Artiste spotlight: Singapore rap sensation Yung Raja on identity, Snoop Dogg and the importance of family 

The 26-year-old is performing in Chennai as part of a five-city tour in India
Yung Raja
Yung Raja

He’s been roasted by Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show. And rapped alongside Snoop Dogg on the global edition of his Algorithm compilation album which came out late last year. Singaporean rapper Yung Raja is hot property right now. The 26-year-old, who is known for his Tamil-meets-English verses to showcase the duality in his identity, is making a stopover in Chennai this weekend, where he will be performing hits like Mami and Spice Boy at the Circle of Love Block Party (featuring an eclectic line-up of indie artistes) at The Park Chennai. This is a part of his five-city India tour, which he tells us, has been a longtime dream of his, ever since his rap journey began back in 2018. Excerpts:

What are you most looking forward to with this five-city India tour?
I am so excited for the Circle of Love show in Chennai. Especially because this city is where a lot of my family members are from and coming back there is a huge deal for me. I am also looking forward to seeing different parts of the motherland more holistically. When you are touring through a country, it isn’t just the shows but you get to meet people and experience the culture; it’s a very 
rich experience. 

Offstage, do you have any stops lined up to catch some inspiration and musicians you look up to?
A 100 percent. One of my biggest intentions for this trip is to meet creators and rappers from every city and I’ve been doing that. But I’m particularly interested to do this in Chennai — because you know, Tamil. That’s the language that I speak. I am excited to meet these guys and potentially collaborate with them in the future because that would be a full-circle moment for me.

Also, we have to ask: what was it like to rap alongside Snoop Dogg?
Oh wow, it was incredible and very surreal. One of the first few rappers I listened to in my life was Snoop Dogg, so I guess the universe works in mysterious ways. I’m counting my blessings.

Take us back to where it all began, tell us a little bit about yourself and your story.
It all started in 2018 when a couple of my rap videos went viral in Singapore and Malaysia. I come from Singapore, which is a really small country, so for us to do something that would travel so far is a really big deal. Five years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be travelling to India, doing shows here, meeting people here. Five years ago, this would have been a fairytale...

How do you come up with your lyrics — is there a process you can walk us through?
I have this part of my brain that is constantly about how to fit Tamil and English expressions together. It’s a constant exploration of the duality of expression in both languages. I put my ideas down on my notes app and forget about it. Then later, when I am working on a beat — I go back to my notes and look through all these pieces of inspiration... And I have a lot of fun with it, trying to be creative and innovate around the oldest language in the world (Tamil).

For young folks struggling with the concept of identity — tell us how you crafted yours so skillfully, embracing your traditional roots and love for rap.
I think I wouldn’t have been able to have this identity if it wasn’t for my family. Being a first-generation Singaporean, I was born and raised in Singapore but the whole family spent most of their lives in India, in places like Thanjavur and Aranthangi.  I’ve always been curious about what kind of life they led before I was born. Which led them to expose me to sites and sounds and stories from the past and having that awareness about my lineage helped with maintaining my relationship with my roots and my identity. So, if you were to ask me about young folks struggling with identity, my best advice would be: ‘Be close to your family’. That’s your story. If your life was a book, those are your chapters.

Yung Raja will perform on April 2 at The Circle of Love Block Party. Time: 4 pm onwards. At The Park Chennai.

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