Origin stories aren’t just limited to characters in fiction. The fact is, we all have our own uniquely woven origins that shape who we are as individuals. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found individuals forged by tough upbringings as the most interesting.
Which is why I found Malaysian rapper Aman RA’s debut album, Rebel, to be so compelling. It is essentially his origin story recapped in rapid-fire verses laced with hard-hitting and witty lines.
Before going through a reimagining, Aman went by the name of Kraft. If you immediately think of a dairy product brand with the same name, you’re not far off the mark. The reason he chose the moniker was because cheddar, which is a type of cheese, meant ‘money’ in the urban slang. And money is something that Aman chases after, as he unabashedly made clear throughout his album.
During his early years as Kraft, Aman made a name for himself as one of the most formidable freestyle rappers in the battle rap scene in Malaysia and usually became the main draw to events. In his home country, he was nominated in the Best Hip-Hip/Urban Song and Song of the Year categories in the Voice Independent Music Awards (VIMA) and also coming out on top in 8TV’s WORD Rap Battle, earning the accolade as the ‘Most Valuable Poet’.
The 10 tracks on Rebel is pretty much about the trials and tribulations Aman went through to make it big as a rapper. In most of the tracks, he repeats and reminds us, almost ad nauseam, about his past living conditions – from living in low-cost flats and wanting to move into a villa, to dreaming of owning a red Ferrari (in Aman’s words, ‘Rarri’) while riding a 100cc motorbike.
“Izinkan aku memperkenalkan diri / Barangkali budak flat yang mungkin jadi Tan Sri / Hati bukan merah padi tapi merah ‘rarri / Hajat masih sama, kaya sebelum mati / Sejuta akan datang, tarik masuk entah bila / Tapi aku nak pindah keluar dari flat ke villa” – Bangun
(Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m the kid from the flats that may one day hold the title of Tan Sri / My heart isn’t red like a chilli but red like a Ferrari / My wish is to get rich before dying / I’m about to get a million (ringgit), I’m just not sure when / But I want to move out of this apartment to a villa)
But, besides his materialistic hankerings, Aman also delves into the personal and emotional challenges he faces along his journey to the ‘top’.
“Dibelai ibu tunggal dan dibelai adik-beradik / Hanya mampu senyum, dugaan bakal diharung / Yo aku cuma seorang hustler yang nak berjaya / Anak muda yang tak punya harta Yang cuba sedaya seupaya payahnya mencari rezeki” – Kita Cara Kita
(I was raised by a single mother and siblings / I can only smile at the challenges that I’m about to face / Yo! I’m just a hustler that wants to succeed / A youngster that doesn’t have any assets who is doing everything he can to find fortune)
The album showcases Aman’s aptitude for spitting fire, dropping witty lyrics carried by infectious beats that will make you want to bust a move. The song Bangun is especially notable – the opening track is a lively combo of jazzy beats and the sounds of brass, strings and percussion.
For the more upbeat tracks, Aman injects his most braggadocious swagger into them. His style of delivery has been compared to the late Tupac Shakur, which I feel isn’t too far off.
Much like Tupac, Aman demonstrated deftness in slipping out of bravado into a more laid-back style of rapping, even a little bit of singing. The toned-down delivery provides a much-welcomed breather, and is most heartfelt in tracks like Cinta Atau Cita Cita (Love or Ambition), Berada (Wealthy), and Tabah (Perseverance). Through the emotional bars, he delves into realisations about how despite his hopes for fame and fortune, what’s more important is counting his blessings and keep fighting even after multiple failures.
“Tak perlu iri hati, rezeki sama rata / Anak bini riang, sihat hati senang / Rasa syukur cukup makan minum pagi petang / Masa lapang jumpa kengkawan dan berketawa” – Berada
(There’s no need to be jealous, fortunes are all the same / The wife and kids are healthy and happy / I feel blessed that I get to enjoy meals / To still have the time to hangout with friends)
However, when compared to the subject matters Tupac would rap about (racism, police brutality and politics), Aman’s brand of music is quite sanitised and tame. The only subject matter both rappers share are the hustle and hardships to leave behind the life of poverty and also inspiring fans that they too can achieve critical acclaim if they fight and work hard for their dreams.
Out of all 10 tracks, the one that I find most relatable, which also happens to be my favourite in the entire album, is Cinta Atau Cita-cita. Aman paraphrases his grandmother’s advice to him about working hard and chasing his dreams instead of blindly chasing after love once he comes of age into a catchy and inspirational song. This is exactly the same advice I received from my own grandmothers when I was growing up, and it leaves me with a sense of melancholy yet puts a smile on my face as I reminisce about the conversations we had on the subject of girlfriends and careers.
All in all, Aman RA’s Rebel is worthy of a close listen – you may find yourself reflecting on your own journey to success. Or, you can just bop your head along to the fun beats.
By the way, this album is also great for parties! Every time Aman says “Budak Flat”, you and your friends take a shot of alcohol or eat something nasty.