Ask anyone about Singaporean rappers and just a few names probably come to mind.
The hip-hop and rap scene in Singapore, albeit rich and happening, remains small even as these genres become increasingly popular around the world.
Sheikh Banafe, whose freestyle raps and remixes trended on Twitter last year, told Youth.SG that he is putting in his all to become the next big rapper, despite the small hip-hop scene in Singapore.
From creating remixes to releasing his own music
The 17-year-old first started rapping as a hobby in March last year by putting his own spin on popular rap songs like 'Icon' by Jaden Smith and 'Panda' by Desiigner.
What started off as a hobby quickly became a side hustle as his videos started gaining popularity online. His remix of 'Panda' has over 460,000 views on his Instagram alone.
Sheikh only listens to rap music and cites American rappers like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem as his biggest inspirations.
PHOTO CREDIT: SHOTBYZIM'S INSTAGRAM
Despite the popularity of his videos, the rapper shared that he had some reservations when he first started rapping: "I was actually deeply afraid of being judged as the hip-hop scene in Singapore is really small, so I started off by releasing one-minute freestyles on Instagram first."
Once his remixes got social media attention, it did not take long before Sheikh released his first single, 'Bless Up' in June 2019.
Embed YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g07zjnr5kBk
Sheikh shared that 'Bless Up' was a way for him to show his appreciation to his supporters for their encouragement towards his music. Releasing his first single also made him feel like an "official" musician.
"I felt that it was the first step to actually becoming an artist, instead of 'the kid who just remixes songs on Instagram'. It felt amazing seeing the amount of love that one song received alone," he added.
Since then, Sheikh has performed at numerous events including OKLETSGO's stand-up comedy show and the Asia Pitstop Series in 2019. He also released different freestyle raps as well as another single, 'Fact or Fiction', in January 2020.
Inspired by Sheikh's own rap journey, 'Fact or Fiction', has over 14,000 views since its drop early this year.
Sheikh Banafe performed live at the Mak Besar Powerhouse Market event last February.
PHOTO CREDIT: ZIMPORTRAITZ'S INSTAGRAM
Raising awareness about important issues through rap
Sheikh shared that putting his craft out there and receiving positive responses in return is "honestly one of the greatest feelings in the world".
"It's great especially since it's my passion and people love it. I finally feel that my words are actually impactful and it means a lot to people," said the engineering student from ITE College East.
When asked what else he enjoys about rap, Sheikh said that rapping allows him to shed light on important social issues.
"My favourite thing about rap is being able to use it as a platform for me to raise awareness on important issues, such as Islamophobia and police brutality," he explained.
He also felt that it is his responsibility as a rapper to speak out about these issues: "I adopt the culture of hip-hop, which comes from African-American culture. It's really sad to see them getting racially profiled."
His freestyle rap about the aforementioned issues garnered about 4.4 million views on his Instagram recently.
Sheikh also rapped about COVID-19, encouraging people to take care of their hygiene and stay home.
PHOTO CREDIT: SHEIKH BANAFE
Balancing school while pursuing a rap career
Although Sheikh has been producing music since 2019, he admitted struggling to balance his rapping career while still going to school.
"I wasn't good at balancing time between rap and my studies. It may sound easy, but trust me, it's really hard. I'm still working on it," shared Sheikh, who sat for his 'O' levels last year.
To carve out time for his passion, Sheikh would work on his music at night before going to bed. Despite his busy schedule, Sheikh is hopeful his hard work and passion will pay off.
He shared that his motivation to create new music comes from the people around him who give him "100 per cent support on rap". His mother, who told him to focus on his 'O' level exams initially, doesn't shy away from showing her support now.
"The craziest thing is that I'd wake up some days and hear my mom cleaning the house with my songs blasting on the speaker," ️said Sheikh, who is currently assembling a home studio to make more music.
Ultimately, Sheikh hopes he can inspire people and change the mindset that "Singaporean rappers cannot go far".
"If my skills, enthusiasm and hard work for rapping grows consistently, I honestly see myself becoming an international artiste in the next five years. Of course it's going to take a lot of hard work and marketing knowledge, but that's where I see myself at!" added Sheikh.
BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: RINA.KOZUKI'S AND SHEIKH BANAFE'S INSTAGRAM
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