Two years ago, Yung Raja catapulted into the public consciousness with his English-Tamil remixes of hits such as Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” and Cardi B’s “Bartier Cardi”. With audiences clamouring for more, the rapper released his debut single, “Mustafa”, that same year. To date, that track has surpassed two million streams on Spotify while its music video has racked up a similar number of views on YouTube. Sensing the power of that raw potential, record label Def Jam Southeast Asia signed him in 2019 and the 25-year-old’s trajectory has been upward ever since.
His latest single, “The Dance Song”, dropped this October and within a month, was on track to hit 500,000 streams on Spotify and 800,000 views on YouTube—spawning a viral TikTok Wiggly dance challenge along the way. Catchy as the song is, it surely doesn’t hurt that its visuals are equally eyepopping—an aesthetic Raja wholeheartedly embraces on the personal front as well, with his penchant for a psychedelic palette and his ever-changing hair colour.
How would you describe your sense of style?
I’d say it’s all about head-turners—colourful, bold statement pieces. I really like outfits that are not so common. I believe that fashion is an extension of one’s personality and identity, and the choices we make in fashion say a lot about who we are, so I always try my best to never copy someone else’s fashion choice or style.
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What shaped that desire to stand out?
A lot of people aren’t fond of wearing things that they think they can’t pull off, but I realise that anybody can wear anything and make it look good if they’re confident. I can say I’ve always been pretty confident in the way I carry myself, so wearing weird, funky pieces has never been a problem for me. I’ve actually always enjoyed wearing them because I feel mad unique. Same goes with colouring my hair, painting my nails, piercing my nose—they’re all just forms of expression, and I like to be as free and as unconstrained as possible.
How do clothes help amplify what you want to say as a performer?
In Tamil, there’s a saying that, when directly translated, means a person is 50 percent and his clothing is the other 50. It’s a popular phrase, almost like a philosophy. I’ve heard it my whole life. It just goes to show how important what you choose to wear is and I feel that it’s truly important to not lose sight of that, especially as an artiste. Because being an artiste is all about expression. It’s not just about your music or the interviews that you give—everything you do is an expression. I don’t want fashion to be something that doesn’t align with my goals as an artiste.
And what are those goals? What drives your work?
I never planned to be a rapper. But I’ve always wanted to be an artiste, to be known for something dope I can bring to the table. For me, it has always been about how to make somebody else feel better. I’ve always been the class clown; I’ve always found great joy in making others feel lighter or uplifted. I feel like it’s one of my callings, even back in the day when I wasn’t making music.
The kind of energy I bring into the room, that I consciously choose to have every day, is one that puts smiles on people’s faces. My current medium is music and through that, I’m trying to touch as many lives as possible, inspire as many kids as possible, give as much light as I possibly can. I feel that this world has enough darkness and the only way for us to overcome that is with light. Even if my art form changes, these fundamentals and ideals I’ve set for myself will not change.
How did you come to music as a means for doing all that?
Music has always been a hobby and one of my passions, but to be honest, if (Singaporean singer and rapper) Fariz [Jabba], my best friend, hadn’t asked me to try making music with him, I’d have had no idea that I had this potential. I’ve always been that kid who can rap, but being a rapper and being able to rap are two different things. Rapping for fun, or as a party trick, that’s how it was for me. Fariz was the one who said to me: “Hey, man… I think you have mad potential and if you were to give this a shot since we’re young, and since we already have a great friendship and dope chemistry, us doing this together could be great.” That one statement changed my life overnight. Acting, my previous job, took a back seat and I just let music be everything I give my energy to.
What Fariz did for you, that nudge in the right direction, do you feel it’s important to pay it forward?
A hundred percent. I want to be that guy who helps others believe in themselves in the greatest way possible. I feel like I have a lot of responsibilities, being in these circumstances, and one of the most important ones is to make sure I inspire people. I never want to lose sight of that. It’s so easy to be where I am, and look at things that don’t actually matter and be carried away by that. I think I’m very fortunate to have an amazing support system both at home and at work—this allows me to keep my mind in check and make handling my responsibilities easier in a way.
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People who never knew that you can be a full-time rapper in Singapore are now willing to give it a shot because of the things that have happened in the past couple of years—with major labels and new rappers getting signed, and people like Fariz and me proving that a career in rap is possible. It’s bigger than us. It’s bigger than just my life. I think it’s not going to be the same any more and being that catalyst, I feel, is way more powerful than just my art.
The pandemic touched us all in different ways—how has it affected you as an artiste?
There have been so many blessings in disguise, at least for me. In the past two years, since my career started, things have been moving so fast, I’ve always felt like I don’t have enough time for myself and my family. I never really had the time to be introspective and to reflect, to just look at myself and my life in a deep and meaningful way. The pandemic is a major pause button for all of us; for me, it really changed so many things—just my relationship with myself has changed 180 degrees.
I feel like I’m a lot closer to myself, a lot more aware of the things in my life. I’ve definitely grown as an artiste—the changes that I went through allowed me to have a broader perspective on how I can approach my art. I feel I’m more equipped and more independent now when it comes to creating. It’s growth in every way, shape and form.
Makeup and hair: Sha Shamsi / Makeupartisting using Dior and IGK
Makeup artist and hairstylist’s assistant: Zoel T / Makeupartistinc
Photographer’s assistant: Samsidi Baderi
Styling assistant: Shermin Ng