Cover Outfit: FENDI (Photo: Imran Sulaiman/Tatler Malaysia)

The talented 24-year-old hip hop and R&B artiste also shares on his latest collaboration with AirAsia

Alif Aolani never planned to make a career out of music. Dabbling with tracks, rapping and writing songs simply came naturally to him at the young age of 13, after a friend suggested he try it out.

“At first I did it for fun. Then, I was so into it that I didn’t quite realise I was doing it seriously.” remarks Alif, whose stage name Airliftz paints a fitting picture of the journey that propelled him to fame in the hip hop and R&B scene.

Recently signed with RedRecords, a joint venture between AirAsia and Universal Music Group, Airflitz released the single, Not Today, as part of AirAsia’s new diversity and inclusion campaign. He tells Tatler more about this collaboration and the liberating power of music in the face of societal prejudice.

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What was your first exposure to music?

My brothers introduced me to many songs by Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie. As a kid, I also remember seeing my mum dance to the songs of Sharifah Aini and ABBA while vacuuming around the house. Everyone in our home had different musical tastes but it mostly came down to hip hop , Motown and soul. I grew up listening to Tupac, Too Phat and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.

What was the turning point in your musical career?

I signed myself up for an open mic show at RTB, Raising the Bar by Jin Hackman when I was 16. That was my first live performance. The next day, Jin texted me and said, ‘Let’s get an album done’. That was my first independent label deal, which was This Way Up Records by Jin.

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What’s your songwriting process like?

It depends on what I feel or how I feel in a given day. If I have a strict deadline, I’ll try to make it as fast as possible, but I usually like to take my time. It’s not that I’m lounging around; it’s more of waiting for the right moment. I want listeners to be able to feel what I felt when they hear these songs. To me, it doesn’t always matter what you’re going to say but how you make people feel when you say it. That’s the goal I strive towards when writing music.

Tell us about your new single, Not Today for AirAsia’s inclusivity campaign.

When AirAsia reached out to me to be part of this campaign, and I was like, ‘Yes, why not?’. I hit up my producer friend in Singapore, the same guy who produced my Bagel EP and told him about the collaboration with AirAsia.

I wrote Not Today based on my own story. Being physically different, music gave me the opportunity to really just let out my emotions during the times when I felt like giving up. Life isn’t free of blemishes. We all fall short, and every now and then fail to measure up. But what counts is that we continue pushing ourselves through it all.

Would you say your music celebrates self-acceptance?

I wouldn’t say I write music towards self-acceptance or self-confidence. Like any other artiste, my music reflects what I feel in that moment. I’ve written songs about childhood traumas to super cheesy love stories. I even made an EP about a bagel (laughs). Ultimately, I’m not here for self-acceptance, I’m just here for my music.

That said, have you ever struggled to make your music heard on its own merit?  

Definitely! It’s a struggle I’ve faced since day one. For many people, I’m a 'disabled' person first, then a musician. The narrative about me has typically been ‘the guy who got bullied for his appearance... and then he became a musician.’ But no. I’m an artiste first, before all that.

And I’m not disabled. Those labels are really quite offensive. As someone who gets labelled all the time, I used to wonder: Do people listen to me because of my music, or because of how I look? Like, is it just a pity party? But after years of making music, I still see the same faces, the same fans, the same friends who have been there since the start, showing full support. I’m here for them, and I'm so grateful for them.

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What’s your advice for aspiring artistes in Malaysia?

Don’t overthink, just do. Know your audience; they are your pillar. Even it’s a small group of 10 people, they can help spread your music to 100 people.

What’s next for you?

I’m working a new single. It’s a very different vibe compared to Not Today. There’s also a brand I’m working closely with for a social cause. So that’s pretty cool.

What would you say to your teen self?

I would ask, what do you really want to do? Make up your mind! Brush up on your producing skills. Stop overthinking things.

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