Hip-hop is at peak cultural relevance right now. Whether as a revolution with a ballooning mushroom cloud or a big-money force of entertainment, what was once an African-American idiom of salvation is now common global property. At home, we have our own hip-hop movers, shakers and world-builders, too, and Rauzan Rahman is one of them. Sitting at the helm of Team Highness, which essentially functions as an ambassadorial brand for hip-hop in Singapore, the multi-hyphenate talent has long been personally invested in the cause. Recently, he emerged as the co-architect of hip-hop’s globally diverse direction when he produced the gloriously battering “Tamilan”, by local rapper MC RAJA, one of the most uncompromisingly bold emerging talents of the new school. Big things are coming and Rauzan is part of the forward-driving current. Read on to find out why.
How did you link up with MC RAJA?
I run Team Highness, and I signed this producer called SonicBoy. He was the one introduced me to Raja. He came to the office and we listened to some beats and he was pretty hyped about one in particular. That was the beat that we used on “Tamilan”. There was this concept he had in mind of getting the Indian community together and I thought it was great.
The first track that we released together was “Bounce”. RAJA was rushing the release of it because Higher Brothers were coming to Singapore tand he wanted to play that first. Everything happened at perfect timing.
Asia is embracing hip-hop like never before. Do you think this is just a fad or something lasting?
Of course, it’ll last! Even in the scene in Malaysia, there are already so many Asian hip-hop legends that started way back. In Singapore, Lineath used to represent us. After that, I didn’t see anyone trying do anything like him, but RAJA popped up and I can safely say that he came in at the perfect time. We already have outstanding Chinese and Malay rappers, and now RAJA is here for the Indian community. The fact that different communities are telling their own stories through hip-hop is proof that it’s here to stay.
“Nobody here is better than anyone else until they win a Grammy. I fully believe in the idea of community – if one person wins, everyone in the industry will too.”
Relatedly, what do you think of rapping in one’s mother tongue?
Personally, I believe that you should focus on your community. If you don’t have the support from your own people, it’s going to be hard to garner support from a different culture. That’s why rappers performing in their own mother tongues is an amazing phenomenon. It’s how they introduce themselves before they branch out to other communities.
How does Team Highness fulfill your vision of hip-hop?
Team Highness was founded in 2013 by my wife and I. We started out as a club promoter, running hip-hop nights at Chameleon Lounge Club. After that, I focused on producing. I figured that it was time to think business and take things up a notch. I see production as a way of different bringing people together and growing the culture as a whole.
Right now, we are trying to establish Team Highness as the hip-hop promoters of Singapore. I’m currently talking to COMPASS Singapore to see if they can sponsor us the Singapore hip-hop catalogue so I can start an online radio show. It’ll be 24-hour scheduling, and I’ll bring people in to talk about Singapore’s hip-hop scene.
It’s good to know that Team Highness is here for the long-haul.
Yes. I hope that we will be like Def Jam Recordings or BET. We want to have award shows for hip-hop and have radio shows dedicated to hip-hop. I’m working with Ollie ‘Des to hopefully make the radio show happen. It doesn’t matter if the award show is small, I just want deserving artists to receive the recognition that they deserve.
Who do you think is flying the flag for hip-hop in Singapore now?
AE$OP CA$H is one of my favourite rappers in Singapore alongside TheLionCityBoy. He keeps it so real. When he writes his verses, he adds the local flavour. I wouldn’t even write about Yishun, but he would. He doesn’t just rap in dialects but also about the realities of life of Singapore. Mean is also amazing. Alif from SleeQ is also one of the rappers I really like. But MC RAJA is honestly the new-new. I’m not being biased because I’m producing his music – he is seriously a force to be reckoned with.
What made you want to write “65 Dante”?
It’s a funny story, actually. It was National Day, which is two days before the widely accepted birthdate of hip-hop – August 11 1973 – and I was in the studio. I was kind of bored that day, so I just came up with a beat and I thought why not do a song to celebrate those who paved the way for hip-hop in Singapore. I just decided to write it because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be doing what I am now. I didn’t expect the song to garner so much attention, but it did. So I’m really thankful.
When you work with different artists, what is something that they have to bring to the table for you to take them seriously?
I always test them by making a beat and telling them to write something immediately. I just want to see their energy and so far, the people whom I’ve worked with have been able to bring that. It’s really a no-no for me if someone asks me to send them the beat and says they’ll get back to me. That just shows that they’re not totally committed.
And lastly, ego is intrinsic to hip-hop. How do you see that playing out here?
All local rappers should know that we are in Singapore and we need to work together to change and improve the scene. It’s an investment. If every single one of us are discouraging people from working with each other, the industry won’t be able to flourish. I don’t even label myself as RAJA’s manager or producer. I told him that he should work with other producers and learn from them. When it comes to that, I think everyone’s ego should be toned down. Nobody here is better than anyone else until they win a Grammy. I fully believe in the idea of community – if one person wins, everyone in the industry will too.
Catch Rauzan and more at the Siloso Beach Party. Get your tickets here.