In many ways, the story of Pek Jin Shen—or ShiGGa Shay, as the rapper prefers to be known—is symptomatic of the odd complex Singaporeans have towards local music have in general. Ever since he first burst out on the scene in 2010 with a divisive performance on the short-lived Mediacorp production Live ‘N’ Loaded, he’s been dogged by accusations of arrogance and trying too hard to be American. Which is curious, because there’s really nothing more quintessentially Singaporean than wanting to be angmoh. But I digress.

Two years on from that first debut mixtape, ShiGGa Shay has finally dropped his debut EP, They Call Me ShiGGa, under the loving guidance of the boys from Aging Youth Records. Musically there are no left-of-field turns or surprises here—somewhat wisely, ShiGGa has opted for a safe mix of danceable beats and chunky stark synth hooks. Lead single “Let’s Roll”, for example, is an unashamedly infectious number, with just enough sonic detail to warrant repeated listens. Haters might be disappointed—that infamous NYC accent is still a heavy presence on the record, but even critics will have to grudgingly admit the pristine production values as well as the disciplined songwriting. Pek even thoughtfully lays down more hater fodder with the braggadocious number “ShiGGa ShiGGa” close to a self-parody. It’s an extended monologue intro from the angry boyfriend of a supposedly infatuated fan that toes the line between genuine ego trip and mischievous trolling—the trademark swaggering sneer is unmistakable, the flow, paced and impeccable.

There’s a rhythmic sensibility and flow on display here that suggests homework has been done studying Nas’s early material, though lyrically ShiGGa Shay isn’t quite a Rakim or a Scarface. Most of the material here is light on the wordplay and heavy in the motivational anthem territory much like Eminem’s later work, though he lacks the raw intensity Mathers is capable of summoning on command. Here and there though, hints of emotional depth peek through—towards the record’s end we start to get glimpses of the depth of emotion felt towards his family. It’s a humanizing change of pace from the typical hip-hop bragging.

One also has to admire the hard work he’s put into networking and commercial relevance, a skill sorely lacking in our rock scene.  As on Kevin Lester’s debut record Let’s Talk About Kevin Lester, Vanessa Fernandez of radio fame pops up in a sparkling cameo that makes for one of the highlights of the record, while the rapper confronts the death of his father on closing track “Echoes” alongside Singapore Idol 3 runner-up Sylvia Ratonel.  It’s a nice chunk of sincerity that perhaps might have worked better if Ratonel had dug in deeper for emotion, but the rap performance packs enough heat for two. It’s less ShiGGa Shay and more Pek Jin Shen, and if that’s the direction the emcee is headed towards then in time he just might start to fulfill his own hype yet.

(Samuel C Wee)

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