SINGAPOREAN rapper, songwriter and actor Yung Raja, 25, has his own unique style when it comes to rapping and it is this unique style that has garnered him fans in Singapore and Malaysia.
Born Rajid Ahamed, Yung Raja’s parents hail from the state of Tamil Nadu in India and moved to Singapore in 1992.
In 2017, he made his debut as a rapper, calling himself MC Raja and released two singles, Bounce and Tamilian.
In 2018, Rajid changed his stage name to Yung Raja and signed on to M03 records.
The name Yung Raja is a combination of his nickname Chinna Thambi (which means younger brother in Tamil) and Raja, from legendary Tamil composer Illaiyaraja.
His following single Mustafa (2018), a tribute to the famous 24-hour shopping centre in Singapore, became popular. This was followed by Mad Blessings (2019).
Raja recently signed on to Def Jam Southeast Asia. When asked how different it was for him now that he is attached to a major record label, Raja said: “In a way, it is more elevated now. Previously, it was a small group of people trying to make good music. In the current setup, I still work with the same guys and same team. It doesn’t feel very different but it does feel like a whole different ball game.”
How much does he think he has grown as an artiste since his earlier work, from Mustafa and Mad Blessings to his latest, The Dance Song?
“It has been three years. I was 21 when I first started. I was very much a child, very excited about everything. There has been so many changes. It is the identity my team and I have created with my music. My spirit is still untouched and unchanged since my Mustafa days.
“I feel more mature in certain ways, especially the way I approach my career and my job now. The first two years was getting to know the world as a full-time artiste. Every step of the way, every juncture was mind-blowing. It was a whole new world for me. I was learning the ropes and learning how this world operates.”
When asked if he has been pressured to make his music more “global”, Raja said: ”I think the best part is working with the people I work with. The relationship is built on how we started on this career.
“There are things we worked on ... the whole bilingual rap that I do, which is something my team and I formed together. It is an identity that can’t be changed or compromised. It makes me who I am and my team understands that. They are so aligned that I love doing it.
“Every day as we try to push this to a whole new level, I think my style and what I love to do won’t be compromised in any way and we try to hone and elevate that. If you take that away from me, then I am just another kid who likes to rap. My team and I take great pride in the flavour that we bring to the table.“
At the start of his career, Raja often flew to India to perform at shows there. He met some great artistes and all of them were supposed to take part in a music festival that was supposed to be held this year.
That has been turned into a virtual event that will take place this month.
Although the technology behind virtual concerts has evolved tremendously, Raja said: “I have to be brutally honest with you. To be able to perform live and feel the energy and do what I love, it is a strong, powerful and intimate feeling regardless of how big the crowd is.
“When you get to share human energy at that intensity, feel everybody’s presence and feel everyone vibing with you, that feels powerful. It is almost like a drug, it is insane. I don’t think we can figure out what to replace that with yet.”
As to how his family took to his rapping, Raja said: ”My whole family is very traditional. They moved from Thanjavur to Singapore in the 1990s. The whole setup of being the only son and being born late, I was given maximum freedom to figure out what I loved to do.
“From a young age, my parents made it very clear that I had to take care of the family. They made sure I knew there were certain things I had to do as a son, things I could not mess up.
“I knew very early on that if I were to become a doctor, engineer or do something academic, I would be very unhappy. I liked impersonating people like superstar Rajnikanth. I liked acting like characters in movies. I was like this class clown, always entertaining people, making them laugh.
“So my family knew early on that I was going to become an entertainer of sorts. It is that kind of support system at home that allows me to do what I want to do.”