The trailblazer

Rapper Dato’ Maw is elevating the Malaysian Chinese rap scene

18 Feb 2021 / 07:00 H.

FORGING a path of his own in Malaysia’s hip hop scene, Teh Jian Wei is increasingly making his mark with each release and project that he attaches himself to. Better known by his stage name Dato’ Maw, the rapper was recently involved with Levi’s Music Project Malaysia, where he emerged as one of the top four finalists. This was followed by the release of his EP, Cina Part 1.

In an interview with theSun, the rapper spoke at length about his philosophy and personal mission in pushing his “Cina music”.

“It basically means Malaysian Chinese music. It was too long, and ‘Cina music’ sounds cooler. There are a lot of Chinese people around the world, and everyone speaks in different dialects,” he said.

“The way Malaysian Chinese speak Chinese is different from those from mainland China, Taiwan and even Hong Kong. We have our own aesthetic”.

The aesthetic, sound, flow and lyricism is what Maw is bringing to his music, claiming that it is in line with how rappers like to present where they are from. He goes on to say that when he began listening to Taiwanese rap, it could not fit well with him, because Malaysian Chinese and Taiwanese people pronounce words differently.

“It doesn’t sound natural for Malaysian Chinese to speak in Chinese from other regions. It sounds off and not as authentic. It’s like when I listen to Point Blanc, the Malaysian slang comes out naturally. It sounded like they were representing the country. It’s localised, and I felt close to the way they do it,” he said.


Language and culture

On whether “Cina music” seeks to form a hip-hop space for Chinese-speaking listeners and rappers to fit comfortably in, Maw said it is part of the plan, as the local hip-hop scene is dominated by English and Malay language music.

“I also want to create a sense of belonging for Malaysian Chinese. It’s more or less sticking to the roots of us being Malaysian, and still speaking Chinese,” Maw firmly stated.

“‘Cina music’ is a niche market and the population is small. Minus the old people and babies, there’s nothing left,” he said laughing.

Maw went on to explain that it was not a conscious decision to rap and write in Chinese. Instead, he said it was natural as he grew up speaking Hokkien and Mandarin. When he began to rap, he tried English but quickly realised that it did not sound good.

“I’m not that pro in the English language. If I spit it out, it sounds a bit laggy. People make it sound good if they were born and raised in an English background. But for me, my background is basically a super Chinese one”.

On the language barrier and fans of hip-hop, Maw pointed out his observation that the barrier is not as big as it used to be in the past, and that language is not an issue if listeners are able to vibe with the music.

“I think the barriers now are more like pushing Chinese songs unto English radio. In the internet age, it doesn’t matter much.

“It depends on the project. Like my first project is like a trap metal, mosh pit-thing. Chinese people don’t layan (like) that. I think it was too noisy for them. But for Malay people, whenever I perform the trap metal thing, mosh pits and circle pits naturally happened”.

Maw believes that Chinese people prefer his other projects.


EP and future

“I’m quite shocked the latest EP did better than my previous releases. Because that EP was me just releasing it to channel my negative energy. That’s not how I usually make music, which is more to hype and mosh with it,” Maw said.

According to him, the Cina Part 1熬EP was last-minute, personal and from a phase of his self-reflection due to the first MCO. The EP is the first part of his future album.

“The second part hasn’t been done yet. I want it to be like a journey on every phase of what I’ve felt”.

As 2021 gears up to be a continuation of 2020, Maw is gradually accepting the reality that he will not be able to perform live this year. Saying that live performance is one of the factors that drive him to make music, the rapper said he will instead focus more on the artistic side of his music.

“I’ll probably use this time to invest into actually making good music people will listen to in the long term. I think I’ve released stuff that people won’t go back to listen. They’ll be hyped and then forget about it.”

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