As a kid, Yung Raja wanted to be like Kollywood superstar Rajinikanth. He recalled fond memories of watching Rajinikanth movies to entertain himself while growing up in Singapore.
“I would only eat if my mum played his movies for me to watch,” Yung Raja said at an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Then at 13, Yung Raja had a chance to emulate his idol when he auditioned for a part in a Singaporean TV show. Out of hundreds of kids who auditioned, Yung Raja made it into the top 10 and subsequently got himself a small role.
“Was I nervous? Not at all, I felt that I was in my element,” the 22-year-old remembered.Since then, Yung Raja – who goes by the stage name Rajid Ahamed when he’s acting – has starred in productions like Mediacorp TV show Hush, Jack Neo’s box-office comedy Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen and Japanese film Joker Game.
But since he was always given minor roles, Yung Raja had to shift gear in order to make his dream of becoming a star a reality.
“Do I really want to be just another (acting) talent? I began to realise that if I just settled as a talent, I wasn’t going to be where I wanted to be,” he rationalised.
Yung Raja was inspired to pursue a career in music after having a chat with fellow actor and good friend Fariz Jabba.
“We met on the set of Ah Boys To Men 3. After that, I just had to figure out how to branch into music,” he said.
Yung Raja decided he wanted to be a hip-hop artiste but he had to start somewhere. So he followed his instinct and made his way to a club known for its hip-hop nights. Yung Raja asked if he could be a hype man for the event. He got the gig and worked for eight months.
Eventually, it led him to meet music producer FlightSch. From there, he picked up the moniker Yung Raja and began working on a debut single. Yung Raja knew from the beginning that he wanted to rap in both Tamil and English.
“I speak Tamil to my parents. It’s so deep-seated with who I am. There is no way I can be an artiste without including part of my culture,” he said.
When it came to the making of his debut single, Yung Raja thought about Mustaq Ahmad, the founder of 24-hour shopping complex Mustafa Centre at Little India in Singapore.
“My parents came from the southern part of India and it’s the same heritage as Mustaq. Within my community, people talk about how successful he became with Mustafa Centre. Going to Mustafa for shoes or groceries is such a joy and it’s a feeling I can’t get anywhere else.”
He decided that his first single should include a homage to Mustaq’s success with Mustafa.
“It’s an iconic place that is often overlooked by the mainstream media,” he reasoned.
Mustafa was eventually released in June. It’s slick bravado track that pretty much announces Yung Raja’s arrival as the new Tamil hip-hop royalty.
He refers to himself as “Yung Mustafa, a brown superstar”, essentially someone who has everything that girls are looking for. Especially groceries because you know, that’s what you get at Mustafa. He even mentions it in the song.
Since its release, Mustafa has over 300,000 views on YouTube and more than 180,000 plays on Spotify. The single has also received some positive feedback from listeners in both Singapore and Malaysia.
“I still don’t feel like this is real. Five months ago, life was different for me. And now, I feel like I am living my dream.”
In some ways, just like his idol Rajinikanth – a bus conductor-turned-actor – Yung Raja has achieved something he never thought possible.
“I’m a first generation Singaporean. My father is a tuition teacher and my mum is a housewife. Success is always a story about somebody else.
“For me to taste a bit of success, it’s so strange. I don’t know how else to put it. The feeling can be so overwhelming that I have broken down and cried to my mum.”
Yung Raja is aware that success is fleeting. He has to keep working if he wants stay in the game: “I’m going to release more songs. In the coming months, people will get to know what I’m trying to represent. This is the only way I know how to pursue hip-hop.
“Actually, it’s also how most hip-hop artistes are like. They present their realities.
“Whatever struggles they go through, you’d hear it in their music. That is the nature of hip-hop. You speak your truth.”