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Paradise took a year to write and another six months to record because TheLionCityBoy wanted to make it sound as authentically local as possible for a hip hop album.

Local rapper wants to go beyond performing

Sep 30, 2016 5:50 AM

IF Dick Lee's The Mad Chinaman was the quintessential Singapore album of the last century, then TheLionCityBoy's (TLCB) Paradise would be this millennium's equivalent.

Released digitally in late August, it features the local rapper, whose real name is Kevin Lester, busting rhymes about life in, where else, but our garden state.

The nine songs reference everything from the City Harvest Church scandal to the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and celebrates all things Singapore.

Paradise took a year to write and another six months to record because the TLCB wanted to make it sound as authentically local as possible for a hip hop album.

"I felt like I needed to figure out the language of the album," says the 32-year-old, before settling for street lingo which he feels all Singaporeans will understand despite our country's diverse racial mix.

Hence the rapper, who is half-Eurasian and half-Indian himself, uses Singlish terms like "yaya" throughout Paradise. The slang, which is used to dismiss somebody who acts proud, is also the title of the first single.

Yaya made it to Spotify's local Viral 50 charts, and the music video has about 55,000 views (and counting) to date.

The track features vocals from The Sam Willows' Benjamin Kheng, who is just one of the many local artistes TLCB collaborated with on Paradise.

Others include Charlie Lim, FlightSch, Gentle Bones and Aarika Lee, whom he is married to. The pair were bandmates in Lester's former band, Sixx.

On working with his peers in the industry, he says: "We all recognise something exciting is happening now (in the Singapore music scene) and it's through collaborations that we can tap into each other's musical stories and journeys - we're all growing up together."

The father of two cites the example of working with Kheng as one way some people have come to know and check out TLCB despite his material being darker than The Sam Willows' squeaky clean brand of folk-pop, and the two acts having distinctly different fan bases.

He adds the local hip hop scene "still has a long way to go" despite showing signs of growth with both TLCB and Shigga Shay now getting more mainstream recognition and airplay.

Lester, who quit his day job as a corporate executive in IT to go full-time as musician in 2010, also tries to maintain a high profile as he writes and produces under his real name when not performing as TLCB.

It is part of his efforts to be an all-rounder in the music business - like his idol Drake, a Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and actor - instead of merely being a rapper.

While signed to management company BMBX, run by The Black Eyed Peas' from 2014 for a year, TLCB spent a month working with and observing the hip hop scene in Los Angeles. The experience opened his eyes to the importance of diversifying his trade and skills.

"In America, you have a lot of artistes and repertoire (A&R) people (to develop musicians) and a lot of us can benefit from that," he notes. "We have enough artistes but we need more A&R, managers and production people to make ours a real industry. And that's what I want to be."