people. Social media is just a platform for these people to talk crap about you. I never got offended, but I do sometimes feel frustrated. As a kid I was already bullied for my looks, so like the older I get, the less that scares me. It doesn’t scare me anymore. I went through that, and I don’t wanna go through that again.
But being a role model? I’m not sure about that. I’m just trying to be me, and find a place to fit in. When people say I’m an inspiration because of my look it doesn’t really concern me. I mean, it’s a God-given thing, so why should I worry about it?
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so much in the past 3 years since your success trajectory is pretty crazy?
Being more disciplined when it comes to making music *laughs*. I learn a lot about producing from other producers too. When it comes to working on Bagel, GROSSE has allowed me to learn a lot more about myself in making my own music. It’s not just about putting random songs together, it’s about how to reach out to the listeners and interacting with the audience.
Growth of underground rap
What is your favourite album of all time?
Can I just scroll through my iTunes? *laughs* Hmm. *turns around to ask Jin Hackman who’s sitting in the background* Dude, what’s your favourite album of all time?
*laughs* Why are you asking Jin? It’s YOUR favourite album of all time.
*laughs* I got it! WOLF by Tyler, the Creator! Because of that whole jazz thing, which I also try to incorporate. To answer your question previously actually, I would love to work with Tyler. Tyler is a role model. He doesn’t give a shit about anything, he just does what he wants. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Just trying to do what I want.
What do you think of the local hip hop industry?
Well to me, it’s grown bigger and bigger. Rap music is more than just how it sounds back then. There are many different sounds of rap now, you have people doing mumble rap, and then when you listen to HOAXVISION it’s this type of music, Monster Sound is another kind and Soul Fit has a different type of sound. The underground scene is getting bigger and bigger. Us underdogs are ready to – well not topple down the big names – but we’re ready to take it to a higher level.
But then when it comes to rap music in Malaysia, it’s kinda hard for us too. Because people are too focused on the old ones. I remember when my friend was writing a Malay song, and people are telling us like “You can’t sound like him” or “You have to be like that guy”. You can’t expect us to sound like other people because that’s not who we are. Fuck trying to sound like ‘that guy’, I’m just gonna be me.
There is a growing underground scene, but there are also people who say that EVERYONE is doing it now. Hip hop purists are saying it’s not that good anymore because everyone can just go to Soundcloud and put out their own stuff?
To me it’s good because rap music doesn’t have to just be about one thing. Rap music is another type of music, like in rock you have metal and death metal and indie rock. Same goes with rap music. To me it’s just music. Music is meant to be enjoyed. If you don’t like to listen to that type of things then don’t listen to it. If you hate rap, listen to rap or rock. No one’s forcing you to do anything.
Some rappers have an attachment to a certain identity, like Kendrick Lamar represents Compton, black rights and social activism? Do you feel like your music represents Kajang or Malaysia?
To me, I feel proud to represent Sg. Long. Because over there it’s just a small town and it’s so chill. And I’m out here trying to do rap music. If I could go international I would definitely represent my country like how Yuna did. Like Yuna inspired me a lot too.
What do you have to say to your fans who are looking forward to seeing you in Good Vibes?
I don’t like to call them fans, because I don’t wanna sound too ‘braggy’. I’ll call them friends. We’re gonna have fun, friends! We’re gonna throw floats around and stuff. If there could be a stage dive that would be so cool.
Find out more about Good Vibes at www.goodvibesfestival.com and buy tickets. The lineup for this year is filled with amazing artists!