Hip-hop is one of the most malleable music genres. What first started out as a medium for political activism against police brutality and racism slowly expanded into something everyone from all walks of life have utilised to tell stories about life, love, and even injustices in the world (while making everyone dance at the same time!). From M.I.A. to Lil Pump, Tupac to Migos, and Logic to Tyler The Creator, every hip-hop artist brings their own unique spin on this genre.
This genre has definitely impacted the lives of these four Malaysians as well, who found their voices through hip-hop and decided to form a band. MassMusic, made up of Alan (Songwriter and Co-Producer), Ilyas (Vocals and Songwriter), Ming (Music Producer and Audio Engineer), and Midnight (DJ, Hypeman, and Songwriter), is an independent new wave hip-hop group straight out of KL and they’re pushing boundaries with their music, tackling toxic relationships, all while making sure everyone is having a good time.
We sat down with MassMusic (sans Midnight) at their studio recently to talk about their new album MassMusic Vol.1, their hopes for Malaysia’s music industry, and where they see themselves in the future as artists. Here’s what they shared with WORLD OF BUZZ:
How did you guys get started as MassMusic?
Alan: Well, it started off in high school. We were all into music, and we met in school, except for Midnight. He joined us a little later. We were from different cliques but we kind of bonded over our love for music and video games, typical boy stuff. After school, I got into beat-making and Ming also became really interested in that and sort of took over while I started songwriting with Ilyas. I couldn’t sing, so rap was the next thing, and that was how we all got started.
Describe your music in 3 words.
Alan: That’s all so basic! [Everyone laughs] Hmm… I think “dark” is a good word because our recent work matches that vibe.
You guys identify your sound as ‘New Wave Hip-Hop’. Is there a reason for that specific label?
Alan: With the new school and new wave of hip-hop, it’s less about telling a story, and more about making you feel things and the songs’ vibes.
Ilyas: We try to portray emotion more with the tone and sound used, rather than just using words to do so.
What’s the hardest thing about working together in a band?
Alan: Mostly, it’s showing up (to the studio) on time! [Laughs] We don’t have that many creative differences, unless on the occasion that someone storms out of the room. We have a collective thought about what sounds best in a song, so no one holds grudges if someone’s ideas get rejected during the creative process.
Ming: We usually get along most of the time, so there’s not much conflict. However, when it comes to difficult things with administrative work, things can be a little challenging since we’re independent.
Ilyas: I guess because we’re so close, we’re not professional enough sometimes.
Are you all full-time musicians? If yes, are there any challenges you face pursuing this full-time?
All: Yes, we all do this full-time.
Alan: I’m still in university studying marketing. I have one more subject left to go then after I graduate, I’ll be pursuing this full-time. I guess it’s not that hard to balance it out as a student because I just don’t go to class! [Laughs]
Ilyas: One of the challenges definitely has to do with money. Especially being independent, building your own name from nothing takes a toll; plus, when you put so much work into your music and nobody listens to it, that can be quite hard to take as well.
Alan: Yeah, it’s just creating awareness and making people care about the art you make. Plus, we’re not into shoving it down people’s throats, but the con in that is that people are not aware (about our art) as much as they should be, so things like that can be a little demotivating. That being said, there are pros and cons to being independent.
What can Malaysian listeners expect from your album? What do you hope people feel when they listen to MassMusic Vol.1?
Ilyas: The basic theme of this album is toxic relationships, so relationships that are bad for you but you don’t want to leave at the same time.
Alan: It’s almost like you’re walking into a trap but you’re doing it willingly. You know you’re going to get hurt, but there’s a sliver of love or validation that you seek and still get despite being hurt. A lot of songs go back and forth from both men and women being the victim. It’s like a toxic proclamation of love.
Ilyas: It doesn’t even apply to romantic relationships, it can even apply to love for substances and things like that for people to relate to.
What was the entire album-making process like? How long did it take?
Ilyas: It was all over the place! [Everyone laughs]
Ming: It took us about a year to get it done. We were back at our old studio at that time. I was just making beats and hearing stories from people around us and got inspired by their lives.
Alan: We were working on different songs with different vibes, we made happier stuff, but I figured it was more digestible for us to go on a path and delve deeper on one topic. So, this is some dark stuff. We would always run lyrics by each other too.
How has the general response to your album been like so far?
Ilyas: There was one local portal who actually gave us quite a bad review, we were the second album they ever reviewed. [Laughs]
Alan: Yeah, the gave us a 5.5 out of 10, and I remember the critique was that some of our songs were “puzzling”. That’s fine though, people are entitled to their own opinions, but that was a little shady, lah! [Everyone laughs] However, we do get the occasional message from fans who tell us that our music really helped them through some tough times, so we do appreciate that. Some people in the industry have also cosigned us and dropped by our studio so it’s nice to get recognised. We just want to keep making our art and try not to pay attention to negative comments.
What are your thoughts on the local hip-hop scene and Malaysia’s music scene in general?
Ming: I feel like there’s a lot of talent here that’s very untapped.
Alan: There’s a lot of talent, but there’s also a lack of a support system here. There’s a huge discrepancy with that, so I feel like with more platforms coming through to support the talent, that would really see a rise in awareness of local artists.
Who are your musical inspirations and why?
Ming: Led Zepplin, Avenged Sevenfold, The Beatles, and Travis Scott.
Alan: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Dream Theater, Rage Against The Machine; I was really into rock music at first and started out playing the drums. Then, I started getting into rap when I wanted to express myself further and get over stuttering by using my voice (in music). I was a fan of Nas, Travis Scott, Wiz Khalifa, Kid Cudi, Mac Miller, Kanye West, Young Thug, and Lil Uzi Vert.
Ilyas: The Libertines, The Strokes, Radiohead. We never really listened to hip-hop back in the day. Kid Cudi was the first from that genre that got me into it.
So, you’ve been listening to rock for much longer, why the decision to do hip-hop over rock music?
Ming: For me, it was hip and cool. And it was the thing we were listening to the most when we started out in production, too.
Alan: Also from a logical point of view, for rock, you would need to record drums and other live instruments and that’s really expensive. For hip-hop, you can get programmes and make your own beats so it’s much more practical.
If you had the chance to collaborate with any artist of your choice on one song, who would it be and why?
Ming: Swae Lee definitely, and the late Mac Miller.
Alan: With hip-hop, definitely Swae Lee. In general, maybe Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix.
Ilyas: Right now, I think Young Thug and Travis Scott.
Any personal music recommendations you have for our readers?
Alan: Listen to Nas’ album ‘Illmatic’, Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Paris Tokyo’, Kendrick Lamar.
Ilyas: Lupe Fiasco. His writing is really poetic.
Ming: Yeah, pretty much the same; Biggie, Tupac, all the OGs.
Where do you guys see MassMusic heading in the next 5 years?
All: Definitely going international.
Alan: That’s one of our goals, for sure.
Ilyas: But we definitely need Malaysia to back us up on that.
Any other exciting things MassMusic has in the works?
Ming: We have two music videos coming up. One music video is dropping on Halloween, (31st October) and we just filmed another one for our song, Samantha that’s coming out in November. We also have an event coming up on 10th November at ArtBox.
What advice would you give to local musicians who want to pursue music full-time?
Ilyas: [Jokingly whispers] Don’t do it! [Everyone laughs] But honestly, learn to utilise social media especially when you’re starting out.
Alan: Be prepared to sacrifice relationships, lose some friends, and even lose touch with reality sometimes. You have to detach yourself and that can mean not being able to be there, so you’re going to miss birthdays, family functions and things like that. If you’re really serious, you’re going to go through these things but if you’re making strides, being productive and improving yourself in the studio, know that you’re on the right path, despite burning bridges with friends and sometimes family. Don’t lose hope; people give up too early, but they could do more.
Ming: As independent artists, definitely study the business and learn how to promote yourself. We’re still learning now, but it’s very useful information to have.
Curious about MassMusic’s sound yet? #SapotLokal by listening to their debut album, MassMusic Vol.1 and check out their latest music video produced by JUA Establishment!
Also read: This Local Experimental Band is the Future of the Malaysian Music Industry