Profile: Shigga Shay

Published on 29 September 2015

Homegrown hip-hopper Shigga Shay is set to put Singaporean rap on the map.


A few years ago, the phrase ‘Singaporean rapper’ would have drawn blank stares. Taiwan-bound balladeers, yes, but there was a distinct dearth of hip-hopping, fast-talking rap artists. Happily, 23 year-old
Pek Jin Shen, aka Shigga Shay, has changed that.

A former participant of the music mentorship programme run by Noise Singapore, an initiative by the National Arts Council, this spunky young man is the creator of two well-received rap albums with tracks boasting hundreds of thousands of YouTube views. He is also an in-demand collaborator with music megastars like Stefanie Sun. Two years back, he co-founded Singapore hip-hop collective the Grizzle Grind Crew, boasting members like Lineath, Charles Enero and Tosh Zhang, a talented bunch who are all making waves with their music.

The unassuming artist is happy explaining his chosen art form to those who still don’t get it. “Rap involves a lot more rhythm, it’s more than just rhyming and talking. It involves ‘flow’, which articulates how a rapper rides over a beat with his lyrics. How well a rapper flows will determine how easy a normal listener will understand his or her message. It involves beat selection, picking the right melody or hook, and also the different tones you can use with your voice,” he explains.

Shigga has all that down pat, plus an unmistakeable identity. Many of his catchy hits feature multiple languages, including English, Mandarin and Hokkien, and feature cool snatches of Tamil and Malay by fellow Grizzle Grinders (in singles like ‘Lion City Kia’). Rather than bling and babes, many of his popular videos showcase uniquely Singaporean alleys, flats, playgrounds or coffee shops. Endearingly, his prop of choice is the classic kopitiam (coffee shop) glass filled with kopi (coffee). “Hip-hop has always been about representing the place you come from. All I did was keep it real to where I was from and how I grew up.”

Of course, keeping his songs Singaporean doesn’t mean he isn’t setting his sights overseas. With his single ‘Limpeh’ charting at No 2 on the iTunes Malaysia Hip-Hop charts, it’s clear Shigga is keen on conquering listeners across the Causeway and beyond; collaborations with prominent American hip-hop artists are already on the cards.

Shigga has also made tracks in the world of acting. The rapper stars in Royston Tan’s latest movie 3688 as a kopi boy, the filming of which commenced shortly after his stage debut in last year’s Ah Boys to Men: The Musical. While he says he “definitely enjoys” acting, what he’d really like to do in the future is direct a movie. “Something entirely shot in Singapore, with the soundtrack made in Singapore, too,” he says.

In the meantime, Singapore hip-hop remains his burning passion. “The scene has grown so much — I’m a fan of THELIONCITYBOY, Mean & Alyph from Sleeq. There are lots of new, upcoming cats in hip-hop and it’s really exciting to watch.”

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