It's never a good sign when someone is late for your first meeting. So when Shigga Shay showed up late for our pre-scheduled interview before his set at Neon Lights, we braced ourselves for uncooperative diva-esque behaviour.
What we got instead were a heartfelt apology and a casual “tech people are awesome” remark after we introduced ourselves. He might cuss up a storm and come off a little gruff on stage, but in person, he's incredibly well-mannered and surprisingly down-to-earth.
Pek Jin Shen, better known as Shigga Shay, is all of 23 years young. While he’s been dabbling in wordplay since age 9, he only shot to fame with LimPeh (over 650,000 views to date) and continued racking up the views (and the cred) with Lion City Kia. And now, he has his sights set on world domination. We sat down with the repper (get it?) of the +65 to talk music, apps, and getting recognised on Tinder.
Describe your music in one sentence
Something organically from Singapore but brutally honest.
What’s the story behind your name?
It came to me in a dream when I was 14. I fell asleep trying to think of a name then it came to me in a dream. That’s it. I woke up, wrote the name down. It’s stuck with me ever since. The double Gs represent the Grizzle Grind crew.
When did you start making music?
I started rapping when I was 9. I always had that interest but never really pursued it until I was 14. Then I performed for the first time at my father’s birthday party. Ever since that, I’ve kind of felt like I want to do this for the rest of my life.
Who are your musical influences?
Growing up I listened to a lot of Eminem, a lot of Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie, Rakim. I really went back to listen to the old school stuff.
I’m a fan of a lot of the new cats too: Kendrick, also Childish’s previous work, although I never really follow a lot of his current stuff.
How did you become famous?
I think it was via YouTube. Everytime I put a single out, it usually comes with a video. And the video is the one that pushes the song.
I direct my own videos. The one that first made it big was LimPeh in 2013 followed by Lion City Kia in 2014.
What’s the biggest challenge in your career?
Getting people to accept me to some degree. Hip hop is a very niche market in Singapore. There are not a lot of hip hop listeners to start with. To be doing hip hop and rap music limits the spectrum even more. With Singapore being as conservative as it is, these two don’t really go hand in hand.
How do you communicate with your fans?
Favourite photography app?
I use VSCO for my photos because I’m really used to it. I really like the filter as they’re simple ones that work really well.
Have you tried any dating apps?
I’ve used Tinder for fun. But it doesn’t really work. People are like “Hey, you’re Shigga Shay”, then I delete the app.
Three apps you cannot live without?
WhatsApp, Instagram, and Dropbox. The last one is because I have a lot of important files like my music and other work stuff on it.
Who’s on your speed dial?
My mum. These guys (gestures at Willy, his manager, and Qom, his photographer).
What's your wallpaper?
My logo for next year.
It’s the same. You were expecting a picture of some Japanese porn star, right?
What was the last video you took?
It’s my latest music video that’s not out yet - What’s Wrong?
How about the last photo you took?
The last photo I took was of Boat Quay. We were trying to recce a location for a new video.
Do you use your phone to make music?
I record demos using Voice Memos before heading into the studio. I also write a lot of lyrics on the Notes app. Lyrics are the most important part of a song to me.
What music streaming apps do you use?
I tried Apple Music for a little bit, but I found it super laggy. So I use Spotify because all the music I want to listen to is on it and the interface is also user-friendly. I’m listening to The Weeknd’s new album, a little bit of Drake. Got The Sam Willows on it, too.
Do you think music streaming services do artists more harm than good?
No. It’s just the way the music industry is changing. We went from the Napster days where people can download music for free, to now where people are just streaming their music.
It’s the evolution of music, you can’t fight it. It’s just the way people are choosing to consume their music. And as long as people are listening to my music, it doesn’t hurt me. On the contrary, it expands my reach.
What’s next for you?
A lot of new music. I have a new mixtape coming out next year. The music is going to be different as it will be targeted at a more global audience. My new stuff is still going to be Singaporean, but not as local.
Does having such a strong Singapore flavour to your music help in your global pursuits?
It’s all about finding the right balance. Something that Singaporeans can recognise as Singaporean yet an international crowd would recognise as different, but can still understand and appreciate.
After the short chat, he had to rush off to the Easy Street stage for his set. But when we were denied entry via the sidegate by a very rule-abiding security guard, he didn't once play the celebrity card. His only concern was showing up on time for his gig.
When he finally stepped on stage, it was like a switch flicked on in his head. Gone was the agreeable polite Pek Jin Shen and in his place was the gruff Shigga Shay, ever the consummate professonal who just happens to spit rude rhymes for a living.