The Malaysian hip hop scene started in the 1990s with rap groups such as KRU, 4U2C, NICO, Naughtius Maximus, and hqa, but their so-called "rap music" wasn't accepted by the mainstream community and so they had to change to a more pop-ish sound. In 1991, local rapper hqa released the classic album "Baguvix", the whole LP was recently immortalized in mp3 format for download at Bandcamp. At around the same time, another group called Krash Kozz were the only group to introduce the new jack swing hip hop sound to Malaysian listeners, but they disbanded after their third album.
As for musically, hip hop was basically unknown to many until 1989 when a group of four people – Najee, Jakeman (yup, the same man behind hitz.fm Malaysian English Top 10), DJ Gabriel and a vocalist called Suresh – released a mixtape under the moniker Krash Kozz. The man behind the whole thing was Joe Siva, who was also the main person behind Valentine Sound Production (VSP), one of the early hotbeds for local fringe acts and releasesThe mixtape, Pump it Up, was a hit in the booming club scene at that time with more than 10,000 copies sold. It was also certified by Billboard magazine as the first hip-hop album to be recorded by a Malaysian artiste!With a new line-up – Najee, Noramin and Joe Siva- the group then released its self-titled four-song EP in 1992. In the same year, Siva hooked up with Mohd Firhad Amat and the friendship led to a musical change for Krash Kozz. In December 23 of that year, he and Siva had a phone conversation with Teddy Riley, the NJS Godfather, who told them to spread the NJS craze in this country. Well, Riley’s wish was granted as Krash Kozz third album, New Jack The Streetbeat, that was released in April 1993, became a big hit.
Recorded by the new line-up of Najee, Fawzi and Albert, the 10-song album is a collection of NJS tunes that were fused with elements of jazz, gospel, R&B, classical rap and pop. Songs like the English version of "Fiona" (originally recorded by one of the first local pop-rap groups 4U2C), the group’s interpretation of Berhati-Hati Di Jalanraya, Pada Kasih Cinta Berbunga and Give It All You’ve Got powered the album national success. It made NJS the hottest thing back then. It got so big that the “King of NJS”, Bobby Brown, flew into the country for a sold-out concert at Putra World Trade Centre’s Merdeka Hall on May 3, 1993.
Those were trying times, when the pioneers of the local hip hop scene were trying hard to break monotony of rock music, love ballads and pop sounds, which are staples in the Malaysian music scene, with the fans of these genres refusing to accept this new form of music. However, the younger generation, especially those in the urban areas, were more curious and receptive; they were more positively in-tuned to receive this new culture that was creating waves across the globe, which was further expedited and cemented by the introduction of records from American hip hop artists like the N.W.A, Brand Nubian, Gang Starr, Cypress Hill and many others.
The Malaysian music scene was dominated by these poppy-sounding groups until 1995-1996, when Poetic Ammo, composed of Yogi B, Point Blanc, C. Loco & Land Slyde, came out with their classic album It's a Nice Day to Be Alive. Their first hit, "Everything Changes" revolutionized the local music industry. There were also groups from the underground scene that have established themselves such as Naughtius Maximus and The Rebel Scum, but it was Poetic Ammo that "made it big". Eventually, the group split up, with each member pursuing solo directions and found success in their own right.
One of the "powerhouses" of hip hop in Malaysia is Too Phat, which consists of Malique and Joe Flizzow. They were signed to EMI International's Positive Tone division and produced their first hit album, Whutadilly and their first single was "Too Phat Baby".
THE BEGINNINGS: 1989 – 1994 OUR earliest recollection of hip-hop music in popular culture can be trace to the movies Breakin’, Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo and Beatstreet. All of which came out in 1984. These movies may not have had an impact musically, but they did spawn a generation of breakdancers. Heck, even the biggest local movie of 1984, Azura, starring Jamal Abdillah and Fauziah Ahmad Daud, had a breakdancing scene in it!
As for musically, hip-hop were basically unknown to many until 1989 when a group of four people – Najee, Jakeman (yup, the same man behind hitz.fm Malaysian English Top 10), DJ Gabriel and a vocalist called Suresh – released a mixtape under the moniker Krash Kozz. The man behind the whole thing was Joe Siva, who was also the main person behind Valentine Sound Production (VSP), one of the early hotbeds for local fringe acts and releases.
The mixtape, Pump it Up, was a hit in the booming club scene at that time with more than 10,000 copies sold. It was also certified by Billboard magazine as the first hip-hop album to be recorded by a Malaysian artiste!With a new line-up – Najee, Noramin and Joe Siva- the group then released its self-titled four-song EP in 1992.
In the same year, Siva hooked up with Mohd Firhad Amat and the friendship led to a musical change for Krash Kozz. Firhad, by the way, was the man who was responsible for introducing new jack swing (NJS) to the Malaysian public. He initiated the launch of NJS – yup, it was a party to introduced the music style – that was held at The Baze (the premier R&B/hip-hop club then) in November 1992. In December 23 of that year, he and Siva had a phone conversation with Teddy Riley, the NJS Godfather, who told them to spread the NJS craze in this country. Well, Riley’s wish was granted as Krash Kozz third album, New Jack The Streetbeat, that was released in April 1993, became a big hit.
Recorded by the new line-up of Najee, Fawzi and Albert, the 10-song album is a collection of NJS tunes that were fused with elements of jazz, gospel, R&B, classical rap and pop. Songs like the English version of Fiona (originally recorded by one of the first local pop-rap groups 4U2C), the group’s interpretation of Berhati-Hati Di Jalanraya, Pada Kasih Cinta Berbunga and Give It All You’ve Got powered the album national success. It made NJS the hottest thing back then. It got so big that even the “King of NJS”, Bobby Brown, flew into the country for a sold-out concert at Putra World Trade Centre’s Merdeka Hall on May 3, 1993.
On May 15, the first-ever Malaysian hip-hop gig, Konsert Rap Kuala Lumpur took place at the Life Centre in Jalan Sultan Ismail, KL.Apart from Krash Kozz, other groups that performed that day included Les Enfants, V.I.P., City Kids, Feminin, Res 2, D.E.F.X., M’Steen, Give Me 5, Nico and Hasnol. While the rest of the performers were neither here nor there, groups like V.I.P. (a comedic hip-hop duo made of composer Benny Ardjuna and cartoonist Poe), Feminin (one of the first all-female pop-rap group) and D.E.F.X. (a seven-member group, comprising two MCs, Yogi and MC E.N.A., and five dancers), showed that the local hip-hop scene had the potential to go far.
Speaking of D.E.F.X., they are arguably the next most important group after Krash Kozz in the development of the local hip-hop scene. Dubbed the human beatbox, 18-year-old Yogi was crowned the street rap king in Rappin’ Badd, a contest organised by Central Market on Nov 22, 1992. E.N.A., meanwhile, was runner-up. Both also used to be with Krash Kozz. The group was supposed to cut an album after penning a deal with a record label called Common Networks Malaysia Sdn Bhd, but it never materialised.
Krash Kozz, meanwhile, went on to achieve bigger things after the release of their third album. First, they were invited to perform at the First Asian Dance Music Convention in Manila alongside Lisa Stansfield, Black Machine and Apache Indian in June 1993. They then went on to perform at World DJ Mixing Finals that was held at Ministry of Sound in London in January 1994. Sadly, that was also their last performance as the group disbanded as soon as they arrived home in Malaysia…
PHASE: 1994 – 1997 THE break-up of Krash Kozz signalled, to an extent, the end of any hope of seeing a local English-medium hip-hop scene. With them no longer in existence, the only place people could get their local fix was from acts like 4U2C, KRU, Les Enfant, Nana Nurgaya and Nico – but with all due respect, these acts, apart from Nico, cam hardly be classified as ‘hip-hop’.
In December 1994, we saw a ray of hope when a group called Poetic Ammunition (PMO) – made up of former Krash Kozz Posse and D.E.F.X members Yogi B and MC E.N.A. – released its debut single, Only You, on the newly formed Positive Tone. (After a deal to record an album fell through, D.E.F.X. had decided it was time for it to start afresh and with a new name to boot). On a chance visit to friend and lyricist Cahaya Pena at Kenny Music Studio, the duo bumped into producers and co-owners of Positive Tone, Paul Moss (formerly of Aishah and The Fan Club) and Kenny Tay.
Both Yogi and E.N.A. performed an impromptu jam for Moss and Tay, and by the time they left the studio, they had a record deal. Musically, the reggaeton-sounding, Flying Pickett’s cover was nothing to shout about, but the only original number on the set, Run, was unlike anything ever recorded by a Malaysian hip hop act. With its tight delivery, infectious hooks and ill beats, the song got a lot of music execs excited – and it seemed, for a while, that the Malaysian hip-hop scene was back on the right path again. But that quickly proved not to be the case. After the single’s release, nothing much was heard from PMO again.
But there was a silver lining. Krash Kozz and PMO’s trailblazing efforts spawned a legion of imitators. No, there was no sudden emergence of a local underground hip-hop scene – but new acts were suddenly popping up all over the place. For instance, an East Coast hip-hop-inspired group, Whyness, released a six-track self-titled demo in 1994 – and the same demo led to the formation of arguably Malaysia’s first ever genuine hip-hop collective, Naughtius Maximus. Apart from members from Whyness – Albert Chong (Albert), Ismail Mat Aris (Mail), Ramesh Anthony (Ramesh), Azrin Ishak (Ain), Hiresh Das (Hiresh), Calvin Choi (Illegal), Nicholas Choong (Nicky C), Remy Kalia Perumal (MiSta Rem), Azhar Majid (Dice), Zushahron Dina (Lady D), Nor Azhar (Spit), Francis Jesudas (Jungle Jerry) and Moses L Chan (Moe) – the 13 member squad was also made up of three other different groups, Deceased, Under Pressure and Reffugeez.
Naughtius Maximus circa 1995 Recorded within the space of four months at Digitron Studio, (legend has it that as the group hadn’t the money to book studio time, they “stole” some booked by other acts), Naughtius Maximus’ debut album was released on July 1, 1995, by Articulate Sound Sdn Bhd. Produced by Moe, the 13- song set featured three songs by Whyness, two tracks from Deceased, Reffugeez and Under Pressure each, and four songs by the collective. Musically, it is without a doubt Malaysia’s first-ever genuine hip hop album, complete with the requisite beats, rhymes, attitude and spirit. If there was anything lacking, it was production quality. Still, songs like Here Comes Trouble, Whyness’ Right On Time and Reffugeez’s Ruff Wayz are still regarded as seminal classics by those who’ve been following the development of the local hip-hop music scene.
But just when things were on the up-and-up for hip-hop in Malaysia, the local scene got a blow when nine of the songs were summarily banned by Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) two months after the album was released. The reason given for the ban was that the album was “too Westernised”. The ban was a blessing in disguise the status of being banned immediately made the group and hip-hop music notorious – a factor that has a big appeal, especially among the youth. As for the majority of music lovers previously unfamiliar with the genre, the controversy raised curiosity levels enough that many decided to find out what the fuss was all about. The ban halted the collective’s progress, as, by 1996, most of its members were already doing their own thing, both inside and outside music. Illegal and Moses went on to become one of Malaysia’s most respected hip-hop producers; Lady D went on to form Emberz of Soul, Jungle Jerry and Nicky C went on to make their names in the local clubbing and DJ circuit.
Overall though, 1996 was a pretty quiet year for hip-hop. However, below their radar, a scene was slowly developing. Very little information about the underground hip-hop scene at that time is available today, but we do know that two groups were active at the time: Poetic Ammo (with Yogi B as the sole member after MC E.N.A. left in 1995); and Def Rhyme (featuring brother, Land Slyde (Chandrakumar Balakrishnan) and C Loco (Sashi Kumar Balakrishnan). These two groups would later converge to become Poetic Ammo, with the final piece of the jigsaw coming from the then-16-year-old Wu- Tang Clan-devotee from Ipoh, Point Blanc (Nicholas Ong). The expanded Poetic Ammo then spent most of 1996 recording their debut, It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive – the album that was going to change the future of local hip hop music…
Malaysian hip hop Wikipedia
“IT was living hell. We slept on the floor; there were times when we had to collect money from each one of us to buy Maggi Mee to eat,” Yogi B of Poetic Ammo told me about the recording process of It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive in an unpublished interview that was conducted in Feb 2003.“It was a very tough time for us. We invested a lot of money in the album. We even slept in the studios at one point,” said Joe Flizzow, one half of Too Phat in the Press statement to announce the release of their debut album, Whutthadilly? on Dec 30, 1999. Sacrifices and undying passion for the art form are, without a doubt, important factors that led to the explosion of Malaysian hip-hop in the later part of the `90s.
It is a requirement, if one thinks about it. Especially when good hip hop references and expertise when it came to producing and cooking up the beats were almost non-existent back then. If we got it right, the only “serious” composers and producers then were Illegal, G-Soul and Yogi B. And the latter was a producer by default as he had to produce Ammo’s debut, It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive. “It was like having to make couple of beautiful vases and having to learn how to mould the clay at the same time”, Yogi said back then. Tough or not, the impossible was achieved when his group’s first single Everything Changes was released on January 5, 1998, to positive response and glowing praises. In hindsight, its success is now understandable. The R&B-tinged hip-hop number was too hard to resist for any casual music listener or radio programme manager.
The inclusion of Landslyde and C Loco (from the group Def Rhyme – those who are old enough might remember them from Asia Bagus) and Point Blanc (from Ipoh’s rap group, Da’ Funk Squad) have also added more depth and packed a stronger punch that made Ammo a tighter unit at that time. When it was released on February 23, 1998, It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive took what Naughtius Maximus did on their debut three years ago to a completely new level.
Musically, it may not be the most original – there’s Bone Thugs N’ Harmony ( It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive; Cypress Hill (especially C Loco’s style of delivery); Wu Tang Clan Approximate Detonation flavour here and there – but tracks like Peluru Puitis, Vallavan and the remake of Samuel Hui’s Kah Sang Tah Kong Chai was unlike anything produced here before. Lyrically, it was evident the quartet did try to keep it as local as possible, which they did to a certain extent, especially on songs like Everything Changes and Peluru Puitis. Of course, there were glaring weaknesses – feeble selection of words in the rhymes here and there, not-so-fluid song arrangements – but compared to anything that was released earlier, the album was the best at its time and remains a seminal release. The group, however, had to wait for almost a year before they could reap the fruits of their success.“We nearly gave up at first because sales weren’t great. There wasn’t an English hip hop scene then, and not many people in Malaysia knew what the music was all about,” Yogi B said.
Less than a year before Poetic Ammo dropped its debut It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive in 1998, underground gigs, a key factor that contributed to the development of local hip-hop, was mushrooming. Though it’s far from being an underground gig per se, the Youthquake Malaysia Tour in 1996 did, to a certain extent, spread awareness and interest in hiphop. Spread across five states – Penang, Ipoh, Kuantan, Johor Bharu and Kuala Lumpur – the tour had R&B group Soulstreet (its former member includes composer/producer Damian Seet of VE) and a rapper known as Johan Ishak performing at each stop alongside OAG. The impact may not be as powerful as the underground gigs but it’s no denying that both Soulstreet and Johan offered suburban kids a different take on the music, especially in its attitude.
The first local underground hip-hop gig took place in Malibu Cafe in November 1997. The organiser, believe it or not, was Nazri Noran of now-defunct pioneering rap-rock group Projekt AK and who is now with the hitz.fm Morning Crew. Performing that day were Naugtius Maximus, Innuendo, Suspicious (a rap group from Penang), Soulstreet and Da’ Joint. Speaking of Da’ Joint, it’s important to take note that the trio – G (Jeyakumar Letchmanan), Sam Sneeze (Samir Sharman) and Rez (Syed Riza Al- Attas) – were among the first of the third generation local hip hop acts that emerged in the mid-’90s. In 2000, the group’s debut single B.A.N.G.S.A.R. peaked at No. 1 spot on hitz.fm Malaysian English Top 10. Three years later the band released an EP, Sound Therapy via Ruff Selecta Entertainment which gave them two more hits singles, Livin’ In The Streets and After Party. The group disbanded a couple of years back and Samir’s now pursuing a solo career. His debut album Reinvented was released late last year and was a success, thanks to hits like R U Ready, Let’s Go and Dikir Berbisa.
Other notable groups that came out about the same time (1997-1999) were First Borne Troopz (which would later become Teh Tarik Crew), SickSiderz, ILLustrait (members of both group would later converge and form The Rebel Scum), Integrated Soul, Pac of Doja, M.O.B. (Members Of Blood; one of its former members include Sein of Ruffedge) and of course, Too Phat. The seed of the group can be traced in 1997 when a then 17-year-old Subang Jaya kid called Joe Flizzow and the then 19-year-old Muar-based Malique decided to form a creative alliance after an infamous rap battle on the Net. In November that year, after completing his A-Levels, Malique migrated to KL, and together with Joe and another guy, Doctah K (Kevin Felix), they embarked on a journey that would take them beyond their wildest imagination. It’s unclear when did the group call themselves Too Phat, but in an interview with the now-defunct TONE magazine in their April 2001 issue, both said Too Phat was the first name that came to mind after a gig organiser asked them for a group name to be included in a gig flyer. Other names that were also in consideration were Way Too Phat and Nickel and Rhymes.“We weren’t sure whether we wanted to stick with Too Phat or not,” Malique said in the interview.“Yeah. We said okay lah, we’ll come up with this name Too Phat, then in the future if we don’t like it, we’ll change,” Joe added. It stuck, of course.
When a sound engineering friend wanted a group to record for his course assignment, the group jumped on the opportunity. The result was a demo that would soon make its round in the local underground hip-hop circuit. Most importantly, it landed the group a slot at A Tribute To East Coast and West Coast gig that took place in Malibu Cafe on March 28, 1998, where they performed alongside Poetic Ammo, Soulstreet, Suspicious and C’Est La Vie. From there, the group went on to establish a reputation as one of the hottest underground hiphop acts in town largely for their slick rhyming, energetic stage persona, and also two of the underground hits, Higgedy Hey and I’ll Be Missing Your P****, the group interpolation of Puff Daddy’s I’ll be Missing You.
While the underground scene was swamped with activities, above ground, Ammo was slowly seeing the reward from their hard work, thanks to Who Be The Player – a song that was not on their debut, but on the country’s first ever local R&B/hip-hop compilation, Tricks & Tales. Released by Positive Tone on Dec 22, 1998, the main highlight of the 10-song compilation had to be the comeback tune by Naughtius Maximus (M.V.P. and Born Ready). Other highlights include the fact that it broke Ferhad into the mainstream scene with Soul In Me and Believe. It introduced Reefa, (arguably) the first solo MC in the country; and Naughtius Maximus alumnae, Lady D’s new duo in a group, Emberz Of Soul. It was a perfect documentation of the “semi” underground local hip-hop scene. But to those who were familiar with the underground scene, the inclusion of Too Phat would have made the set more comprehensive.
Over the next 12 months, Dec 1998 to Dec 1999, Malaysian hiphop was all about Poetic Ammo. In April 1999, the group was named Best New English Artiste at Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) while It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive was Best English Album. As a result of their wins, album sales rocketed to 15,000 copies in a span of less than a month; and having the music video for Everything Changes nominated in the South-East Asia Viewers’ Choice Award category at the 1999 MTV Video Music. Some felt, and said, that it was the pinnacle of the thriving scene, but how wrong they were. Well, these people were not to be blame as no one was prepared for Whuttadilly?
“WE are not malu of, or regret The World Is Yours, as it’s a part of the Ammo chapter. It was commercial and it was pop, and some people didn’t like it. But it was us, nevertheless”. That was what one-half of Poetic Ammo, Point Blanc, told this writer in an unpublished interview in February 2003 in the wake of their comeback-of-sorts album, Return Of Tha Boombox.
In the Malaysian hip hop scene, if the years 1998 to 2000 were all about Ammo, the period 2001 to this day is all about Too Phat. There were many reasons for this power shift – by 2001, Ammo were more well known for their endorsement deals than their music. It also didn’t help that the follow-up to 2000’s It’s A Nice Day To Be Alive was exactly as Point described: commercial and pop. Flashback to 1998: with a reputation as the hottest thing in the thriving local underground hip hop scene, the trio Malique, Joe Flizzow and Doctah K were offered a deal to record an EP by the now defunct Strange Culture Records (SCR), which was then the label for local fringe music. The group recorded two songs, Give It Up and Whutthadilly?, with SCR before parting ways with the label in July 1998. Determined to finish what they’ve started, the group, who had by then became a duo when Doctah K left to sing with a hardcore band called Foreground Division, decided to complete the album using their own resources.
In between recording sessions, they were also actively performing on the underground gig circuit. And their biggest, if not most important gig, was The Panasonic Hip-Trip that was held at Sunway Lagoon Amphitheatre in late 1999. Performing alongside Farah, Shayna, Taheera, VE, Soulstreet, Da Joint, Naughtius Maximums, Prisheella (one of the earliest local female MCs to emerge), Vandal, Poetic Ammo, KamiKrazie, DJ Ken, DJ Face, DJ T-Bone and DJ Goldfish, Malique and Joe Flizzow stole the show that day with their strong stage presence, obvious talent and very hooky number, Too Phat Baby. The first single off their yet-to-be-released debut was premiered and went down well with the 2,000-strong crowd that day. The buzz on Too Phat on the street was at an all-time high but the duo had to wait until their debut album was 90 percent complete before they could get a record label to notice their potential.
How they finally ended up with Positive Tone is a classic record industry tale. The label’s managing director Ahmad Izham Omar (now 8TV chief executive officer) happened to hear one of the tracks off Whutthadilly? when one of the album producers were working on it. Word has it that Izham was completely blown away and demanded a meeting with the group immediately. Things got even more exciting after they officially became a Positive Tone artist in Oct 1999. In November, an unmastered studio mix of Lil’ Fingaz leaked on the radio and surprisingly, became hitz.fm’s Most Wanted Hit.Lil’ Fingaz’s considerable success was overtaken by the Too Phat Baby when it was released in early December. Finally, after almost a year-long struggle, Whutthadilly? finally saw the light of day on Dec 31, 1999. Produced by Illegal, G-Soul, Haze and the boys themselves, the 15-track album established a whole new set of standards for production, image, presentation and most importantly, rapping in the local hip hop scene. To call it the perfect hip-hop album (by Malaysian standards at that time) may be an overstatement, but considering how very few missteps were made by Malique and Joe, Whutthadilly? was indeed local hip-hop at its finest.
Album highlights were aplenty, from the intros sampled from artists as diverse as Sharifah Aini’s (Seiring Sejalan) and Kool & The Gang (Too Hot), to the interpolation in Too Phat Baby and heck, even the demo mix of Whutthadilly?, the album is one big irresistible effort. Musical genius aside, there were two other interesting things the boys did. The duo roped in and introduced up-and-coming underground cats by inviting them to guest on the album.
Acts who were literally unknown beyond the local underground scene, Ruffedge (Too Phat Baby); and First Borne Troopz and G from Da’ Joint (Skoo Tha Nonsense) were allowed to shine alongside Tricks And Tales alumni like Reefa (Bla, Bla), Lady Dee (bo-M.O.-h). Their other, less generous act was to put down Poetic Ammo in one of the tracks. In bo-M.O.-h, Malique and Joe mocked Poetic Ammo for claiming to be what they were – the leader of the pack in the local hip-hop game. It was undoubtedly the first local diss track – okay, Krash Kozz and KRU also dissed each other in their tracks in their time, but they were nowhere near this: “Aight man? everybody know ain’t nothing real/Check the CD cover wit’ the classic clown appeal/and still it kinda beats me how you got that record deal/Wit’ no skills, why you tryin so hard to B-Real?” raps Malique in the first verse.“Damn, at first you brought some hope into the game/Now it ain’t the same, probably fame got you lame,” adds Joe in the second verse. Ammo lashed back in the song We Hit `Em Up Too in their second album saying: “I gave you love but you wanna show me hate/Watcha gonna do when it’s too late/It’s about the time why don’t you tell em’ why/Cos back here We Hit Em’ Up Too” (Yogi B); “You dissed my album cover bein’ clownish but yours be worse/Cos your s*** be lookin’ something straight from the circus/For real though now you phat with that lady in your clique” says Point.
“We were cool then, you had beef with the other peeps and/Now you got an album, you wanna skoo the nonsense?/Ha! Ha! You see my prominence is imminent/Why you tryin’ so hard so be Eminem?/You visionary? More like fictionary,” continues C Loco. What triggered that was hard to tell as both parties naturally had their own version of stories, but oh, what fun it was for the fans. It’s the closest the Malaysia hip-hop rap scene has come to a gang war, and the kids in the local scene were quickly split into two main camps: The Phat Family and Ammo’s D’Alliance.
The roots of rap in Bahasa Melayu can be traced back to the year 1992. In that year alone, the local music industry saw debut albums by three rap groups – KRU, 4U2C and Les Enfant. First to be released was the self-titled debut album by seven-piece rap combo, 4U2C. Under the guidance of Zman Productions, the group’s album was a success thanks to the song Fiona. The album then went on to sell more than 40,000 copies and opened a lot of eyes on the potential of rap music here. Their music may be leaning more towards pop than hip hop but no one can deny the fact that songs like Kami Rappers and 2BD#1 gave us the first taste on how rapping in Bahasa Malaysia would sound like.
Despite having international names like T Kelly and Billy Steinberg producing their album, Les Enfants’, Permulaan didn’t have that much of impact, well, except for the fact that the four group members were barely in their teens when the album was released. Claiming to be The Real Rap Group (TRRG), KRU’s debut album Canggih, like 4U2C’s was a commercial success. Just for the record, the success led them and 4U2C to a few years “feud” on who’s the best rap group in town.
Another group, Nico, may not achieve the same amount of success and attention like 4U2C and KRU, but they were the first group to succeed with their attempt to excellently flow to properly written rhymes in Bahasa Malaysia. Songs like Inilah Nasibku, Public Figure and Deng Kang Kong Lepak would be a testament to the statement above. In the following year, one of the first English-medium hip hop groups, Krash Kozz had a minor hit with the song Berhati-hati Di Jalanraya. Feminin, the first all-girl “rap” group who released their album in the same year also scored a hit for themselves with the song Untukmu.
The rap in Bahasa Melayu boom anyhow was a very brief one. By 1995, most of the acts are nowhere to be seen, well apart from KRU, who would later enjoy success as a pop group. Apart from some songs by KRU and Nico (another rap group that emerged during that period), none of these rap groups really managed to deliver solid rhymes in Bahasa Melayu that would become like a benchmark to the genre. As a matter of fact, most of these groups did more damage than good when it comes to rhyme in Bahasa Melayu.
In 1997, a group who called themselves Poetic Ammo, planted the seed for the second wave of Malaysian rappers with their debut album, It’s a Nice Day to be Alive. The multi-lingual album – it had songs in Bahasa Melayu, Tamil, Cantonese and English – delivered some sparks when it comes to rhyming in Bahasa Melayu as can be heard on the song Peluru Puitis. Heavily influenced by Cypress Hill’s beats, the song for the first time saw Bahasa Melayu vocabulary used intelligently to compliment hip hop’s beats. Not yet definitive, but substantial enough to become a template for future MCs. Three years later in 2000, Ammo perfected their art of rhyming Bahasa Melayu on the song Tiada Tandingan (featuring the voice of Sheila Majid) that was featured on their second album, The World is Yours. Choppier and tighter, the song strengthens that if done properly, rhyming in Bahasa Melayu can actually sound interesting and refreshing.
In 2002, Too Phat who by then have already established themselves as the biggest and most popular hip hop group in this country further reaffirm the fact that it is possible to rhyme in Bahasa Melayu and sound international on their third album 360 Degrees. Both its members Malique and Joe Flizzow took turn to spit rhymes in Bahasa Melayu on the second verse of the song Ala Canggung. The duo took a step further when the Bahasa Melayu version of Alhamdulillah and Ala Canggung that was featured on the Platinum Edition of 360 Degrees became huge commercial hits when it was released last year.
Throughout the late 2000s, Malay rap has further evolved itself. It moved from becoming a gimmick to a form of art which could stand on its own. And as an effort to create a virtual stage for Malay rap, the website RapMelayu.com was built as an Internet Radio focusing strictly on Malay Rap.