A few months ago, the inaugural class of Yale-NUS took their final steps through college, leaving with their degrees and a lifetime’s worth of memories. One of them is Subhas Nair, having majored in Urban Studies.
You would expect him to be bustling around the Central Business District (CBD) now, navigating the corporate world.
Instead, Subhas Nair is an independent rapper.
How He Fell In Love With Rap Music
“I don’t actually remember how old I was when I first started listening to rap music, it just feels like I’ve been listening to rap as far back as I can remember. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, and but rap has always given me a vocabulary for words that were unsaid but which I have experienced so viscerally in life.”
He added that while attending Hwa Chong Junior College, there was always an underlying sense of dislocation that he felt as a low-income ethnic minority – in a school dominated by mostly upper middle class Chinese students.
On top of that, his father left the family a week before his 18th birthday.
“I remember no one lending us a helping hand when he left, and we were living paycheck to paycheck. From the moment he left, I had to step up and help out so when I look back at my ‘childhood’, all I can recall are moments where a kid had to figure out and play the role of an adult. So, it felt like my experiences then were expressed vicariously through these musicians and their songs.”
Rap stood out to him as a young person – he felt like he was in conversation with his idols. He resonated a lot with the marginalized voice in hip hop and rap music because it was to him, a voice of anger and empowerment.
“I was on 5 different hip hop sites every single day, downloading and listening to a whole bunch of rappers: Jim Jones, Juvenile, 50 Cent, Nelly, Eminem and so on. I would always dig into the lyrics, trying to find out what was going on and how it related to what they saying.”
Making A Career Choice
As everyone else was applying for jobs in their last year of university, he started thinking about what was truly important to him. For him, he felt that his calling was to create and to express himself through the medium that he himself had loved for such a long time – rap music.
Other than his creative talents in rap and lyricism, Subhas’ need to create can also be seen from other facets of his life. He wants to, as he says, “squeeze every drop out of the orange, and get as much out of this life as possible.”
Other than his life as a musician, he is working on an augmented reality application that promotes historical education and engages with the Substation on their Concerned Citizens Program, which involves the study of the ways that urban space is utilized and how it can be improved.
He also juggles multiple part-times jobs to fund his music – this ranges from coaching basketball to tutoring kids, to working as a research assistant for a professor in NYU-Abu Dhabi.
Subhas The Persona
“My music explores many themes, but one overarching one is the constant struggle between who I am and who I aspire to be. I am not trying to tell people how to think, but instead, I am sharing how I see the world.”
My music is not just me; Subhas is just the persona. I am trying to be as authentic as I can in that persona, but it is the name behind something that takes a lot of effort, energy, love, and collaboration to complete. No one is an island.
While mentioning that his songs are for Singaporeans, he admits that his music has to be open-ended so that others can attach their own experiences to it.
“You are going to hear that I’m Singaporean through my accent, and the themes I grapple with. But the mark of a great artist is when your content can speak to everyone but also has wrinkles that certain groups can resonate with, and different meanings to different people in different contexts.”
Subhas’ Future Plans
Currently, Subhas is putting out singles as part of a mixtape, and he has released two tracks, ‘Red Dot’, and a remix of ‘Location’. A third track called ‘Man on a Mission’ will be released in mid-October. He’ll also be spending a few months in USA soon where he hopes to network and collaborate on even more music.
Eventually, I want to be remembered as someone whose content of character outlives any mixtape or album I put out, and I want to do as much as I can in the little amount of time I have in this world to leave it a better place than when I entered it.