SINGAPORE - About 30 years after he made his debut as one of Singapore's earliest rappers, Sheikh Haikel is retiring from music.
On Nov 11, the 46-year-old released his newest single, So I Say What's Up, a collaboration with singer-songwriter Charlie Lim that is the first of 10 songs that make up his final album.
The rest of the songs will be released gradually over the next year and the last tune will be released on his 47th birthday on Oct 10, 2022.
One of the main reasons he is calling it quits is to give way to the younger generation of home-grown rappers, many of whom look up to him as a godfather of the local hip-hop scene. When In Doubt, his previous and fourth album, was released in 2013.
"I want to take a back seat and enjoy the scene. Rather than play the game, I want to let the sun go down on me being an entertainer," the rapper says in a recent interview over Zoom.
The upcoming songs will feature some of Singapore's most prominent rappers, including Fariz Jabba, Thelioncityboy and Shigga Shay, as well as rising name Aesop Cash.
"I'm working with some great artistes, the people whom I feel would make a difference in the years to come," says Haikel.
Other guests include songbird Aisyah Aziz as well as Malaysian hip-hop luminary Joe Flizzow. He also worked with Ezekiel Keran, better known as Flightsch, one of local hip-hop scene's most successful producers.
So I Say What's Up is a deeply personal song about the ups and downs of his relationship with Ashidiq Ghazali, the other member of his old rap duo Construction Sight.
In 1991, the pair made headlines when they won Asia Bagus, a regional televised music competition by Japanese television station Fuji TV. They later parted ways to focus on their own solo projects.
Haikel says that he had always wanted to work with Lim, as he was a big fan. They first met at singer Sezairi's wedding in 2016 and Haikel broached the idea of a collaboration.
When he was starting to work on the new album, he met Lim again and discussed the inspiration behind the song over a meal.
"He wrote his part, recorded it and sent it to me at about one o'clock in the morning. I heard it and I was like, 'Yeah, this is it, I see this in my song.' I didn't want him to change anything."
His 17-year-old son, Sheikh Abbra, wrote some of the lyrics in the song. Haikel is married to actress-singer Anna Belle Francis, 43, and the couple also have a daughter, Triqka, 18, and another son, Juz, seven, who appears in the new song's music video.
The rapper also says he is exiting the music industry to focus on his restaurant business. Together with burger chain Fatboy's founder Bernie Tay, he opened Wakuwaku Yakiniku, a halal Japanese restaurant in 2019 in Bali Lane.
The pair recently closed down Fatpapas, the halal version of Fatboy's which opened in 2017, also in Bali Lane, because business was badly affected by the construction works around the area.
Haikel says he is planning to open new dining businesses in the near future.
"I like to break bread with people, I like to eat and I like to feed people."
A Lasalle College of the Arts drama graduate, he has acted in movies such as Army Daze (1996) and television sitcoms such as Three Rooms, Phua Chu Kang and Under One Roof. Although he has received other offers over the years, he says that none of them has enticed him enough to get back into acting.
Haikel, who has also been a host at major events such as National Day parades as well as on radio stations SPH UnionWorks' Radio 91.3 and Mediacorp's 987FM, becomes emotional talking about the support that fellow Singaporeans have given him over the years.
"I'm in a place where I'm very grateful," he says, tears running down his cheek.
He recalls how fans would come to his restaurant and tell him how his music had made an impact on their lives. Some fans named their children after him, and one said that his song Ode To My Girl, from his second solo album For Sure Too (2003), helped her reunite with her estranged father after three decades.
"I've performed around the world to so many crowds and audiences, but it's always Singapore that has got my back and allowed me to be myself. And that's the most important thing," says Haikel.
Correction note: An earlier version of the article stated that the title of Sheikh Haikel's new single is So You Say What's Up. This has been corrected to So I Say What's Up.