“Call me Yung Mustafa / Brown superstar” – Yung Raja is the pink-haired rap lightning rod dominating local hip-hop consciousness. His head-turning appeal derives from the fact that, with him, you can have it both ways: Body-moving, anthem-ready turn-up rap and contemporary cultural commentary delivered with a winking verve. The listener gets a good measure of both on his latest single 'Mustafa' produced by Flightsch, one of the most esteemed figures in the local hip-hop ecosystem and honcho of M03 Records
Below, Hear65 talks to both rapper and producer about the important conversations their latest transmission will inspire.
What does 'Mustafa' mean to you?
Yung Raja: Mustafa is a place I’ve been all my life. I didn’t really go to Sheng Siong or NTUC – we all went to Mustafa, even my extended my family. I realised a lot of Singaporeans go there but they don’t celebrate it like they should. So, because of how much it means to my family and me, I thought it best to commemorate it in a song. So, we made a song that is very real.
When we were thinking of the kind of song we wanted to make, there were so many ideas that were being thrown around, like ‘Baygon’.
Flightsch: We wanted to do something that’d resonate with both Singaporeans and Malaysians. Most of the products we use in Singapore are also used in Malaysia, so we thought of the source of these products: Mustafa. It just felt timely.
Yung Raja: And there’s a strong cultural aspect to it, too: The family behind the brand is from India, just like my family. I’m the only one who was born here. They used to sell tea from a pushcart and after years of grinding, BOOM! They became Mustafa.
So, the song is also a celebration of the hustle?
Yung Raja: Yes! That’s why I say, “Call me Yung Mustafa…” Why do you call me Yung Mustafa? Because I represent that same hustle. He came out of this culture and community and what he created is something that is shared by Singapore and anyone who comes to Singapore. I resonate with that and I want to do the same with my culture and my music. Whatever I put out, I’ll open up to anyone who’s invested in it.
Flightsch, what was the biggest challenge in terms of coming up with a beat that reflected Raja’s vision?
Flightsch: You know what? The beat was already there. We had five demos of other songs. But one day, Raja was like, "Bro, let’s make three songs". And we actually did. By the time we got to 'Mustafa', it was like 3am. I was too tired at the time, so we looked through some old beats and we found the one that became 'Mustafa'. Initially, I didn’t see it as a deep song. I just wanted something that was easy listening. But when Raja started writing, he realised that it could be so much more than that.
There are EDM undertones as well.
Flightsch: I’m glad you caught that. I’m quite genre-variant, even though my master genre is still hip-hop. I’ll do what it takes to make a song pop and I think it worked out nicely.
Raja, you ably balance lighthearted humour with resolve in the song. Is that also what you see it as?
Yung Raja: Yes, I see it as a showcase of my cheeky side. Growing up, everyone from my parents to my teachers to my friends used to call me cheeky. They never said I was naughty or dirty – it was always cheeky. It was always there so I decided to build on it.
There are things I say there that you can’t say in my community. You can’t say, "twerking in a sari without a bra". If my mom of my three sisters hear that, I don’t know how they’ll react. But all I know is that it hasn’t been said before and I don’t feel like censoring it. I don’t feel like it’s inappropriate. If it changes your perspective about cultural norms, then, great.
So, breaking taboos is important to you?
Yung Raja: Bro, that’s literally everything. I have three sisters and collectively, 10 nephews and nieces. I was the only one that was born here. Who I am outside the house, is who I’ve become shaped by via my environment. In my house, though, is a side of me my friends have never seen. Like, I wear a sarong to sleep, for example. In my house, no one understands rap.
There’s a huge gap; a cultural duality. I’m the middle ground. The times are changing and somebody has to make sure that the younger generation grows up carrying messages from both sides of the divide. Rap is the way for me to reach out and do that. I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to turn heads by speaking for my community. This is a change that needs to happen.
Flightsch, isn’t this the most culturally specific song you’ve worked on in your career?
Wow, yes. Honestly, the song has gotten me in touch with the roots I never wanted to be in touch with. I’ve always willingly distanced from my culture. And that’s because I was always ostracised for the colour of my skin. You either conform or be an outlier. I never thought I’d make Tamil songs. But I realised that, at some point, I had to embrace who I am. It’s tough living in a shell.
Yung Raja: When I first met him, I was pissed that he didn’t want to speak Tamil!
Flightsch: After 10 years of producing, I’m translating all my insight into music for Raja and [Fariz] Jabba. And, in turn, that has brought me closer to my roots.
Raja, there doesn’t seem to be any tension between your cultural and individual identity. You don’t seem concerned about following the mold.
Yung Raja: Forget the mold! They expect us to fit in but my perspective has grown. I live out my personality and what my belief system regards as valuable. There’s no question and there’s no fear because I know I’m not lying to myself. I am convinced and comfortable of portraying the truest form of who I am through my music. I love eating poori and you can hear it in the music. My culture is transcending through music – and that’s the realest thing I’ve ever done.