Hip-Hop Artist Yung Raja On Rapping In Two Languages, His New Fashion Label And That Jimmy Fallon Diss

By Chong Seow Wei

The Singaporean rapper discusses how his family influenced his entry into music, the significance of his bilingual raps and how he felt after being roasted on one of the biggest talk shows on TV

Tatler Asia
Photography: Darren Gabriel Leow
Cover  Photography: Darren Gabriel Leow

With his nail art, fluorescent hair and equally eye-catching outfits, Yung Raja is not looking to fit in. The 26-year-old hip-hop artist is hard to miss in the crowd with his fashion preferences, but that’s just part of the reason. 

His popularity as a musician has skyrocketed in the last three years, particularly since the release of his breakout single Mustafa in 2018. The song’s music video has garnered more than two million views and landed the artist a record deal with the Southeast Asia arm of Def Jam, which also represents Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Kanye West.

Like the fun he has with his physical appearance, Yung Raja’s music gives off the same cheeky, swag-filled vibe. His signature style of rapping in Tanglish, a mix of English and Tamil, makes his music even more appealing, as listeners get drawn into lyrics and beats that are inspired by Raja’s personal experiences as a first-generation Singaporean born to South Indian immigrant parents.

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Above  Singaporean rapper and 2021 Gen.T honouree Yung Raja's 2018 breakout single, Mustafa, has been viewed more than 2.3 million times

“I see rapping in two languages as a blessing and a challenge at the same time,” he says. “Figuring out how to piece certain expressions together in two languages may take some time, but the constant exploration of both English and Tamil motivates me as I feel that they haven’t been used in this manner before.

“It also means that I don’t have to change my mode of expression to appeal to or be accepted by a wider audience. It means that I can be myself, which I hope in turn inspires kids to embrace their truest nature and never try to fit in.” 

Indeed, the person you see on stage and off aren’t very different. Yung Raja considers his artiste self to be an “elevated expression” of Rajid Ahamed, which is his birth name. It’s also interesting to note that while he hails from a family of academic scholars, his dream of going into entertainment was never hampered.

His family’s love for music made it a constant in his life and enabled it to influence him in ways he wasn’t aware of until he became a musician. “I never expected to become a full-time artiste, but life works in mysterious ways!”

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Rapping in two languages means that I can be myself, which I hope in turn inspires kids to embrace their truest nature and never try to fit in
Yung Raja

Yung Raja’s first experience with hip-hop music was also thanks to his family. One day, he had taken his sister’s Walkman mp3 player to school and the first song that came on was Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady. “I fell in love with the sonics immediately and have been a rap fan ever since.”

For his own music now, he gets inspiration from everywhere. “Inspiration strikes me every day,” he says. “It could be Tamil words or phrases that I hear my parents saying or ideas that come to me when I’m in the studio with Flightsch, my music producer. The process takes its own shape from project to project, but one thing that’s consistent in all of them is the inspiration I get from expressing myself bilingually.” 

In the last three years, he’s been pushing out hit after hit, which have together amassed over five million streams on Spotify. His music has also been commended by bigger names in hip-hop such as Lupe Fiasco and M.I.A., though it might be one criticism, in particular, that would be unforgettable. 

Earlier this year, his single Mami made a cameo on The Tonight Show, a late-night talk show fronted by Emmy award-winning host Jimmy Fallon. The song appeared in the show’s regular Do Not Play segment, with Fallon looking, well, unamused as he listened to a snippet of it.

Despite the very public roasting, Yung Raja was simply grateful for even being featured. “Everything happens for a reason!” he says. “Also, the fact that [Fallon] introduced me as a Singaporean rapper is a win for all artistes from this part of the world, who are trying to put their city on the world map. We made it to one of the biggest platforms in the world and that’s all that matters.”

Since then, he has released another catchy single, Spice Boy, where he pays homage to one of his biggest inspirations, Rajnikanth. The Indian actor has inspired Yung Raja since he was five years old, with the rapper always looking for ways to incorporate Rajnikanth into his works.

This August, Yung Raja also invested his love for fashion into launching a new fashion brand. Called Peace Oeuvre, the label is centred around the themes of peace and love, words the rapper lives by and hopes to continue spreading to his legion of fans across all of his platforms for years to come.

See more honourees from the Entertainment category on the Gen.T List 2021.

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