Mohamad Nazreen Norzali was only 13 when his father died. As the only child, Nazreen – or Juzzthin as he is known professionally – needed an outlet to express himself. That’s when he discovered hip-hop.
“I was sitting at a basketball court and I made some friends. They introduced me to this song Mathematics by Mos Def. Then, I heard another song called Life Is Good. I could really relate. He’s a Muslim rapper who speaks for himself. It really blew my mind back then,” he said in an interview recently.
With songs by Mos Def to help him cope with his loss and loneliness, Juzzthin was also inspired to write his own rap verses. He confessed that he wasn’t any good. In fact, he was a little embarassed when he was asked to reveal what his first composition was about.
“Oh, man. It goes like, ‘My name is Juzzthin/It rhymes with dustbin …’. That’s all I can remember! At that I couldn’t speak English very well but I really wanted to write something. I wrote whatever came to mind.”
Now, 26, Juzzthin has fulfilled a lifelong dream with the release of his 12-track debut album Class Is In Session. His lead single Serik Dengan Cinta is a collaboration with actress Maya Karin.
Juzzthin shared how a role in Disney Channel’s television series Waktu Rehat played a part in helping him realise his hip-hop dreams.
1. How did your acting career contribute to the making of Juzzthin the rapper?
This is a long story. When I was studying in Aswara in 2010, my friends told me about an audition for Raja Lawak. They encouraged me to try out. So I did an audition where I presented some comedic material.
Once it was done, I found out that it was not an audition for Raja Lawak. It was for something else. I tried to play it cool, saying I was just looking to be an extra. Then, the producer at the audition said they will give me a call.
In my mind, it will be cool if I get the job so I can make extra money. Back then, I only had RM10 for food and transport. Then, I got a call asking me to come to Kelana Jaya for another audition, it was tough for me to decide to spend RM2 to take the train! In the end, I decided to go for it.
When I got there, I found out that they were casting for Disney Channel’s Waktu Rehat. I flipped when they offered me the role of Syed.
I’ve always wanted to release my own hip-hop material but I didn’t have any money to produce tracks or get professional help.
So, with the money I got from Waktu Rehat, I invested it on my debut rap single Sunset Boulevard which was released in 2011.
2. It’s funny how you named your album Class Is In Session because you shared that you never completed your studies at Aswara. Is this title a reminder that education for you had to come from life itself?
Yes, that’s exactly it! Life will always be a constant learning process for me.
It was through the making of this album that I learned how to maximise my time. I wrote the songs while I was working on Waktu Rehat and Oh My English!
My producer DJ Fuzz taught me that I need to constantly work on my material. You have to keep putting out your work for the fans. You can’t expect to keep a career going with just social media postings.
He taught me that as an artiste, I have to respect the craft and think about how to keep the music coming. He taught me about discipline and punctuality. I learned to never settle. When the album is done, I asked myself “What’s next?” I still have a long way to go.
3. There’s a song called Bonda on this album. Can you tell us about the track?
When I set out to do this album, I told myself I must have a track about my mum. It’s my way of letting her know that I appreciate everything that she has done for me. Plus, what kind of son would I be if I didn’t include a song inspired by her.
When I wrote Bonda, I cleared out my schedule so I can just focus. It’s the most personal track.
How did she feel about it? She was her usual cool self. All she has said was that she has heard it. I know she likes it (laughs).
4. How did she feel initially when you talked to her about pursuing hip-hop as a career?
Every parent wants to see his or her child do well in studies. Unfortunately, my heart was not there.
She wanted to know if I could really make it as a hip-hop artiste in Malaysia. I told her not to worry. I promised to be transparent with her and explain the steps that I’m taking to make it work.
Eventually, I got her blessings. The best advice I ever got from her was to do what I love.
5. Name your three essential hip-hop albums.
OK, I got this. Too Phat’s Plan B. Malique and Joe Flizzow are my idols.
The other ones would be Jay Z’s The Black Album and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.