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Hip Hop in Asia – An exclusive interview with Joe Flizzow, SonaOne and DJ Biggie

Gayertree Subramaniam

Mon Sep 24 2012

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WHAT does it take to run a successful independent music label in Asia? And can hip hop help heal the tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia? Gayertree Subramaniam spoke about all that and more with Malaysia’s Joe Flizzow of Too Phat fame, SonaOne, and DJ Biggie.

There’s just something about hip hop artists – that confidence in their stride, the liberal sprinkling of “ghetto” slang in their speech (never mind if it’s adopted or natural). They just exude this effortless vibe of coolness many try hard to emulate but often fail to do.

The boys of Kartel Records are no exception.

Down in Melbourne to celebrate Malaysia’s Independence Day, Joe Flizzow, DJ Biggie and SonaOne entertained throngs of Malaysians who’d come to Roxanne Parlour to see the best the Malaysian music scene had to offer.

Hip hop isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Malaysia. But Joe, founder of the independent music label Kartel Records and one-half of veteran Malaysian hip hop duo Too Phat, is striving to change this. He wants to “create a bigger, better platform for Malaysian hip hop.”

SonaOne, Joe Flizzow’s prodigé, is an accomplished recording artist, music producer and graffiti artist. In his short time in the scene, he’s already dived head first into an amazing list of artistic ventures, definitely putting Malaysia on the map.

“Malaysia has come to a point where it is comfortable with its own sound,” he says.

“When (hip hop groups) Too Phat and Poetic Ammo came out everyone was trying to emulate someone else’s sound. Now we have people who just sound true to our roots.”

Joe wants to take this success and elevate not just Malaysian, but Asian music to greater heights. He’s been championing for greater cross promotion of artists within and between the regions.

“The world has become a lot smaller with social media and budget airlines so it is not impossible” he says, namedropping artists such as Thaitanium from Thailand to the Teriyaki Boyz in Japan, who he has connected with over the years.

But he bemoans a lack of opportunities within the region to show off the best of the lot. He says Asia’s talent could even compare to the big players of America and Europe.

“It will be difficult for me to say that our rappers aren’t as good or haven’t got enough punch lines,” he says.

“Something as simple as getting rotation on a regional music network to get them noticed is all we may need for that to happen, but we still need to work towards that.”

Talking to these artists, it’s evident an almost ravenous hunger to further refine and promote their art has fuelled their continued passion. Their drive and ambition lies at the heart of their record label.

But DJ Biggie says having support from the people around them was also important. He credits his parents for encouraging his dream of revolutionising Malaysia’s approach to DJing. In fact it was his mother who bought him his first set of turntables at a cool RM10,000 to help him reach his full DJing potential. With years of experience behind him,  today Biggie is a resident DJ at some of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular clubs.

For those wanting to follow in the footsteps of Biggie, Joe and SonaOne, the DJ had this piece of wisdom to share:

“Believe in yourself, stay hungry, keep dreaming.”