Tamil-English rap, hip-hop artist Yung Raja is among a handful of entertainers successfully putting Singapore on the global music map.
The Def Jam South East Asia artist is taking a crack at the American market, the first Singaporean to be promoted globally by parent record label Universal Music Group this year.
Just like his 2019 song, Mad Blessings, Raja – real name Rajid Ahamed – says 2020 has been filled with nothing but “mad blessings” for him.
The 25-year-old’s unique bilingual flow has served him well in markets like billion-strong India, where his music video for The Dance Song received a global premiere on music channel VH1 last October.
Yung Raja is the first Asian act signed to United States-based Alamo Records.
With its cheeky references to lyrics from Indian composer A.R. Rahman’s songs from the 1990s and legendary Indian actor Rajinikanth’s iconic one-liners, The Dance Song introduced a wider audience to his brand of bright, lively rap and garnered more than one million views within two months of its release.
Following hot on its heels was an accompanying Gen Z-friendly “The Wiggly Challenge” on Tik-Tok, jumping on the popular trend of artists creating 15- to 30-second-long dances for followers and fans to recreate.
“It’s exciting to be introducing people to Singapore, Tamil and bilingual rap – which I feel is unique to Singapore. It’s fun to show people our colours.”Yung Raja
Despite international touring being scuppered by the pandemic, Raja was a headlining performer at the India-based Bacardi NH7 Weekender last month – a virtual music festival that drew 65,000 viewers over three days.
Last year, Raja became the first Asian act signed to United States-based Alamo Records, which represents a roster of upcoming American rappers, including Smokepurpp and Lil Durk.
Raja’s dream is to put “Tanglish” on the map with his rap.
“In 2018 and 2019, when I started out, the team had our eyes on India, which was part of the early game plan,” he tells The Sunday Times.
“But with Alamo on board, we’ve had to adjust our perspective because the picture might be much larger.
“Me and my team never saw (a deal from the US) coming, but it’s a great indicator that we’ve been going down the right path. People are receptive to the sound and the brand, especially through the eyes of the West,” he adds.
He says that moving forward, he will be “keeping the American audience in mind, more than before”, leveraging his signings and releasing new music and collaborations at a greater frequency.
He is tight-lipped on the specifics, but says that “plans for 2021 are shaping up nicely, with some major announcements”.
He acknowledges his lyrical compositions might have to be slightly adjusted, for example by cutting down on Tamil content to get the attention of American audiences, but he is steadfast about the “ultimate game plan to put ‘Tanglish’ on the map”.
He also sees his role as introducing new audiences to the diversity of music from Singapore, and shifting perspectives.
“A lot of people are surprised by the fact that I’m a Tamil rapper from Singapore – they never realised that we are culturally and artistically so rich,” he says.
“It’s exciting to be introducing people to Singapore, Tamil and bilingual rap – which I feel is unique to Singapore. It’s fun to show people our colours.”
The ascent does not look like it is stopping any time soon. Like his rap moniker, Raja, which means king in Tamil, is poised to take the crown.
This article first appeared in The Straits Times