Singaporean rapper Masia One left LA to follow her heart

She bought her first hip-hop cassette with her hongbao money when she was eight from a store at The Bedok Marketplace.

Almost 20 years later, Singaporean rapper Masia One went on to live the dream when she found herself at US hip-hop artist Dr Dre's record label, Aftermath Entertainment, in Los Angeles.

"It was an amazing experience. I got to meet and work with a lot of my hip-hop heroes," the 37-year-old told M.

Masia One, whose real name is Maysian Lim, was born here but moved to Toronto, Canada, when she was eight.

She was one of Aftermath Entertainment's ghostwriters in 2009, during which she penned tracks for chart-topping US A-listers and even Bollywood artists signed to the label.

She said that as a ghostwriter, she is contractually restricted from revealing the songs she wrote and the identity of the artists.

Before that gig, Masia One was invited by Grammy-winning producer Che Vicious, who has collaborated with US artists such as Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, 50 Cent and The Game, to audition for his record label, Kops & Robbers, after he came across her tracks Split Second Time and Return of the B-Girl.

After she was handed a beat, she spent 30 minutes penning the track Warriors Tongue.

Vicious - who later produced Masia's 2012 fourth album Bootleg Culture, which featured US hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan's frontman The RZA - was impressed with her work.

She immediately got the job.

"I was hired by Kops & Robbers as a songwriter, but ended up working at different studios including Aftermath with Che," she said.

Within the year, she said she was offered a recording contract by Universal Music Group's Interscope Records in the hopes of turning her into an "Asian Nicki Minaj".

"I turned it down," she said.


"To them, anyone Asian is immediately seen as exotic and they wanted me to dress along the lines of 'shocking and sexy', while music-wise, they wanted me to sing over EDM (electronic dance music) beats."

It was never about fame for Masia One and she continued ghostwriting.

"I'm not criticising those who are willing to do whatever it takes to rise to stardom, but I'm just not that kind of person.

"I need to be in control of my destiny and I'll stick by my values when deciding what I will and won't do," she said.

While her achievements were no mean feat, Hollywood ended up being too much for her.

"It started driving me crazy," she said.

"I was just so over dealing with the very sexist casting couch thing, where you're consistently being hit on.

"On top of that, you start to lose your sense of how to be an artist because everything you do (as part of the job) is calculated and you're more concerned about what would capture listeners.

"I needed to do something that came from my heart."

She left Aftermath Entertainment in 2012 and moved to Jamaica.

"I needed something that was the opposite of Hollywood and I just thought that Jamaica was the place."

While she was "coasting", Masia One met Jamaican reggae legend Sizzla Kalonji and recorded tracks at legendary late Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley's Tuff Gong Studios.

Now, she is hoping to use her globe-trotting experience to impact and up the game of the local and South-east Asian music scenes.

"I grew up a hip-hop kid, lived with Canadian punk bands at university, played with Afrobeat bands and worked in the US pop industry.


"I'm hoping I'll be able to bridge a music exchange between the West and the East."

Just over two years ago, Masia One relocated back to Singapore to be closer to her family and has since embarked on a mission to acquaint local music fans with reggae, dancehall and dub.

This year, she joined forces with Firmann Salim, the local band behind underground soundsystem party night Dub Skank'in Hifi, to establish the Singapura Dub Club.

It is an event series that delivers Jamaican vibes to South-east Asia through culture, food, music and dance.

She is also looking to launch Suka Suka Jerk Sauce next February, a seasoning she hopes will open Singaporeans up to embracing Jamaican culture.

Masia One feels it is imperative to push reggae more, not only for its "positive message", but also for local musicians to learn the "heartfelt vibe and authenticity that goes into music".

For Masia One, developing the local music scene goes beyond just the talent pool.

"The local scene is like a teenager growing up - amazing ideas and talent, but not enough confidence to do something totally unique," she said.

"But it's not just about schooling young artists. The audience needs to be developed as well."

This article was first published on September 28, 2016.
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