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Singaporean rapper Yung Raja infuses Indian culture into hip hop

This article is more than 12 months old

To the average Singaporean and tourist, Mustafa Centre is the 24-hour shopping centre that sells everything from household items to electronics. To Rajid Ahamed, also known as Yung Raja, it means much more.

The Little India neighbourhood where it is located and he grew up in, influenced his journey as an actor and rapper.

Early last year, Raja's debut single, Poori Gang, a remix of American rapper Lil Pump's Gucci Gang, announced to the music world his unique style of Tamil-English fusion rap while making references to popular Little India eateries like Muthu's Curry and south Indian delicacies like thosai.

After creating a sensation in the South-east Asian music industry, the 24-year-old rapper hit the grooves with his YouTube single Mustafa. The hip hop music video, released in the middle of last year through M03 Records (Singapore) and Sony Kartel (Malaysia), attracted more than 1.2 million views.

Recently, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) invited him to perform in Mumbai, and along with Indian rapper Prabhdeep Singh, in New Delhi.

STB's promotional video about Raja's bilingual capabilities was featured on CNN.

At 13, he decided to give acting a shot and auditioned for Fighting Spiders, the local television English drama, and secured a role.

Over the next 10 years, he appeared in minor roles in productions such as Mediacorp TV's Hush, local comedy film Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen, Japanese film Joker Game and local commercials.

"I didn't find fulfilment in acting. I know I was chasing something, but couldn't really tell what I was chasing," he said. "It was time to give up the minor roles for something big."

When his fellow actor and friend Fariz Jabba suggested he go into music, Raja took the plunge. He opted to become a hip-hop artiste.

While performing in local hip hop clubs, he met music producer FlightSch, and they began working on a single together.

Rapping in both Tamil and English was something that he had fancied from the very start.

The Ngee Ann polytechnic mass communications graduate decided on a song composition formula where Tamil words would be introduced in mainstream English hip hop music in a way that even non-Tamils would understand.

These days, Raja writes his own songs and travels around Asia for gigs, collaborating with overseas rap artistes on new projects and figuring as an ambassador for leading fashion brands.