Singapore born, Canadian raised Masia One has utilized the unity and purity of hip hop in a way many others have completely forgotten about. Undoubtedly the greatest female Asian rapper of all time as well as the most inspiring female rapper of recent years; her ability to mix culture with style, knowledge with unity and peace with power has allowed her to connect with souls all over the globe.
In 2003, she started her own record label, M1 Group, and released her debut album Mississauga. This year she released Pulau. Her hit singles Split Second Time and Halfway Through the City have infiltrated cities where the CDs were not even distributed. Return of the B-Girl is the hottest B-girl anthem since MC Lyte and Baby Blue. In 2003, Masia One broke records by being the first female rapper to be nominated for "Best Rap Video" in the Much Music Video Awards.
Now, as Europe holds its freezes for talks of her entrance to Europe, which other site would bring you the low down before the show down?…
Nino: When you first discovered hip hop, how did it make you feel?
Masia One: I discovered Hip hop when I was eight in a market place in Singapore when I bought a bootleg Public Enemy and Bananarama tape with Chinese New Year money. I was attracted to Flava Flav's clock, thinking he was cartoon character and that it would be a kids record. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I listened to the tape… infectious beats, bold rhymes by Chuck D, the record scratch… something totally foreign when all my cousins around me were listening to Taiwanese pop music. LOL. I didn't understand any of the political implications of the lyrics, but I knew that the sound made me feel empowered, independent in thought and curious to find more!
Nino: What made you decide to pick up a mike and start communicating your own lines to the masses?
Masia One: I always scribbled rhymes in private and kicked ciphers with good friends on the low, but started out in Hip hop as a graf writer. I'm naturally pretty shy? A roommate (The Cyber Krib) in university was promoting an all female showcase and one of his acts cancelled. I told him I would emcee the slot. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it just once to challenge myself and get over the stage fright. After that night, the response was overwhelming and I lined up a commercial on Much Music from my first show. I became more involved in the "industry" and saw that there was a lack of representation for what I represented in the game… so I pursued it.
Nino: Do you think your reasons for being an MC have changed over time due to the responses you’ve got from your work?
Masia One: Most def. When I first started it was to prove something to myself and others. It was that Hip hop "get fame" mentality that I had developed as a graf head (which is different from the Hollywood "get fame" mentality). I was told that I couldn't do this and that and there was no market for the music I wanted to make. This drove me to be the underdog that would slowly rise above even the majors in Canada. As I became more serious about my craft, the ego was less important than the art. I have travelled extensively, and enough to understand that there is an international community that I would like to build with, rather than prove myself to.
Nino: Do you think that as an Asian female you have to work harder than your stereotypical male counterparts to attract an audience?
Masia One: I can attract an audience, but it's always longevity that I am seeking. In some circumstances it's easier to be a gyal, and sometimes it's easier to fall into the stereotype "look" of an emcee. These days, that's all changing – now if only the mainstream would reflect real life…
Nino: Is the practise of hip hop purer in Asia now than in the States?
Masia One: Everywhere I go I seem to buck up with the most wonderful people so I see a great representation from both Asia and the States. Internationally I've seen each region bring it's own thoughts, interpretations and brilliance to Hip hop as a culture. I will say that Hip hop is younger in Asia and thus has the potential to go dreadfully wrong (corporate pressures and interpretations) or maintain a purer standpoint to the art. I've seen, for example kids in SE Asia learn the roots of breakdancing from an Usher video because it was all that was available to them… but the mentality and the drive to understand and learn the art was inspiring. Stateside I see a younger generation imitating what will be profitable, yet I also see that cats that are two generations deep in the culture adapting with the times, and approaching the craft and the propagation of their music in very progressive ways. I guess I would sum up my thoughts on this by referring to when I was watching the world B-Boy championships. The Americans came with that nice stylistic boogie and top rock that no one seemed to match, yet the Koreans came with some next level innovation that came from their discipline and interpretation of the dance.
Nino: Do you think mainstream hip hop offends some Asian culture and while people spend so much time talking about the ‘N’ word and sexism they forget about the ‘C’ and ‘P‘ words? Does it offend you?
Masia One: Don’t know if you may have heard of a poem called ‘Hip hop’ by spoken word poet Beau Sia I came across recently which has a really good take on the issue… (I’m part Asian too and I hear a lot of words and stereotypes thrown around with consideration in the British grime scene especially) I have to honest when I say a LOT of the music I loved coming up as a fan of Hip hop used the N and P words profusely! As well, many of my Asian friends coming up called each other derivatives of the C word. Maybe I've brainwashed myself into social acceptance or perhaps I always consider the context and the intention behind how something is used. For example… I'd call a woman a bitch in a raps, and just as quickly call a dude a bitch in my raps. I believe in equal opportunity ignorance? HAHAHAHA… I'm kidding. I think in the end intention and balance is important. I want to ensure this type of slang does not solely represent hip hop.
I will also mention that I filmed my video Split Second Time as a commentary on stereotypes of Asian people in mainstream media. When I first saw Jin's debut video "Speak Chinese", I couldn't understand why they managed to incorporate everything down from the submissive Asian girls, kung fu fighters and poorly imitated Chinese sounds. (I do like Jin, I'm not quite sure this was his idea). In my flick, I included all the stereotypes I could think of in a tongue and cheek fashion – of course this video got the most rotation as it fit into what mainstream music wanted to see from an Asian artist. There was a lot of backlash from this video, but I was happy it inspired discussion. In the end, I'm more bothered when I see the next Chinese R&B label project eroticised in the most humiliating fashions… I mean – why are Chinese girls exotic when there are more Chinese people on earth in terms of population than anyone else?
Nino: Could you tell us about the All Bgirl school? How did that come about and what does it involve?
Masia One: During my stint as a promoter, I was running shows called the M1 Academy, together with my homeboy that originally got me that slot in his all female showcase. Coming into the music industry, I learned there wasn't many outlets for up and coming artists to go to, to seek a place to perform, be treated with professionalism and get paid at the end of the night. One of the M1 Academy shows was called "The ALL BGIRLS SCHOOL" featuring women in all elements of Hiphop in Toronto, headlined by Lady Bug Mecca (Digable Planets) and Bahamadia. It was a really dope show and showcased great artists like Zaki Ibrahim, Isis and Eternia. It acted as a great networking point for many of the women that are usually the only women of their five men crews. I believe in the documentation of histories (HERstories?) and ensured a family portrait of all the ladies was taken before each show. These shows are not meant to capitalize on "AN ALL GIRLS SHOW", but rather are to bring balance and some of the most raw and ill women I know that shape Hip hop in the community together to network, perform and build.
Nino: Could you tell us about the Pulau album? What was the inspiration for it and what do you want people to take away from it?
Masia One: Pulau means "The Islands" in Malay. I believe it is a very personal and transitional record for myself. It is a double disc collection of music I sampled, wrote and created while on the road. The first record "Montreal in the Fall" is more mellow and jazzy, and was written after a time of heartbreak and reflection. I was able to return back to where I was born after years of being away, and reconnected with great people from my homeland that had now taken on to Hiphop. This was very inspiring. "The Islands" was written after teaching in Jamaica. My time in Jamaica probably has had the greatest influence on my direction as an artist ‘til present. Rocking dancehalls, eating natural food, politicking with the Rastas… everything felt right and blessed. I was tired of writing boo hoo love songs, and on the second disc, I regain my fire and battle mentality. It was also eye opening to work with kids that have nothing but the music, dance and self-expression to keep the days positive. This reminded me of the roots of hip hop.
Nino: Return of the Bgirl has become quite an anthem, what drove you to write that track?
Masia One: After writing sad song after sad song, one dreary Toronto day I was walking in an industrial area through the snow when I looked up and saw painted on the side of a building the words QUEEN CITY. My imagination ran with it, imagining a city ran only by females… like a clash between Warriors and Sin City. My attitude changed and I realized I was over all the moping and sobbing and had remembered what my path was really about. I wrote Return of the Bgirl as the introduction to my return.
Nino: Which is your favourite track of the Pulau album?
Masia One: Montreal in the Fall (disc 01) – Calm B4 the Norm because this is how I feel about life. The Islands (disc 02) – Grinder… cause it's the best to perform, it's empowering and produced by my fam Stranjah of BBA Music & Metalheadz.
Nino: What do you think your greatest developments as an artist have been over the past two years?
Masia One: When I recorded my first album, I had never been in front of a mic. I just got tired of hearing these dudes chat about how they were going to blow up, yet never put anything out. I was willing to learn from my mistakes and make more music. I think my skills have improved greatly as an emcee. I think my understanding of business has grown exponentially, as independents are afforded the freedom to move more quickly and much more progressively than the majors. Personally, I've grown in my patience to let things happen, less ego to ruin business relationships and a strong drive toward independence and self sufficiency.
Nino: What are you sick of people saying about hip hop?
Masia One: Vagina raps.
Nino: Does it bother you when people say break dancing instead of breakin’? Does it matter?
Masia One: I work with a lot of kids and their parents, so break dancing will be used. I'm not saying terminology isn't important, but I've grown from my purist days where I believe anything that wasn't underground was wack. Sometimes you relate to the mainstream in order to get the more important message out there. There's no point being the greatest and purest rapper of all time, and still haven't got out from your mama's basement.
Nino: Whats the difference between rapping and MCing, is there one?
Masia One: Nah, just spit and let me see what you got. LOL. I've rapped with pimps, I've emceed with Indonesian underground heads… it's just universal culture and diversity.
Nino: Public Enemy was some of the first hip hop you laid you hands on right? Do you think we need a group with such a revolutionary full on attitude today?
Masia One: Balance is key. For every Girlicious there should be a Lauryn Hill pushed just as vigorously in the mainstream. Chuck D once called Hip hop "the black CNN" but CNN isn't even news any longer and it is reflected in the low grade entertainment value of some rap music. The politics of the world provides so much fodder for music, but everyone is paid off to entertain and distract. Hell yeah a revolutionary attitude is relevant to today's social climate… I express my opinions on this in my track Heaven.
Nino: So Obama’s in… how are you feeling about that? When do you think America will see an Asian president?
Masia One: Hope is a great gift, and the man has no easy task ahead of him. I do respect Obama greatly, and even more so that he is concise and clear when explaining intentions. The world may not see an Asian Amercian president immediately, but corporations are now more powerful than governments… and I'm sure Asian CEOs are in the mix. Asian, Black, White, Female… as long as they aren't ignorant assholes. LOL.
Nino: How much do you think Obama’s presidency will affect hip hop in the long run?
Masia One: I think the key message here is that anything is possible. Hip hop to me is also about entrepreneurship, community, creativity and now an international movement (stemming from the youth). Obama has been the first president in a long time to ignite such hope and excitement in young people and I hope we see more movements in arts education as a result. This is a good article link:
Nino: Is it important for hip hop to react to politics or do the two need more of a division?
Masia One: Art and culture should reflect reality, not spinning rims.
Nino: Your music videos tend to be pretty damn awesome, which has been you favourite so far and why?
Masia One: Thanks! Return of the Bgirl is my favourite, because when we were story boarding it, I realized how many beautiful and talented women I knew in Toronto alone, and how they all represented inspiration and power without showing up in a thong.
Nino: Anarchy or spirituality?
Masia One: Sometimes anarchy is on the road to spirituality and vice versa.
Nino: Nature or nurture?
Masia One: Nature. Because it nutures.
Nino: Trainers or heels?
Masia One: Fresh sneakers any day! Damn I hate walking in heels.
Nino: Batmobile or hoverboard?
Masia One: Batmobile. We don't even know what half those buttons can do!
Nino: Words or beats?
Masia One: This is like Chicken or the egg… beats inspire words, words inspire rhythms…
Nino: Drummers or DJs?
Masia One: Can I get both? I love performing with live musicians cause the vibe is created between two natural sounds. Great DJs however bring that vibe as well and make shows fun to rock.
Nino: Breakin or krumpin?
Masia One: Both. Foundation in breaking and krumpin for flavour.
Nino: Manicure or acupuncture?
Masia One: Manicure… cause my nails are jacked most of the time, covered in paint, broken from working or lifting amps… so when they are DID!!! I know I took the time to take care of myself.
Nino: When was the last time you couldn’t stop laughing?
Masia One: Dang, I laugh so much.
Nino: What was the last thing you heard that scared you?
Masia One: Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada and believes artists are irrelevant rich people that make obscure projects that take public funding, leaving the soccer moms broke. (See? I just laughed again!) 1/2 of the world's female population can't read or write.
Nino: When did you last just freestyle on your own?
Masia One: Last night… my boy made a sick beat to a gamelan sample I've been asking producers to use for sometime now! You know some beats you can flow all day to in different ways.
Nino: Could you drop us a few lines now?
Masia One: Dream of a giant, I dream of speaking on Mount Zion
Two claps of thunder cause the hunger won't be silent.
Violent type reasoning somewhat over zealous.
Silent the seasons change, running with the fellas. Yo!
Gun blasting, I'm fasting for peace.
Reach to the deceased, James Brown – he found release.
The Middle East and Guantanamo Bay.
I watched them hang a man, yippee yo kayay.
How these cowboys play, a matrix, I'm back to basics.
Universal law, it's the rhythm of the bass hit.
The rhythm of life at night, it's the rhythm of drums
A ribbon of light, ignite, it's the rhythm of hums.
What's your story? Sing it.
I came to bring it when the cipher is live, the cycle of life – come
What's your story son? You wanna battle ONE?
Lion City slinging, sippin' Ting and a Phillie Blunt.
I'm bout' the good life, no hood wife, I'm taken.
Singing ONE LOVE and giving daps to my Jamaicans… Live life.
Nino: Would you ever do a purely spoken word part of your show?
Masia One: I have. I used to do a piece called Model Minority, that address how many Asian kids were appropriating rap music without realizing that the exchanges between Black and Asian communities ran deeper than that. (Richard Aoki / Black Panthers, Yuri Kochiyama conversations with Malcolm X). I wanted them to realize the tie went beyond the music they bumped in their Honda Civics.
Nino: So… tell us about all these rumours of you coming over to Europe…
Masia One: This wonderful choreographer Ambra Succi found my music on myspace and choreographed a routine for her hip hop class to it in Stockholm (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiireN6QQ5A&eurl=http://masiaone.com/promo&feature=player_embedded) Her boyfriend is involved in the music industry and we've been trying to work something out… I'm hoping for Fall 2009. Gotta love the internet! While in Indonesia I also found a connect to perform in Amsterdam so I'm just trying to piece it all together now into the master plan. I'm open to more offers as I haven't explored the European market as much as I should have!
Nino: Are you into the British hip hop scene? Any artists you’re really feeling?
Masia One: My first exposure to British emcees was through the Drum and Bass scene as I was rhyming with some visitors from the UK when I first started (Demolition Man) and introduced to Kano, Whiley, Dizee, Skepta. I have always been a huge fan of Roots Manuva, DJ Vadim, Jazzanova and 4 Hero. I follow Giles Peterson I respect Miss Yarah Bravo for her independence and individual style. I got linked up with Syndrome, Mike S and S Kalibre (Hard Livin’) and Geejay through my peoples Rhymeside in San Diego. I did a track with Mike S called Crazy Life & Straight Spittin' released on Order's Album "Disorderly Conduct".
Nino: What have you got planned for next year?
Masia One: I'm heading out to California to record more music, returning to SE Asia for another tour, then I'll be returning to Jamaica Spring 2009 to record my life album with the most amazing musicians called Dubtonic Cru. I hope to get to Europe and China by Fall of next year as I feel this is where the most progressive thought in music is currently taking place.
Nino: Will see any Masia One apparel?
Masia One: My company is called MERDEKA, the Malaysian word for INDEPENDENCE.
Nino: How do you want people to remember Masia One?
Masia One: Universal Hip hop. My heros are Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, so I would like to aspire to be remembered in the same vein.
Nino: Any final words or pieces of advice for females wanting to break into the scene?
Masia One: Like Slum V said… don't sell yourself to fall in love. Do what it takes and learn the skills that will allow you to operate as an independent.
More words here… http://earwaks.com/life/450/all-bgirl-school.html