Akeem Jahat hits reset with new single ‘Tandoori’: “Let’s change the narrative”
Written by ABR on 26/08/2022
Akeem Jahat has long been a standout in Singaporean’s hip-hop scene and a respected rap figure in the region. He amassed a following in both Singapore and Malaysia on the back of his 2012 mixtape ‘Suke Hati Nenek Volume I: Akeemotherapy’ and 2014’s ‘SeluDOPE’, as well as tracks like ‘$ua’ and ‘Bu$a’ – all of which showcased his smooth rapping in both Malay and English.
Today (August 26), Akeem embarks upon a new journey with the release of ‘Tandoori’. The track isn’t just a single release for the rapper but a “reset”, as he calls it. With ‘Tandoori’, Akeem says he wants to peel back the “macho” layers surrounding hip-hop, serving a reminder that it doesn’t always have to be serious all the time.
The track also comes in the lead-up to Akeem’s first-ever album released entirely in English, and is also his first release as record label Cross Ratio Entertainment’s newest signee – a move that may surprise his fans, given that Akeem has spent his career as an independent artist.
Below, NME sits down with the rapper to discuss ‘Tandoori’, signing with Cross Ratio and breaking the masculinity of the rap game.
‘Tandoori’ is a very different sound for you. What made you want to showcase this cheeky side of you and to make this the first preview of new material?
“I feel like for the longest time as Akeem Jahat, the stigma and branding is that I’m a very serious dude and whatnot. But the reason I fell in love with hip-hop is because of how fun it was and how it should be. Especially when Eminem came out with all of those ridiculous, very colourful eras back in the day.”
“I think it’s about time where I’m very comfortable showing this side of me. ‘Tandoori’ is an extension of who I really am after all.”
The track was inspired by Eminem, who also goes by Slim Shady. You have your own alter ego: Robbin Hoodie. Do you see any parallels between the two?
“I’m not the biggest Eminem fan, to be honest. I’m not a ‘Stan’. My original rap name was always supposed to be Robbin Hoodie instead of Akeem Jahat but I was putting out my bilingual songs, so I went with a Malay name.”
“I’ve always been inspired by this – you know how at a certain point, artists showcase their ‘alter ego’, so to speak? Beyoncé had Sasha Fierce, Kendrick had KDot and Kung Fu Kenny, everyone has that other side. I feel like Robbin has been preserved for this reset button.”
‘Tandoori’ will lead up to the release of your first-ever English album. How does it feel stepping away from the bilingual sound that you’re known for?
“It’s going to be personally satisfying because I got to practise while establishing my career. Rapping in English isn’t going to be as simple as it would have been back then, because I have to compete with international songs. As Akeem Jahat, it’s regional competition. A lot of people don’t know that I was an English rapper first. I came out at 16 and I rapped in English first. So I have 10 years of practising this and I finally can be comfortable, I’ve found my voice in English.”
What made you feel like now was the right time to sign with a label after being an independent artist for most of your career?
“I don’t think it was a matter of the period for me, it was a matter of the right team. Upon meeting Cross Ratio, it took us a while to warm up to each other. On a personal relationship level, I feel like these guys got me more than the other labels. Their mindset fits whatever I believe in as well. So it was more of the right deal than the right time, really.”
“I was getting all of these offers and maybe the rebellious punk side of me was saying ‘Nope, I’m staying independent’ but when I met Cross Ratio, I was like ‘You know what? Let’s change the narrative now’. We finally found the proper fit for me.”
You’ve been doing music for a long time. Has anything changed in your perception and approach to music since you first began?
“A lot. ‘Tandoori’ is going to be the start of the changes that you see me making. I feel like hip-hop got a little bit too macho and there was this image of ‘gang gang’ and everyone was just a tough guy. There was a time when I was being pinned to that theme too. I’ve not done anything ‘gangster’ but because of where I’m from and how I sound and how I look, people started to see me and go ‘Oh, this dude is doing this, we have to act tougher and badder’.”
“‘Tandoori’ is also an introduction to making it easier for the kids to come into this music, for parents to accept that hip-hop can be fun. I felt like the hip-hop stigma that’s been going on has been quite macho, no one’s relaxing. Plus I’ve already proven that I’m a rapper who’s also an emcee, I can handle my bars. I think it’s about time to make hip-hop fun again.”
“There was a time when I was scared of doing a song like ‘Tandoori’ because I was afraid of how ‘uncool’ it would be but now I realise that the whole idea is to have fun at the end of the day.”
Now that you’ve got a new album coming out, do you have plans to tour?
“Definitely. There will be collabs in terms of working with a team for the first time, and that reach adds to how far I can go with my music. I’m making new friends with this record and just expect that with this album, the things that independent Akeem couldn’t do, it’s now all possible.”
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