Yes, it’s 2020, but mention rap and it still comes with the baggage of certain negative stereotypes. Yung Raja, the on-fire persona of Rajid Ahamed, comes at the topic from an optimistic space though. “The beauty of hip-hop and rap is the fact that you get to make it your own… It’s a beautiful genre in which you get to paint your story and reality with words,” he enthuses.
And people are lapping up whatever he’s putting out. Case in point: the cheeky video for his latest single Mad Blessings, an infectious tune in which the 25-year-old acknowledges his golden streak in the business, was cruising on 1.2 million YouTube views at press time – less than two months after its release. The song’s title is an apt way to describe his rise as one of the few – and more prominent – young rappers melding English and colloquial Tamil (his parents are from South India though he was born and bred here).
M.I.A. (yes, the critically acclaimed female rapper) even reached out through social media to express her appreciation of his bilingual work after he released Poori Gang, a remix of smash hit Gucci Gang. “Mixing English and Tamil is something I haven’t heard widely around the world,” says Yung of his unique brand of music. “Tamil’s an ancient language and I just wanted to make it a little stylish. I’m just glad that people like the end result.” Now who else is looking forward to his next single, due out later this year?
When asked how to describe her job title these days, the 40-year-old frowns and asks if we could do away with titles altogether. “It’s unnecessarily restrictive,” she declares in her signature no-nonsense manner. The statement reflects her approach to life. “To me, a rock and roll spirit is one that is unapologetic and subscribes to a philosophy of living on the edge.”
She’s done just that all right – in 2017, she famously left her job as one of Singapore’s most well-loved radio deejays after 14 years to travel the world. Her next big gig sees her returning in the second half of 2020 as the TV host of the second season of Weird Food Diaries, which plays perfectly into two of her passions: eating and travelling. To clarify things though, Lee says she wouldn’t explicitly label herself as a rebel. “I don’t live life just to break the rules,” she explains. “But in the sense of being unapologetically me? Then yes, I guess I am a rebel… For example, a lot of radio DJs quit their jobs and go ‘I’m so done with radio’ only to pop up at another station. For me, when I say I quit, I really quit.”
Being the pretty boy in a beloved pop band often means being stereotyped as being clean-cut. Go beyond the surface though and as this telegenic multi-hyphenate whose many roles include being the keyboardist, rhythm guitarist and vocalist in the currently-on-hiatus The Sam Willows puts it: “I’m a covert rebel. I play by the rules most of the time, but I can get rebellious under the table.”
Covert sounds about right. You see his delightfully naughty streak in bits and pieces everywhere. There’s the needle-sharp commentary in his comedy sketch series The BenZi Project, which he started with comedian Hirzi Zulkiflie last year with “no funding, professional screenwriting, directorial experience and understanding of humour”. And there’s just him in general (fun fact that he lets on during this interview: he once wore women’s swimwear to a swimming competition as part of a dare when he was a teenager).
“The biggest misconception of being a rebel is the need to be different,” he says on a more serious note. “Being different for the sake of being different doesn’t make you a disrupter… The BenZi Project came about simply because the gut is an amazing body part that houses your instincts, which are really stronger than one’s doubt and insecurities, and we acted on it. Part of being a disrupter is also making mistakes and learning from them.” His upcoming engagement might see him at literally his cheekiest yet: a role in Pangdemonium’s musical The Full Monty opening in October this year. You’re welcome.
Xie’s scene-stealing role as Kitty Pong in the silver screen sensation that is Crazy Rich Asians – and starring role as the same character in the planned sequels – might have silenced (or not) detractors who label her as nothing more than a bombshell. The actress, who first found fame on local TV in the early 2000s, is however far from done with her pursuits in the creative industry – and doing so on her own terms.
Besides acting, her other love is the arts, which sees her travelling regularly to major art fairs and institutions around the world to procure blue-chip art pieces for friends and clients in her capacity as private consultant. And while she’s now globally recognised, she’s realistic about the Hollywood game. “Attending an audition is in itself a rebellious experience because it calls for putting your soul into another character,” she says. “It means that us actresses live a thousand lives and it calls for a lot of strength.” Now what about those detractors? “Being brave can be a quiet process – one can be in solitude and still be contented. That is true rebellion because I feel that the more still one is, the better to show one’s power.”
Photography Vee Chin Videography Phyllicia Wang Styling Imran Jalal Hair & Makeup Manisa Tan, assisted by Yang Ziwei/Paletteinc, using Revlon Professional & Urban Decay