8 QUESTIONS WITH Shigga Shay

Rapper Shigga Shay is an unabashed Lion City kid

Shigga Shay is acting in Royston Tan’s new film. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Shigga Shay is acting in Royston Tan’s new film. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

This story was first published in The Straits Times Life! on Sept 15, 2014

It might be hard to imagine him in tights but street-wise Singaporean rapper Shigga Shay took ballet classes during national service.

The 22-year-old, who completed his national service last month, said his time in the Singapore Armed Forces Music and Drama Company (MDC), where he served, taught him a lot about showmanship.

"Before MDC, I was just a rapper but my time there made me an all-round performer," the artist, whose real name is Pek Jin Shen, tells Life!.

"Over there, I had to take a lot of classes such as vocal lessons and learn different types of dances such as retro, hip-hop and ballet. Doing ballet was difficult though, I don't think I'll be doing it again."

The member of local hip-hop collective Grizzle Grind Crew is riding high on his latest single, Lion City Kia ("kia" is Hokkien for "kid"), an English rap tune about growing up in Singapore with Hokkien and Singlish phrases as well as verses from fellow rapper Lineath in Tamil and Akeem in Malay.

Like his multilingual rap single LimPeh released last year, his latest song topped the local iTunes charts and its video has clocked more than 120,000 views on YouTube to date.

The multi-talented rapper directed and edited the video himself, which features cameos from celebrities such as actress Patricia Mok and actor Dennis Chew, as well as singers and musicians such as Project Superstar winner Daren Tan and Alyph from hip-hop outfit Sleeq.

Earlier last month, he was also one of the artists featured at the National Day Parade, his second time as a rapper after first appearing in 2010's NDP.

He is busy working on his debut full-length album, set to be released next year, and will also travel to Los Angeles next month to record a song and music video with American rapper and YouTube star Timothy DeLaGhetto.

He will be one of the performers at an upcoming music event, Sundown Festival, set to take place on Nov 22 at the F1 Pit Building.

Having learnt the finer aspects of video and film-making as a media and communication student at Singapore Polytechnic, he plans to branch out beyond the world of hip-hop and music videos.

"I want to be known for more than just my music," he says. "I love directing and I'd love to come up with my own film someday."

1 How did the new single Lion City Kia come about?

I actually recorded the song, which is about Singapore, earlier this year and it was just sitting around. The more I listened to it, the more I felt that something was lacking, so I got fellow rapper Lineath to add some verses in Tamil and then Akeem to rap in Malay.

2 Are you repeating the same winning formula you used for previous single LimPeh, which also featured local colloquialisms?

I wouldn't say it's me sticking to the same formula. It was right for the song. Both songs are heavy on local context but it's not something I really want to keep on doing for the rest of my songs, which are predominantly in English.

I use local lingo to reach out to the general Singaporean audience who don't know I have actually put out quite a lot of songs. LimPeh made them more curious about the rest of my music.

3 The music video for Lion City Kia was shot in a playground in the old housing estate of Dakota Crescent. Why did you choose that neighbourhood?

I didn't grow up there but that whole estate is going to be torn down soon so I thought it would be cool to feature that place before it's gone. I was also looking for a playground with sand in it. A lot of the playgrounds in Singapore don't use sand anymore.

The entire Dakota Crescent estate also had an old-school vibe that was perfect for the song.

4 The video features cameos from many local celebrities such as Chua En Lai, Patricia Mok and Ebi Shankara. How did they get involved?

They are all my friends. To fit everyone in, we had to break up the shoot over two days so I asked them if they could come down on either day. Everything was done quite quickly. After the shoot was done, I edited the video on my computer and it was all completed within three days.

5 What are the things that you can do now that you could not do while you were in national service?

Well, for one thing, I can do any interviews that I want without having to go through the Ministry of Defence and I can do whatever shows I want to do. Because of NS restrictions, I had to reject an average of three to four shows a month.

6 One of the biggest performances that you did recently was your rap segment at the National Day Parade. What was that experience like for you?

It was interesting. The people in charge of the parade gave me freedom to write my own rap verses. They would show me the different video segments that featured Singaporeans from all backgrounds talking about overcoming challenges and I would try to express the same emotions through my lines.

7 What are you busy with these days?

I'm a full-time artist now and most of the time, I am working on my upcoming album, as well as videos for the singles. I also direct music videos for others and I've done videos for corporate clients such as StarHub as well as film-maker Jack Neo. I've also got an acting role in an upcoming film by Royston Tan but I can't say much about that because I haven't seen the script.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I'd like to be remembered for my music and as that rapper who came from Singapore and always represented Singapore.

dinohadi@sph.com.sg