Subhas is a hip-hop artist from Singapore. He seeks to share perspectives of the world around him and engage with people from different walks of life through his music and lyricism. After releasing his debut album Not A Public Assembly (2018), he has brought his work to multiple venues, including the Singapore Writers’ Festival, PinkDot, and minority voices festival Other Tongues.
Rapper and musician, how did the path towards these two careers begin?
It began when I realised that artmaking is the most powerful tool towards social change in Singapore. When I realised we have to document everyday realities in Singapore, because if we don’t tell our own stories, someone else will. I went to school to study urban planning to affect urban policy making. But by the time I graduated, I knew that a system of neoliberal capitalism is inherently incompatible with justice and equity for the vulnerable and so I started creating independently. Everything is intentional. I am still working with the same outcome of impacting public policy, but just embracing a different pathway in getting there.
Becoming a rapper was more of a coalescence of perspectives, influences, and callings. I don’t call myself a musician because I don’t play an instrument, and I use labels such as ‘rapper’, ‘artist’, ‘activist’, and ‘poet’ in a fluid way. It all depends on what room I’m in or stage I’m on.
Describe your creative process for us. What steps do you go through when you’re working through a song?
My creative process is not confined or limited to the physical space of the recording studio or a singular writing process. It actually happens between songs, in my everyday life. Artists have their whole lives to write their first albums. But as soon as it is released, people expect music from you again very soon. Oftentimes, this expectation is what pressures artists to put out content for the sake of content. I think that we have to do some living in between projects. Because if we don’t challenge ourselves to pivot, grow, and evolve, how will our music ever say something unique or be something that’s worth people taking their time to listen?
For me, I see poetry all around me. In my writing process, I aim to translate what I see in my everyday life to reflect an interpretation of my experiences and ultimately, offer it back to society as a different take: a new perspective on a shared reality. The more perspectives we have, the more diverse and resilient our society. I am also grateful that I have the opportunity to work on meaningful projects that continue to inspire me, and that I have many amazingly talented people (like Jake, Chris, Nathaniel, Preeti, Wee San, Liyana, Shelby, Darren and so many other people) around me to help me realize these ideas. I am infinitely grateful.
As someone who identifies strongly with social justice, what kind of conversation do you want to create with your music?
A loud one. I want to create a conversation that engages people… but not so that they believe what I believe. Instead, I hope to get more people to see the beauty in the everyday lives around them, to do more for others, and to look within themselves to engage critically with the world around them. I just seek to make a meaningful contribution to the shared project of justice and equitability for all. If more people are thinking about issues like capital punishment, 377A, or minimum wage, Singapore would already look and feel like a radically different place. We must begin by asking questions. Then, we can talk about actionables. But it must begin with self-reflexivity, the humility to educate ourselves and take ownership, as well as a deep curiosity for the truth.
Photo Credits: Jean Hew
Favourite quote that you live by?
“Make sure you leave this place in a better state than when you entered.”
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability means moderation and a respect for place and people. It is something that comes naturally when you love the people around you and the places you inhabit. If you love something, you take only what you need with permission, and you try to give more than you take. Knowing what is enough is so important; and when we use profit to measure what is enough, we exploit.
What item of clothing makes you feel most like yourself?
I cannot leave my house without a handkerchief. I would actually head back home after leaving the house just to get a handkerchief! Most times, I don’t end up using it but you never know, accidents happen – a spill or sneeze could be right around the corner! Plus it’s also a subtle way to incorporate colour/patterns into my wardrobe.
What is the relationship you have with your clothes?
I grew up not having money for new clothes and often wore the same clothes for years. Even up till today, I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes and really cherish the pieces I have. I would wear a pair of Birkenstocks till they fell off my feet, and I have carried the same bag everywhere I go for 7 years. Also, I am very careful about how I spend my money and I don’t think I have ever bought luxury brand clothing for myself. That is also a big reason why I print my own tees – to make statement pieces that actually make statements and to reject these big labels. Shout out to my friend Natalie Christian Tan who designed them!
Change that is beyond the surface. It is change that cares about upstream origins and downstream repercussions. It is change that starts with what we wear and how we choose to spend our money.
What’s your advice to ____? Fill in that blank, and then fill in your advice.
My advice to whoever is reading: you hold the power to reframe your past experiences into a narrative of strength that can help you move forward with whatever you wish to accomplish. You are infinite. Stop asking for forgiveness or permission to be who you are.
We are inspired by Subhas’ passion for wanting to empower social change for minority groups and are proud to have him as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Subhas is wearing The Mandar Shirt + Handloom Indigo Stripe , The Easy Joggers + Chambray Khaki and The Modern Monpe + Trikora in Size 3.