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Hip-hoppin’ to it

Rabbit Mac says the colloquial nature of our local rap culture has made it more distinctive

25 Jun 2020 / 12:24 H.

MOST rappers have edgy sounding names such as Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, Sasi the Don or K Town Clan, but Penang boy Charles John Macallum has opted for Rabbit Mac.

When asked why, he said: “I was looking for an easy-to-remember name. I am also a huge fan of Eminem.” In Eminem’s semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile (2002), the rapper played a character named Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit/Bunny Rabbit’ Smith.

“That is where I got the name Rabbit, and Mac is from my family name.”

Rabbit Mac first entered the music scene in 2010, and made Kuala Lumpur his base the following year.

Malaysian Indian rap and hip-hop artistes have come a long way since Yogi B and his band mates in Poetic Ammo made it mainstream in the late 1990s.

Rabbit Mac said that growing up, most of his friends followed US gangsta rap artistes such as Tupac and Biggie Smalls, but not him.

“I was drawn to Eminem. He had humourous elements in his songs, that was what I wanted to do. I was known as the fun guy in my hometown.

“I decided that I wanted to be that unique guy. I was also inspired by the fact that Eminem was an entertainer.

“Until today, I too see myself as an entertainer. I don’t want to go to the States, throw my swag and be a baller. I will be like a stand-up comedian, talk a lot, make stupid jokes and then continue with my rap song.”

Rabbit Mac has long been inspired by Eminem. – Courtesy of Universal Music
Rabbit Mac has long been inspired by Eminem. – Courtesy of Universal Music

Though he won a best newcomer award in 2014 for his role in local Tamil film Maindhan, he chose not to pursue acting full-time.

However, he recently established a film arm of his music production company, and wants to make a full length feature film.

“I think I will be a better director than an actor. I have tonnes of story ideas. Everything is in the pipeline now, and things will kick off in 2021.”

Rap and hip-hop are associated with Western music, and many local Indian artistes preferred to sing covers of Indian cinema hits or compose songs that are similar in style.

It is only over the past decade that hip-hop and rap have become part of the local mainstream music scene.

“Here in Malaysia I think it is the way we put together the lyrics, it is very layman, not very poetic, no Vairamuthu (Indian Tamil poet and frequent A.R. Rahman collaborator) type lyrics.

“When I arrived on the scene, people bought my style, they bought the music I recorded. I rap as though I am having a conversation with my friends.”

Rabbit Mac said each artiste have their own unique vibe. His fan base ranges from children as young as seven or eight years old, to adults.

“I became part of pop culture when I created a cartoon caricature of myself, then people started creating stickers that they put on their cars and things. I never really expected that to happen.”

He believes that audiences and artistes should embrace local culture when it comes to rap music. – Courtesy of Universal Music
He believes that audiences and artistes should embrace local culture when it comes to rap music. – Courtesy of Universal Music

Rabbit Mac also thinks that the way hip-hop artistes dress may have something to do with why this culture was embraced.

After years of being part of the underground music scene, this genre really exploded into the mainstream over the last few years.

“Malaysian hip-hop, not just the Tamil segment, has its own style. It is [similar to] how Latin American rappers who made it to the top of the music charts have their own style. We have this multi-cultural element going on with some Malay, Chinese and Tamil elements here and there. It became a very Malaysian kind of thing.”

Rabbit Mac said online views or streams for local hip-hop music have been staggering, reaching over 10 million easily. These are the kind of numbers one usually sees for songs by major international stars.

“To be honest, many in the Indian community still like kuthu (high energy folk-inspired Tamil songs) but I think hip-hop has taken over. Initially it may have been too much for them, as kuthu songs have a simple beat with some melody.

“To get a million views for a rap song was like a lifetime achievement. Right now we are easily getting five million views and above. I think [listeners] are okay with the jive and the flow of hip-hop.”

He thinks the storytelling elements of rap and hip-hop have made it more appealing.

He cites how long it took for Kollywood (the Tamil Nadu film industry) to incorporate rap music. “When Yogi B and other artistes entered the scene and [appeared on the soundtrack] for Rajnikanth, Ajith Kumar and Kamal Hassan movies, rap became a part of the industry.

“Tamil rap is huge. It started here in Malaysia, and now it is booming in Chennai, Canada and Sri Lanka. Malaysia is like the headquarters of Tamil rap.”

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