Published on 4 April 2018

Image credit: Brand New Media

Meet MAS1A: South East Asia’s Empress of Hiphop & Dancehall

By: Victoria Tay


With her song featured on the trailer of the “Fast and the Furious 8” , and collaborations with world-famous artists such as Pharrell and RZA, May Sian Lim, a.k.a MAS1A, has come a long way. From getting her first Public Enemy cassette tape at Bedok Market when she was eight years old, MAS1A today has various awards and nominations for Best Rapper under her belt.

Now back in her hometown of Singapore, MAS1A has not certainly not wasted her time. Since her return, she worked on her forthcoming album Empress from the Far Eastside, founded dub and reggae community Singapura Dub Club, and performed at Ultra Music Festival and St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. She is now all set to take the stage at Sing Jazz, on April 7th 2018, alongside the likes of Lauryn Hill and Jamie Cullum.

A List talks to this unapologetic 30-something about her return to the South East Asian scene, and what Her Queendom has in store for us this year.


What got you started with rap and soul?

My godfather used to listen to Miles Davis so I got familiar with jazz pretty young. I’m naturally an introvert so I was attracted to this bold way of expression.

Really? You’re an introvert?

Yes, I didn’t like to take pictures, and I wasn’t confident about who I was. When I first started out as an artist, I liked to paint and do graffiti art, and it was through graffiti that I eventually found my way to hip-hop. It was my roommate who was very into the genre, and he was running a show with an all-female hip hop troupe. On the night of his event, one of his girls cancelled for some reason, and they needed a replacement. I thought I could do it as a one-off thing, and as a dare to him, and to myself. The rest of it was history.

What inspires your music?

I’m inspired by the culture of the places that I’ve been to, how there are always similarities uniting people in spite of how how different they are, if we only take the time to look. My lyrics are inspired by words of encouragement, bravery, confidence, and heartbreak as well. My second album “Montreal In The Fall”, was about me moping after a breakup. When I was writing the songs, I kept imagining myself as the listener – like, what song would I want to listen to that will help get me out of this rut?

What’s it like being back in the music scene in Singapore?

I would definitely say that in Singapore, the image of who you are is important, and sometimes, I feel like it’s become more important than the music itself, which I would like to challenge. I find that a lot of talented Singaporeans are not confident enough of their own voices, and I want to show them how to be proud of who you are. You don’t have to be the typical pretty, skinny, fair-skinned girl to be an artist here. You can just be you.

Other than singing or rapping, do you have any other hobbies?

Before getting into rap, I started finding my voice as a painter and a graffiti artist. I also love to cook Jamaican food!  Actually I’ve developed a halal Jamaican Jerk Sauce (a BBQ marinade) with South East Asian flavours called Suka Suka sauce! ‘Suka Suka’ means “anything, anyhow” in Malay, which is how I feel this sauce is. It’s anything and everything I find delicious wrapped up in a bottle!

Which musicians inspire you?

I grew up listening to Lauryn Hill, Sade, Peter Tosh, Betty Davis, Wu Tang Clan, Rihanna, Amy Winehouse and John Coltrane. From this, I guess you can see why my music is a mix of many genres – hip hop, jazz, reggae, dancehall and many strong female role models.

So how does it feel to perform with the likes of Lauryn Hill?

Well, I grew up listening to her, so it’s so amazing to be able to open for her now. That’s something truly amazing. Thank you, Sing Jazz!

How did it feel growing up as a Singaporean in Canada?

My parents always taught me that being Singaporean meant to always give your best no matter how small I felt or how much the odds were against me.  As a kid, it was tough to look and be different, but this taught me not to be scared and to carve my own path. By the time I started putting out songs as one of the first Asian female emcees in North America, I was unapologetic and already tough enough to take any backlash and stick to my vision.

What did you parents think about you starting a music career?

The day I graduated with an honours degree in Architecture and a minor in Economics, I handed my certificate to my parents and told them “Mom, Dad… I’m going to be a rapper now!”  So what do you think that’s like for Chinese Singaporean parents? After the initial shock though, and for all the pains I’ve put them through, they’ve learned to understand me and support me through the years. At one point, my Mom was bragging to all my relatives that I was working with a famous doctor now called “Dr. Dre”. All my relatives were asking what that was like, so I just told them, “well, I guess I’m his nurse?” They were really proud of that, so there you have it.

What can we expect from you next?

I’m finishing my album Empress From the Far Eastside very soon, and my  first single “Time Wasting” is coming out in June! It’s my favourite personal piece at the moment. It’s going to be set in a mahjong den, and I want it to be feature real Singaporean women – not your typical models, but bawse women who are real powerhouses! I want to feature women of all races, colours and backgrounds, all mixing around with each other because that’s what Singapore is.

Have you ever experienced any backlash as an Asian female rapper?

When my single “Split-Second Time” came out, Much Music Canada were playing it and it was on MTV all the time so I had a lot of keyboard warriors commenting on the video. saying things like “Chinese girls shouldn’t rap”. I figured it was because they were just surprised to see an Asian girl look fierce in a way that isn’t typically sexy, and that it should’ve been a guy out there doing the piece instead.

How did you get over it?

Well, at first you’re really hurt by it because it takes a lot of guts to put your music and your soul out there to the public, and have that ripped apart. But one day, when I was on tour in up-north Ontario, I was visiting a school, and this Vietnamese girl came up to me crying and thanking me for the music I made. She was being bullied at school, and for the first time, I’d made her feel cool because someone who looked like her made a song she liked. That was an incredible moment for me because then I knew my music was making a difference to someone.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

Don’t be afraid of who you are – own it. You don’t need to be “hot” or play it safe to be an artist. Your music should come before your looks. That’s not to say that you don’t have to package yourself, but you should package yourself in a way that fits you.

MAS1A will be performing on Saturday, 7 April at the Late Show at Sing Jazz 2018. Tickets are available here.


Check out MAS1A’s tracks on Spotify:

A-List’s Sing Jazz 2018 Spotify Mixtape:

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