As one of the first Malaysian female rappers, Zamaera inspired a whole generation of femcees in her country. The artist told us about her journey in hip hop, her feminism and her post-lockdown projects.
How and when were you introduced to hip hop?
My first memories of hip hop dates back to the early 2000s. My parents were avid music listeners, so my dad would always burn CDs with an array of different music genres. And right after Aerosmithʼs classic, I Donʼt Want To Miss A Thing, track 4 was Missy Elliottʼs Get Your Freak On. Weʼd sing together as a family on long road trips and everybody knew the lyrics by heart.
But funnily enough, somewhere between 2002 and 2015, I wasnʼt really consciously listening to hip hop let alone recognizing the genre as something Iʼd pursue in the future. I listened to the radio and was born in the age of the growing world wide web so I memorized a lot of songs that I resonated with sonically.
Only in 2016 did I actually start combining my love for poetry and rhythm together and analyzing lyrics in-depth, which sparked my true curiosity into the world of hip hop.
How did you start rapping?
I entered this cypher competition in December 2016 hosted by Red Bull and I think was the only female MC amongst 50 male participants. And I ended up placing 2nd, so I think thatʼs what pushed me out of my comfort zone and to explore rap as a form of art.
I was signed to a local hip hop label for a while as a singer, so I was constantly exposed to rap in particular. I never really took a large interest in rapping but it grew on me. The switching of flows, the cadences, wordplay and most importantly the message. You know, then I went on to release my first ever single Helly Kelly, which really opened my doors to new found opportunities as well as building my name as rapper.
Which artists did you listen to while growing up?
Oh wow I listened to so many artists. I remember loving Celine Dion and Britney Spears but I was also very exposed to some great bands such as Queen, The Police, Aerosmith… Almost no particular hip hop artist with the exception of Missy Elliott, but from age 17 onwards, I was listening to the greats, Tupac, Nas, Lauryn Hill, Eminem. I felt that their lyrics were so in-line with my own personal experiences.
Did you receive any musical training ?
Classical piano training up till grade 4 and a little bit of self-taught guitar thanks to YouTube and Ultimate Guitar.
I went for my first vocal training class in the middle of 2017, when I was signed to an artist development program and itʼs been really helpful for live performances. I never thought to go for vocal classes because I thought I was pretty good, but boy was I wrong haha.
You know, the best kind of investment are the ones you do for yourself. So I do wish I had gone for vocal training at a younger age but you make the best out of the cards thats been dealt.
How did your win at the 2016 Red Bull Blend impact your career?
Well it impacted my career a huge deal because there werenʼt any strong female rappers in Malaysia at that time. And to be the only girl in a sea of men, some of which were seasoned battle rappers or known artists in the industry, I think a lot of people were surprised. And everyone was on the lookout. Everyone wanted to see what I was going to do next.
And then when I dropped Helly Kelly, everything sort of exploded (in a good way). I was being offered to play for shows and record deals, but for me the most important thing that happened from then was the rise of female MCs in Malaysia.
Your track Wanita celebrates modern Malaysian women. Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, how would you define your own feminism?
Yes I very much do consider myself a feminist. Since I was young girl, I had always been an advocate for equality in everything that I did, which I think was a key tool in driving my career in a male-dominated industry.
I never allowed anyone to look down upon me because of my gender and pursuing rap helped open a lot of the industryʼs eyes about giving women the same treatment and respect, not only when it comes to hip hop, but also in exercising economic and social rights. Especially when you put in the same amount of hours and generate the same amount of skill, and if not same then more. I mean, I say whatever I want to say in my music and I donʼt constrict myself to any boundaries set by society. We all set our own boundaries and we define our own selves.
Wanita is a great song not just for women but also for men to look at the women figures of their life, be it their sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, and to identify the roles that they have played for us. How their love and empathy have shaped us and without women, life wouldnʼt be as colorful.
If someone doesnʼt know your music and wants to discover it, which track would you advise them to listen to first and why?
I would say Helly Kelly. I think that song just defines me as an artist. There are punchlines after punchlines and a lot of wordplay and switch of flows. And plus itʼs very high energy with the grime-y horns and drum pattern and comes with a no-budget homemade video around my hood !
Female rappers seem to be very active on the Malaysian hip hop scene. Is that so? How are they perceived by the audience?
There has definitely been an increase in female rappers within the Malaysian hip hop scene since the past couple of years. Hip hop in this country is well received within the masses and for the most part, people are responding very positively towards more women rapping, which Iʼm very excited about.
Who are your female role models?
My mother and my grandmother are women that I look up to. Iʼve been extremely blessed to be able to grow up around them, consistently as power figures, to learn from their journeys and instill their strength within my own self. Just listening to my grandmotherʼs stories about her walking almost 10 kilometers a day to go to work as a seamstress and then treating her family members to the movies in the 1950s is pretty mental.
And my mother, oh my god my mother, she is superhuman. Like there are days when Iʼve felt completely overwhelmed by being in the music industry and certain things have slowed me down, mentally and emotionally, but you know, I just look at my mum and see how sheʼs completed her 5km run and chi qong practice in the morning, and went to the supermarket, came back and cooked 5 dishes in 2 hours and continues to be the backbone of the family, it just keeps me going and pushing everyday.
And Beyonce and J-Lo too, even though Iʼve never met them but to get to where they have gone to. I aspire to be as disciplined and as successful as them.
What are your upcoming projects?
Iʼm always creating content on my social media especially 1 minute rap videos as that is a standing favorite but currently with the Coronavirus pandemic, my projects for singles and EPs have been put on hold but once the Restricted Movement Order has been lifted, I will most certainly be releasing new songs. Some of which Iʼll be featuring amazing artists from all across the Asian region!
What do you think about Madame Rap? What should be changed or improved?
I think this platform is a super great way to discover new female rappers!! There are so many from all across the globe and it makes me happy to know that we are much more connected than we think.