Interviews — March 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Masia One: Coming Full Circle


Singapore’s upcoming Big Wig Music Festival recently announced their latest addition to the line-up – a heady shot of Asian flavour in the form of the inimitable Masia One. Slated to share co-hosting duties with Lady Leshurr, the Singapore-born, Toronto-raised lass has an endless list of accomplishments and accolades under her belt. Having made her name as an emcee, graffiti artist, arts educator, businesswoman and tastemaker, along with a host of other creative pursuits, it’s clear as crystal – this lady’s got heaps of talent and she’s not afraid to share it the world. Music Weekly is thrilled to have Masia One share her insights on hip hop in Southeast Asia and abroad, the ideology behind her recent LP ‘Bootleg Culture’ and what it truly means to be an artist in this day and age. 

Masia One

Music Weekly: Congratulations are in order – you recently clinched numerous awards at the VIMA Music Awards 2013, including Best Hip Hop Song and the Best Collaboration award for ‘ERRRYBODY’ feat. Pharrell, The Game, Isis Salam and DJ Dopey! Tell us, what were your thoughts and emotions when you first found out you’ve won?

Masia One: To be able to work with my hip hop heroes as a girl who discovered hip hop in Singapore as a kid is really overwhelming. I used to listen to ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ on repeat, only to work with one of its Grammy-winning producers Che Vicious on my new album Bootleg Culture. I was also very happy to win Best Hip Hop Song for Warriors Tongue (video shot in Philippines) and Thank You for Existing (VIMA’s highest honour).

Now returning to Southeast Asia and being recognized for this work is truly a blessing come full circle. I’ve been so fortunate in my journey as an artist and collaboration is one of the greatest joys of music. I was very excited to meet musicians from all over Southeast Asia at the 2013 VIMA music awards in Kuala Lumpur. I have been able to collaborate with my hip hop heroes stateside, now I’m looking forward to a new chapter to take it back to my roots and begin collaborating with the invisible heroes of this region including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. There is really a distinct sound a message from this side of the world.

You’ve performed in many other countries and you’re finally taking the stage back here in Singapore for Big Wig Music Festival – what are you most looking forward to? How does the audience here differ from audiences overseas?

I will be hosting at the Big Wig Music Festival and friends with some of the artists arriving from California. I look forward to taking them to check out local food especially chicken rice and roti prata! The audience in Singapore is getting more and more savvy and now take the time to look up music they are interested in without the limitations of only what they see in the mainstream. I love the thirst and hunger to discover great music that I feel here. I do think as compared to other countries the crowds here are a bit more conservative, but the most important part is that they are still able to feel the vibe and message of the music all the same.

What was the inspiration behind your latest album, ‘Bootleg Culture’? How was the creation process behind the album like?

There are a few reasons for the LP Bootleg Culture – I have been blessed to travel so many places in the world; born in Singapore, raised by Toronto’s hip hop community, worked in California, spent some time in Jamaica. I’m really a mish mash of influences, cultures and inspirations. We are living in a day and age where we are always fed that we have to fit into categories, but I’m spreading the message that we can feel empowered by the many things that make us who we are. Don’t just buy into brand names, music and lifestyles because you are told that is what is cool. Don’t listen to naysayers telling you you’re not allowed to be a rapper because you’re female and Asian or you cannot be a CEO or doctor because you are born to a certain class or income level. Be proud to be a “Bootleg” or mixup of things and redefine the culture that belongs to you.

I also wanted to show that with the movement of technology, we can no longer hold on so tight to music and have to see a return of music to something for the people more than an image owned by a major record label. For this reason I made some of the acapellas from the album available for remixes and in the physical packaging of Bootleg Culture included a branded blank CD for people to burn a copy for their friends.


You’ve established yourself as a woman of many talents – from emceeing, to graffiti art, to being an arts educator as well as the creative director of a clothing line. How do you balance all your creative pursuits?

Having a great team you can trust is very important. My management team SweJam based in New York have made it easier for me to pursue the creative end of my work and have my hand less in the administration.

I see everything as a full art production, for example when creating a music video; the video itself, the clothing in the video, the location, the font of the credits – even the marketing of the video… it is all art and part of the overall artistic vision. I always encourage a producer to go out dancing so he can understand what he will make that will inspire people to move, or a b-boy to rap so he can understand how his movements can translate lyrics. Not having tunnel vision and cleaning our artistic palettes by exploring other facets of the overall vision has always helped me to keep the imagination flowing.

Arts education is important. Hip hop is a story-telling tradition, and as such we pass on our histories and skills learned to the kids on the come up. If you don’t take time to teach and help others grow, you are a stagnant relic.

You’ve immersed yourself in the hip hop scenes of various cities. In your opinion, in what ways can hip hop in Southeast Asia continue to grow?

The basis of hip hop culture came from individuals that were not given recognition or status by society and in spite of this created personas, developed skills and found a voice. Essentially, creating something from nothing. It is important for Southeast Asia to be proud of their unique culture, language and circumstances to find that voice and message that is true to who we are. Emulation of the American rap scene can only go so far. As I grow as an artist I realize it is that which is most sincere that people relate to and resonates past trends.

I also think there needs to be an education of what hip hop truly is to a more traditional generation. Just the other day I heard a Singaporean lawyer say “I guess rap is supposed to be misogynistic and rude to women, that’s what makes it rap”. She was shocked when I showed her that I was a rapper or different ways that rap music can be used in arts education and positive movements.

Finally in this industry, I think it is interesting to study the K-pop model and how the Korean government took the initiative to really invest in its artists and artistic infrastructures. Choosing the right leaders, having the resources and budgets behind the productions and seeing projects from start to finish is key. There is certainly no lack of great talent in the hip hop scene of Southeast Asia.

Final question: what’s next for Masia One? Any last words for your fans here in Singapore?

For the first time in years I’m taking all the things I’ve learned from all the communities I’ve been a part of all around the world and the music industry contacts I’ve made globally and will be setting up a base of operations here in Singapore. I believe Southeast Asia is the next movement for all things cultural, setting trends in music, fashion and media. I’m re-learning how Singapore has changed and what people are missing so that I can understand the needs of the people.

I’ll also be releasing a live band album recorded at Bob Marley’s studio in Jamaica together with Dubtonic Kru later this year which will be a departure from the harder electronic sounds of Bootleg Culture.

Last words for my fans here in Singapore: thank you for your love and support. I’m ready to learn and build in Southeast Asia. Reach out to me at – show me what your Singapore looks like and hope to see you at the next show! One Love.

Masia One:
Facebook / Twitter / Official Website
Catch Masia One at Big Wig Music Festival, happening in Singapore’s Fort Canning Green on 6 April 2013.