Subhas Nair, an Indian-Singaporean whose career has been buzzing in Singapore, has attracted thousands of fans for his bold rap on controversial and sensitive topics, including racial issues.
But his work with his sister Preeti has also caught the attention of the tightly controlled city authorities.
“I’m here to stand up for my community and as a rapper my role is to speak the truth to power – not just for my people but for all of us living in capitalism and this authoritarian regime people,” the 29-year-old Subhash Sr. told Al Jazeera. “The mainstream media can say what they want – they’re the mouthpiece of the country anyway; a country where money is the mother tongue.”
Subhash’s rhythm aims to amplify the voices of what he calls disenfranchised “brown people” through subversive witty humour.
Nearly 75% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, but the island is also home to Malay-Muslims, Indians and other ethnic minorities.
Subhas’ debut album Not a Public Assembly (2018) tackles a range of local socio-political issues, from conflicting notions of masculinity to growing up as a low-income minority — all of which Subhas has experienced first-hand.The rapper is also involved in justice-focused mutual aid work Migrant Workers – many of them from Bangladesh and India – and they are one of the most disenfranchised communities in Singapore.
There seems to be a sharp wit and eloquence in the family: Preeti – better known as YouTube counter-influencer Preetipls – not only raps, but is a proud “plus-size” woman; model is the exact opposite.
Released in 2018, Preetipls’ debut single, THICC, is an ode to plus-size femininity and an attack on the male-dominated, Western-influenced standards of hip-hop.
For our second version of the IWD video feature, we have @plspreeti ❤️ Her wise words about the importance of intersectionality!
— Universal Music Singapore 🎮 (@universalmusg) March 17, 2022
“When I was growing up, there was hardly any plus-size exposure to hip-hop music that I was exposed to, unless it was seriously over-sexed,” Preetipls told Al Jazeera. She has 41,500 Instagram followers and a YouTube channel with over 16,000 subscribers.
“THICC is about how I feel about my body on a good day and how THICC girls like me thrive in the spotlight.”
However, the duo’s growing profile as witty social commentators also eventually overshadowed their caustic rhymes.
battle with ethnic windmills
The Nairs first broke the law in July 2019 when they uploaded a homemade rap video in response to a Singapore government advertisement for an electronic payment service featuring Chinese-Singaporean actor Dennis Chew. brown face impersonating an Indian.
Nairs’ swearing video – a remix of Australian rapper Iggy Azalea’s song F**k It Up – targeted Chinese Singaporeans, accusing them of privilege, racism and exploitation of Indians and other ethnic minorities.
The video was quickly taken down, but Subhash was given a two-year conditional warning for allegedly trying to incite hostility between Chinese Singaporeans and the island’s ethnic minorities. Subhash has been warned that he will be charged if he is convicted of any similar crime again.
Chew also apologised for participating in the commercial, dressed as a Malay woman wearing a headscarf, and the e-payment company said it was sorry.
Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which oversees the industry, said that while the ad had poor taste and “offended” ethnic minorities, it did not violate local internet codes of practice.
Still, Niles’ video does appear to have had some positive effects.
“I have not seen a ‘blackface’ incident in Singapore since the incident,” said Preetipls. “Before the ‘blackface’ video, mainstream media was completely inadequate in covering racial issues, and it is still the alternative/independent media that regularly report racist incidents.”
Despite the warnings, Subas posted in July 2020 a response to a video of Chinese Christians making hate speech against another community.
That October, he also commented on a brutal brawl that killed Satheesh Gobidass, a 31-year-old Indian-Singapore man, at Orchard Building, one of the city-state’s first retail centres now known for its shady nightlife.
The final straw that broke the authorities was last March 11, when Subhas decorated the stage with a cartoon about the Orchard Tower incident at the launch of the album Tabula Rasa at the now-closed alternative culture space The Substation.
On November 1, 2021, Subhash was charged with four counts of attempting to incite enmity between different ethnic groups in Singapore over religious and racial issues, with police saying the rapper violated the conditions of a previous warning.
With the Preetipls company, Subhas showed little remorse.
He walked to court wearing a T-shirt with his face on it. nagan tranda maringama 34-year-old Malaysian-Indian man was on death row after being convicted of drug trafficking.
Lawyers for Nagaenthran argue that he is too mentally handicapped to make informed decisions.Last appeal to stop his execution rejected, Nagaenthran charged hanged last month.
“Only I made the most of this platform and focused on the collective work before us to abolish the death penalty and save the lives of Naga and everyone on death row,” Subhash told Al Jazeera.
“In Singapore, so many groups are displaced, disenfranchised and systematically targeted. As I’ve said before on the track, it feels like ‘the gallows is the only place we’re represented.'”
rap in a tough place
The crackdown on Nairs is just the latest example of how Singapore regulates the most rebellious forms of pop music and culture – as recently as 2019, Swedish black metal group Watain Singapore debut cancelled Due to complaints from local Christian groups – as well as satire and social commentary.
In 2021, a series of events has reignited debate over the nature of the city-state’s ethnic relations. The 1964 race riots About 22 people were killed and hundreds were injured.
In one incident, a Chinese man kicked an Indian woman in the chest and uttered racial slurs as he did so, while in another, an older Chinese man was seen in a park with an interracial couple The couple confronts each other, questioning their relationship. Weeks later, a Malay woman was jailed for insulting an Indian woman on a public bus.
Guy in Singapore t-shirt really said “I think it’s racist for an Indian to marry a Chinese” WTFF
Credit: FB/Dave Park Ash pic.twitter.com/gqvtzU7uqh
— YEOLO™ (@tzehern_) June 6, 2021
After the incident went viral on social media, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong admitted that Singapore “saw more [racist incidents] There have been more cases than usual in previous months,” adding that it was “probably due to the stress of COVID-19”.
Wong stressed that Singapore is still a multiracial society and does not “depreciate” diversity, but “we embrace and celebrate it”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong devoted a third of his National Day speech in 2021 to issues of race and religion, saying the majority must be more sensitive to minority concerns. He also announced a new Racial Harmony Act to encourage people to live better together.
“The law itself may not make people get along better,” Lee said. “But the law can show what our society thinks is right or wrong and push people to behave better over time.”
After considering a guilty plea, Subhash decided to go to trial on the charges against him.
Court date to be determined.
“I don’t fantasize about wealth or fame,” Subhash said. “I just want to be honest with the power and run as hard as I can while the baton is still in my hands.”