From Singapore with love - Masia One abandons Hollywood to popularise reggae music
Eight years ago, Singaporean artiste Masia One was a ghostwriter in Hollywood working for some of the biggest names in rap and hip hop, including Dr Dre, Pharell and The Game. This was not exactly architecture, in which she holds a bachelor’s degree, and neither was it the life she had envisioned for herself as an artiste.
“The job was amazing because I got to work with a lot of my heroes. I learned how to write hooks, I learned how to do things for the industry, but I realised I was getting further and further away from being an artiste,” she told The Gleaner. “Most of the times, the job is working for really beautiful women who can’t rap or sing to save their life, so I had to do a lot of coaching, which got tiring after a while.”
She said she asked herself, “Where is the opposite of Hollywood?” and thought of Jamaica. She booked a flight to Kingston, which would change her life forever. “I ended up in Cockburn Pen at a friend’s mother, who was running a charity education programme there, so I decided to get involved and teach English. They gave me a zinc house, which was culturally different and very far from Hollywood,” she said.
Masia One (born Maysian Lim) was not a complete stranger to Jamaican culture. She was first introduced to reggae music by her brother and learnt about dancehall after her family migrated to Canada. She shared that she had no intentions of being an artiste but often wrote raps and decided to participate in an all-female rap show orchestrated by her college roommate. It wasn’t long before industry players sought after the ‘chiney girl who can rap’, which is how she ended up in Hollywood.
But those days are long gone, and Masia One reinvented herself as a reggae rapper, releasing her first single of that nature, Alright OK, a fun dance number promoting peace. She also spent time recording music at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio with Dubtonic Kru and a bevy of producers she flew down from Toronto. The work was never released as her brother passed, prompting her return to Singapore after many years.
“When I returned, there was a negative stigma around reggae; people associated it with Bob Marley and ganja,” she recalled. “In Singapore, marijuana is very illegal. It used to be a death sentence, so to have that stereotype on a genre of music makes it very difficult for it to become popular here.”
She was also criticised for forsaking the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to do ‘beach-bum’ music.
“I was called a fool because they viewed me as the only Singaporean artiste to work with Dr Dre and all of these big names, and hip hop is seen as a more commercially viable music here,” she said. “One person said I’m like a million-dollar artiste doing two-cent music. My mission was to break that stereotype and show Singaporeans that the Jamaican culture is diverse; there’s the food, dance, other facets and not one cliché thing.”
She established the Singapura Dub Club, an events company that hosts and orchestrates reggae and Jamaica-themed events across Singapore. Through their events, Singapore has welcomed some of reggae’s finest, like Sister Nancy, Johnny Osbourne and U Brown. It has also provided a platform for local and Southeast Asian reggae acts.
“The population had increased to like six million people, and this is a country smaller than the size of Kingston. Stress levels were high, and I knew that if I created this atmosphere where people could meet and talk, they would fall in love with dub, reggae and dancehall. I was also depressed to leave Jamaica, so instead of complaining, I opted to create the environment and attract those who love it, too.”
As her mission to bridge the cultures continues, Masia One is also returning to her artistry. She released Jamaican Flava, featuring Richie Stephens, last month, as well as Hot Lit Fyah, featuring Switchie and Dr Sakthi, and Fyah, featuring Suns of Dub. She is gearing up to release Rebel Soldier, a dedication to her brother. “He is the reason I fell in love with the culture in the first place, and every time I perform it in Singapore, even people who do not love reggae are touched by the song. He always wanted me to go to Jamaica, and I know he’d be happy to know of everything I’m doing now.”