Twelve revisions. That’s the total amount of versions that Pek Jin Shen, more commonly known as his moniker Shigga Shay, created for the song ‘In My Hand’ (seen above) before he was satisfied with it. Created in collaboration with Martell as part of the campaign to market the new NCF alcohol, the song is Shigga’s first tentative steps into trap and big room EDM, which was why he took so long to perfect it. “I just wanted to make sure everything was right, to make sure my sound was not compromised and that the song fit Martell’s NCF branding,” Shigga says.
The Singapore rapper is a polarising figure. Prior to my interview with him, I asked a couple of 20-something youths for their thoughts on Shigga.
Very act yi ge (English translation: pretending to be someone you’re not) American rapper, said a couple.
I don’t know man, something about him rubs me off the wrong way, one told me.
His music is crap, another harshly remarked.
And yet, Shigga undoubtedly has fans, many of whom come to his shows and leave positive comments on his music videos. I first started taking notice of Shigga Shay when he burst onto the scene back in 2008, performing on Live & Loaded, a music programme. He was 16 and cocky as hell. But after one mixtape and an EP that I bought (and which I actually enjoyed), age has mellowed the man, at least when you’re speaking to him.
On stage though, he still portrays a rough, tough-as-nails persona with an arrogant attitude. And perhaps that’s why he gets so much hate flung his way. We’re a society that values collectivism and conformism, and a nail that sticks out like Shigga needs to be hammered down.
With this in mind, this is our no-holds-barred interview with the man.
“We were raised in a narrow and rigid education system, which encourages people not to think outside of the box. That makes us easy to govern. We don’t think for ourselves.”
Your sound has changed a lot when you first started until now. How would you describe your evolution?
Music has always been a reflection of my life. When I was 16, my lifestyle was very different. That’s reflected in my lyrics and music. My writing is a lot more mature now and my voice technique and flow has changed a lot.
What influenced you?
Society has changed man. Hip hop is always a reflection of what life is like. From 2008 until now, so much has changed. The world of music has changed. Every five years you hear a new sound, which is reflected in my music.
You know, it’s only when a local artiste makes it big overseas, then only do we Singaporeans think they have talent.
This whole idea of local being bad is just that because we were raised on the idea that something local is lacking in quality. I feel that people here have that connotation that anything local is sub-standard.
Why do you think we have that mentality?
We were raised in a narrow and rigid education system, which encourages people not to think outside of the box. That makes us easy to govern (laughs). We don’t think for ourselves. It’s easier to follow a certain lifestyle. We just take in whatever knowledge that is given to us and don’t question whether it’s right or wrong. We’ve just been fed.
But it’s changing though. Singaporeans are starting to develop their own taste in art, music and fashion. We’re starting to believe that we can make music that’s as good if not better than the international acts.
Would you ever address this in one of your songs?
Yeah, for sure. The new stuff I’m about to put out… yeah.
Against the government?
No, no (laughs), not against the government. But like I said, my music is a reflection of society. Whatever the people are thinking about or something that they cannot express on a daily basis, I’ll express it for them.
People see the women, the fame, you having a good time. What do they not see? What is the grind for you?
What they don’t see are a lot of sleepless nights. This is not a nine-to-five job. This is a 24-hour job. This is the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. And I dream about this every night. They don’t see the hard work behind the production of the songs, about how to make this song relatable to people and how you can sustain this career five to 10 years down the road.
If I were to work on a song, it might take anywhere between 12 to 18 hours in the studio non-stop. Sometimes even 24 hours. The longest I’ve worked on a song in the studio in two days.
How did the collaboration with Martell first start?
I worked with Martell last year for one of their events and the working relationship sparked from there. So Martell was launching a new alcohol called NCF and they were looking to target millennials so they commissioned me to do a song and music video for them in June or July 2016. That’s how everything got started.
Would you say you’re a perfectionist?
Yeah, even the small details.
Does that rub people off the wrong way?
Not really. It just depends on how you communicate with people and how you convince them of your ideas.
Tell me more about your new album.
Yeah, it’s coming out next year. I haven’t decided on the date yet. I have got about 30 to 40 songs right now, and about 10 songs will make the cut. But I’m working on more songs. I’m aiming for 100 songs and separating them into different projects – an album, mixtape and EP, in no particular order.
I choose songs based on the concept of the album. I want a consistent sound for every project, and that’s something I didn’t really pay attention to in my previous projects.
What else do you hope to achieve in 2017?
I want to put Singapore music on the map. When somebody overseas talks about Singapore, music gets brought up. That’s something I really want to do.
What is your least favourite word?
Busy, or someone using the excuse that they’re busy. Everyone’s busy.
What sound or noise do you love?
The waves hitting the shore. The calming feeling I get.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The iPhone alarm. The tet-tet-tet sound. It means I have to wake up (laughs).
What’s your favourite curse word?
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
Bad grammar. No matter how hot she is, she’s going to sound stupid. Songs are different. For songwriting, you have to have that space for improper grammar. You can’t write like you would for a textbook. Some words sound better if it’s mispronounced.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Film-making, probably, like directing a feature film. But I don’t have the time for that now. When I reach a certain point in my career I want to do it.
What profession would you never do?
I wouldn’t work in a zoo. I like animals but I don’t want to clear up elephant poop. I have a friend who does that but I don’t understand how she can do that.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
Keep believing in yourself.
Anything you would do differently?
I wouldn’t have written certain songs. There’s a few. I can’t give any example (laughs). When you’re young you tend to be a bit more reckless.
What do you want people’s first impression of you to be?
This is a guy who is not afraid to express himself.