What started as a spoken word poetry for her best friend, turned into a freestyle that went viral on Twitter. Within a year, SYA became the first female rapper signed under the Southeast Asian division of Def Jam Recordings. It is home to hip-hop icons like Jay-Z, Nas and Kanye West.
With two singles under her belt, the Kuala Lumpur-born starlet is now making waves in the Malaysian rap scene for her smooth bars and snazzy image. Serious Women got up close and personal with the rising musician to discuss her creative process, impostor syndrome and the ups and downs of being a creator.
SYA on being discovered by SonaOne and Joe Flizzow
“It felt like I was plucked out of nowhere!” says the 25-year old about the outcome of her viral freestyle track called KIKA, based on Takashi69’s song. “I had no idea my first attempt at freestyling would hit. Then I dropped a few more tracks but the one that got my foot in the door was when I dropped the Berzerk freestyle, that’s when Sona reached out to me and told me to come by the studio.”
Upon her entry into showbiz, SYA shares her own concerns as a newbie. “Independent artists have to produce, master and mix to make the product. On top of that they have to come with the budget, the video and the marketing schemes. I do all of that, but I have the label to back me up financially. That’s why I struggle with impostor syndrome, thinking about those who have done this for a longer time than I have.”
Eager to prove herself to the underground scene and also the mainstream market, the young artist found comfort and confidence through a community of like-minded musicians. “At one point in our career, we just feel like quitting because our passion is slowly turning into a job. We all share this fear that it might turn into this superficial thing and forget why we’re here in the first place. Even experienced artists feel insecure so it was reassuring to know that we all share the same struggle.”
“The stage has always been a safe space where I can express myself,” says SYA. “Once I started doing more music, my impostor syndrome lessened because I realised that I have been creating this entire time, it’s just that I never released it. I’ve always been someone’s writer and composer so I’ve never been in the forefront. I feel less bad knowing that I’ve been doing this for a while too.
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Being a female rapper in unprecedented times
SYA’s first single, PrettyGirlBop featuring Singaporean rapper Yung Raja, has amassed over 100k views since its release. “I came into music during the pandemic, and that’s challenging enough because I didn’t get to record my first single with Yung Raja in the studio, I had to do it via Facetime! It’s a funny situation to be in for a new artist. I stopped trying to shit on myself for not doing enough because of that experience.”
On her other pursuits, SYA candidly shares about the burnouts she faced as a creator in 2021—juggling her day job as a copywriter and making music at the same time. “I just want to make this clear to anybody who wants to get into music: Just because you are signed does not mean you are gonna make tons of money like what you see in the States.”
Def Jam Southeast Asia’s first female rapper adds, “ I eventually want to become a full time musician but to be able to put food on my table, especially during the pandemic when shows were completely put off the table, I had to take a job to survive and there’s no shame in working double jobs!”
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All hail Madame SYA
Top energy, sexy and sassy are the three words SYA used to describe her persona. Growing up with 90s R&B, Sya also draws inspiration from her surrounding culture and hopes to collaborate with Malaysian songstress Yuna one day. Describing her sound as a blend of divine feminine energy and masculine energy, SYA’s artistry is most evident in the music video for her second single MADAME.
“I knew what I wanted with MADAME and I’ve always loved incorporating classic Malay with modern Malay. Parts of it had something to do with representing my culture, but beyond that, I just love that look on myself. It’s such an elegant era and there was less of an Islamic restriction on women during the Saloma era.”
She continues, “The girls in the music video are also my friends, because they are the reason why I became Madame. Their inclusion was a genuine thought process, without worrying about societal views and pressure on women and just genuine acceptance of their beauty. I feel like that energy will translate to people effortlessly.”
A natural fashionista, SYA has always been in control of how she wants to present herself to the world. From writing lyrics to conceptualising her own music videos, it’s clear that this rising star is not one to shy away from bold and experimental attempts.
The journey continues for SYA
When asked about what she looks forward to next, SYA says, “I definitely want to perform more. Doing on-ground performances help people understand me better because it’s not easy for my music to penetrate the domestic market, due to my music’s western influences.”
Acknowledging the long journey that lies ahead in her career, SYA admits that she still needs to establish herself more to the audience. She likens the music industry to ‘jumping into a pool of sharks’.
“The creative economy depends on what’s going on around us. The pandemic shifted the way people think, the way people purchase things and people’s attention spans. Creators can’t just put something out there and expect people to like it, there’s so many aspects and that’s what makes the creative industry challenging.”
Despite the obstacles, SYA still maintains optimism and holds tightly onto her core values.
“You go into music for the experience then your whole journey of being an artist is more in depth. When you network with the right people and establish long-term relationships, then it’s going to be worthwhile.”