Malaysian indie rap artist Tang Eu-Jin, aka Jin Hackman, has collaborated with AirAsia on a special Chinese New Year video. Read on to learn about Jin Hackman’s take on the growing Asian hip-hop scene, as well as not being able speak in his own mother tongue!
Your stage name is clearly a play on the actor Gene Hackman – why did you decide to go with that name?
It was super random, to be honest. My mentor back then, Azwan (WordsManifest), and I were talking one day and he jokingly called me Jin Hackman. I needed a new stage name (the one I had at the time – Incognito – was so cheesy), so I decided to just roll with it. And the name stuck, I guess.
What made you fall in love with the art of hip-hop in the first place, and who were your musical influences growing up?
It was after listening to Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP – I was blown away by the lyrical content. Rappers always have a unique way of looking at things. There’s also that element of rebellion, which I thought was pretty cool (I was 13 or 14 years old at the time). Growing up, I also listened a lot to Nas. He’s still one of my biggest musical influences.
You joined Malaysian online forum The Basement.com where you met like-minded folks inrerested in your genre of music – did that platform change the way you saw the future of hip-hop in Malaysia?
The forum certainly got me trying my hand at rapping. It made me realise that there were others like me here in Malaysia, which was kinda rad! I’ve met most of them in person (through gigs), and a few have become my closest friends.
Your yearly rap-ups about Malaysia are extremely popular – what is usually the most challenging aspect of composing these verses?
Trying to recall in December what happened in January! But seriously, it’s tackling the darker/heavier subjects. It’s always easier to just call out someone on something silly they did. But when it’s something that affects people on a deeper level, that’s when I have to be careful. I approached the latest rap-up a little differently. I wrote my lyrics more subtly, visual cues were also less obvious – my fear with this, however, is that viewers could have missed some of the references.
You are spearheading the hip-hop project Raising the Bar, now in its seventh year. How has the scene changed since the project first started in 2010?
It’s changed tremendously, and for the better I feel. There are more DIY artists (self-sufficiency is key) that I can keep up with and output is at an all-time high. Sonically, it’s far more diverse than before. And concerning identity, I believe Malaysia is starting to find its voice and place in hip-hop. There’s been an influx of multilingual rappers, which is great! Back then, you’d have to sound like your US counterparts to make it. Not anymore. You can just be yourself. People appreciate individuality and can tell when you’re faking it.
Asian hip-hop is really picking up. What do you think has contributed to the trend?
I think it all started with Keith Ape’s It G Ma (2015). Then a year later, Rich Chigga continued the hype with Dat Stick. Asian hip-hop has always been around, but never received the same kind of global attention these songs did. Much of Asian hiphop’s rise can also be attributed to media outlet 88Rising; their reach is amazing, and they help market the artists and videos to a wider audience. In Malaysia itself, we have young, up-and-coming artists such as Airliftz, Kidd Santhe and Zamaera pushing the envelope.
If you could have a rap battle with anyone out there, who would you go against and why?
Kanye West, and it has to be set at a lake. But really, I’m just using ‘rap battle’ as an excuse to meet him.
Do you have a ritual before you get on stage and perform?
I like watching performance videos of my favourite artists to get myself amped up. I can also be seen backstage pacing back and forth/talking loudly/rapping to myself before a show. I’m not sure why, but doing that seems to calm my nerves.
Your 2015 song Banana resonated with Malaysian audiences. What triggered the need to write the song?
I just felt like the topic had not been covered before, and I wanted to be the first to address it. It was me drawing from real life experiences, as well as taking a dig at myself and my inability to converse in Mandarin. Just a lot of self-deprecating humour! On a side note though, if you don’t know something – go learn it.
How do you intend to survive AirAsia destinations like China with your limited Mandarin language skills?
Which Chinese New Year tradition is most important to you, and why?
The traditional Chinese New Year reunion dinner for sure; getting together with family far and near. I always look forward to catching up with relatives. And there’s always that awkward moment when the last piece of chicken or prawn or squid is left on the plate. Nobody wants to be that guy who reaches for it. That’s when I step in.
What similarities do you see between your style and AirAsia’s?
We both fly!