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What a Time to be a Woman in Hip-Hop: An Introduction to Malaysian Emcee Zamaera

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If you don’t know who ZAMAERA is, you’re gonna learn today.

When you think of Malaysian culture, hip-hop doesn’t quite come to mind but rest assured the Southeast Asian country’s latest roster of emcees will unquestionably put the monarchy on the mainstream radar with rising female rapper Zamaera leading the pack – a fiery rap goddess intertwining eviscerating lyricism with rhythm and poetic justice. From spitting over trap beats to laying delicate vocals in the presence of a traditional orchestra, the 23-year-old’s versatility and artistic direction are a breath of fresh air.

KANYA IWANA

 

Tell me about your musical upbringing and introduction to hip-hop?

I was about 11 when I first played the piano. My parents had gifted me a Yamaha U1 Upright Disklavier for receiving straight A’s in Primary 6. There was something about the melodic piano keys that first ignited my curiosity in the world of playing music. Then slowly came the guitar although I never really learned more than a few chords singing, however, had always been in the picture from a very young age.

“I never dreamed of being a singer, let alone a rapper but hip-hop came to me at a very testing time of my life. It came to me when I needed an outlet to express a whirlwind of emotions and interpret life’s experiences.”

What was the first hip-hop song you heard and how did it make you feel?

Subconsciously, it was “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliot (I say subconsciously because, at that time, I was unaware of this genre being hip-hop and didn’t know much about rap). I associate this song with only the most exciting of memories because it was so commonly played during our family trips on long car rides. We knew the song by heart and my siblings and I would always make the spitting sound when she says “Silence when I spit it out…..in your face”.

Fast forward to 2012, I was seventeen years old and a friend made me listen to Tupac Shakur’s,  “All Eyez On Me” album. That was the first hip-hop album that I listened to consciously, as a whole. It was almost like an awakening. I read and re-read the lyrics (I still do) and felt as if, I shared the same frustrations, affection, basically the same feelings, as Tupac Shakur. But how could that be? It was absolutely mind-boggling and mind-blowing. That was the moment I knew how powerful music was.

Malaysia hasn’t been the most accepting of hip-hop music since the early ’90s, has the climate changed?

Yes, without a doubt. And I say this with confidence because the narrative in hip-hop has changed. Malaysians are now more exposed to other sub-genres of rap like Alternative Hip-Hop, Modern Club, Cloud Rap as opposed to only highlighting Gangsta Rap for instance and using the aggressive nature and lyrical content of that specific sub-genre to define hip-hop as a whole.

Historically, new jack swing is often infused into the Malaysian hip-hop sound, do you subconsciously find yourself blending jazz-pop beats with your lyrics?

Of course! Hip-hop is an evolution with stylistic origins from jazz, funk, disco, etc. It’s hard to run away from it because when I’m in the mode of creating, especially if I’m on the piano, I love playing a jazzy 4 chord progression and using it as a template to write a verse.

In contempt of having Southeast Asian roots, your flow as an emcee has undeniably been influenced by American hip-hop. Which part of the states has had a considerable impact on how you shaped your overall delivery?

I would say that breaking down the New York accent had helped me by leaps and bounds in my pronunciation and diction. Growing up, I was a big fan of “The Nanny” sitcom and loved making impressions of Fran Fine and I would also rap Azealia Banks’ “L8R” and “1991” to almost everything which eventually gave me an upper hand because of the clarity involved when shaping my words.

What three MC’s are included in your holy trinity of icons?

2pac (because I had a very special connection with that album and it became my bridge into hip-hop), Eminem and Lauryn Hill. In that order.

What are your thoughts on the lack of unity among female rappers? What do you think can be done to troubleshoot the growing issue?

I think the lack of unity comes from the competitive nature of women. Which competition is good to a certain extent as it challenges the female rappers to strive and really push through the pressures of this very male-dominated industry. That being said, we can always fall back on the good ol’ saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”…….or you might get called out on a track!

How is your music received by the American consumer as opposed to overseas?

So far, I’ve received many positive comments from the international crowd so I’m quite excited to see what they have to say about my upcoming EP!

Your lyrics have a lot of depth, steer me through your creative process when penning a song?

When I have the concept of the song figured out, the words come so fluidly from my thoughts and onto paper. For example, my newest single, “Z vs Z,” was based on the EP’s concept of growth and progression. Had I not been able to acknowledge and admit my mistakes and imperfections, the song would have not been written in the way because growth demands reflection and acceptance. Moving forward, I knew it was going to be really challenging to write because it’s like putting myself on blast!

“The moment I decided I was no longer afraid of admitting my weaknesses and that my past mistakes are not a representation of who I am as a person now, is the moment that everything changed. And change is progress.”

Perception is everything! People categorize others off of what they initially see. What’s one surprising fact about you that we would have never guess based on what meets the eye?

I speak German!

What can we expect to see from you before 2018 closes out?

I’m extremely excited for my first EP release! The producer, Floyd “Timeless” Thomas did such an amazing job in interpreting my thoughts and emotions into the production of the album. And being able to sing on the tracks equally as much as rap, really is the epitome of who I am.

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Progressive loungewear line ‘DAYO’ designed with sustainability and sex appeal

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Ron Hill

Yolanda White is releasing a sexy, fun loungewear line just in time for the holidays.

White has teamed up with NY-based designer, Jenni, to create the modest, 6-piece collection, entitled DAYO. Veteran singer Chilli serves as the face of the line, which represents self-love and confidence translated through sultry champagne and red, silk fabrics.

NDLYSS spoke with the DAYO visionaries recently to discuss the brand’s creative direction, the importance of working with environmentally conscious fibers, and expansion for the new year.

What did you think was missing in the market that you wanted to add  with the DAYO clothing line?

Yolanda: What I see today in terms of loungewear and sleepwear is basically [all] the same. The reality is [that] there’s no innovation that happening in the segment. What women are looking for today is something that’s more comfortable that allows them to serve the many hats that they [wear] at home in the evening.

We started envisioning an opportunity to create more functional loungewear with built-in breast support [with] more coverage around their butts, hips, and stomach. All the stuff that we don’t want to show is basically the answer that DAYO is providing in the marketplace today.

Ron Hill

What’s the idea behind DAYO and where did the name come from?

Yolanda: The name DAYO means “happiness has arrived.” It’s [about] way more than fashion and offers the opportunity to get women to a place where we love ourselves with all that we have going on.

How would you describe the design aesthetic and the consumer that the line speaks to?
Jenni: We try to stay simple and luxurious with sophisticated fabrics imported from Japan. We also try to build structure inside by designing breast and hip support even though [the line] is very flowy and comfortable.

Yolanda: [Jenny] did a fabulous job putting the product development work at the forefront so we could add in the functionality and still keep it simple. It’s hidden so you can’t see all of that detail but it provides women with a lot more.

Ron Hill

Sustainability is an important topic right now, how do you feel your brand measures up to this eco-friendly trend?

Yolanda: Sustainability is a way we have to live so as a business leader it is always at the forefront. A lot of what you see in DAYO is made with 100 percent natural fibers. In terms of packaging and the way we put the brand together is very simple. Everything is recyclable to our consumers. We’re being very conscious about delivering an experience and still being purposeful about how we want to live.

Why did you choose primarily neutral colors and reds for the collection?

Yolanda: We want women to be able to pick up the items and wear them every day. It’s something you can wear 7 days a week, ensuring that it’s something they will not get tired of. It’s easy to throw on and have as a core staple in their wardrobe. Red is the cover of love, and, of course, we want to have that for the holidays.

What prompted you to select Chilli as the face of DAYO?

Yolanda: I had the opportunity to work with Chilli for another campaign. By far, she is a woman that has achieved it all and part of it is that she stands for something that is rooted in what the brand represents. When I think of the epitome of the brand it’s someone who is beautiful and committed to themselves. She was the first person that came to mind for me. 

How was the experience wearing the clothes for the first time?

Chilli: The fabric is so soft. It has this sheen to it and when you actually touch it, it’s even softer than it looks. If you fall asleep and the next day you need to wake up and run out you can do that. I like the versatility in the line.

Ron Hill

Are the majority of the pieces transitional?

Yolanda: I think they are but I’m trying to make sure that I market them as loungewear, first and foremost. And allow consumers the flexibility to tell their own story about how they want to use [the pieces].

What are your future plans for brand expansion?

Yolanda: We are launching DAYO Essentials in March, which will be our mainstream line that will be listed at a more affordable price point. We also have additional holiday surprises that you’ll see within the signature line.

To purchase items from the DAYO collection, click here.

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Megan Davies breaks glass ceiling with poignant, vulnerable, pop records on ‘Bad Poetry’ EP

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Introduced to the world via YouTube in the summer of 2013, Megan Davies has garnered a massive fanbase–accumulating nearly 200 million views and 1.3 million subscribers. The Nashville-based singer, widely recognized for her intoxicating alt-pop voice, has since then released an impressive discography of acoustic covers leading up to her forthcoming debut EP “Bad Poetry.” 

Touching on introspective topics such as bullying, alienation, digital addiction, the polished guitar player’s musical abilities fluidly transcend through her conscious songwriting. NDLYSS spoke with Davies recently to discuss her upcoming tour, the power online promotion, and new projects for the upcoming year. 

What specific moment in your life sparked your interest in pursuing a music career?

I don’t think there was one specific moment; I kind of always just did it. I always liked doing it. I spent all my sweet time growing up and eventually when it came time to choose what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it made sense to choose music. I started playing guitar when I was 12, and that was my first instrument I was properly introduced to. I played a little piano and violin but I was terrible at it cause I didn’t practice at all. I didn’t start singing until high school – age 15, 16 – but, you know, when you’re playing guitar, you’re always singing along a little bit. For the most part when I was little, I was really shy. If people asked me to sing, I would say no. So, it definitely took a while to gain up the confidence.

YouTube was a huge part of your life. Why do you think social media is so important in this day and age to propel success?

Yeah! It’s super powerful the amount of people you can reach. You know, I’m based in Nashville, Tennessee but if you look at where people are listening to my music, it’s from all around the world. It’s amazing. And that’s the power of the internet and social media. It’s really important to find your audience and be able to communicate directly with them.

For sure. Your new single, “Gimme” centers around social media addiction. What are the dangers while you’re using it to create a name for yourself?

I think we all know there can be this dark side to social media where you’re constantly looking at this curated version of people’s lives. And you’re even curating your own life! In a sense, we’re communicating with people but there’s also a fake sort of aspect of it. We’re not connecting in a real way. It can cause a lot of isolation or low self esteem. There’s a lot of negative things – sometimes could outweigh the positive – that can come out of using social media.

Your other single, “Doesn’t Matter” is also definitely another powerfully driven song. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying sits at the forefront of our social and political climate, what does this song mean to you? And what do you think it will mean to the listeners?

Right! “Doesn’t Matter” was actually specifically written about my own experiences growing up. I felt isolated and disconnected from everything, really. You know, there was a bit of social media in high school but nothing like I’m sure kids today experience. I can only imagine the anxiety and stress they feel in high school and then on top of that, social media. That’s got to be pretty intense. There are similarities, though; the emotion is still there and I think more than ever, it makes more sense today. The story still applies to people who are in high school today or even any age. You can place so much weight on little things that you experience at a certain time. And then, as you grow and get older, you recognize those things don’t really matter or as terrible as you thought they were at one point. That’s kind of what I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older.

What is your songwriting process like?

That’s a good question. For me, it always starts on the guitar. Both of these singles are pretty built up but when I’m writing, I always have my guitar in my hand. I imagine playing them with just my guitar. And musically, things come to me pretty quickly and then it’s about putting the right story and the right emotion on top of that. So, a lot of the times, I come up with like a chord progression or a guitar part or some little melody. Then, that melody will sound sad to me or it’ll remind me of something I saw or something I felt. It goes from there. I find when I try really hard to craft it or tell the story exactly how I want to, it never ends up that way. I’ve found subconsciously it always goes in the way it wants to go.

Where do you pull inspiration from? Is there anyone who sort of helped craft your sound to what it is today?

Oh yeah, there’s a lot! It’s funny because I look back on all the phases I went through musically and I listened to a lot of punk music in high school. I really wanted to be Hayley Williams from Paramore at one point. I look back on it now and laugh because there’s no way  I’d have a voice exactly like Hayley Williams. It was a thread, though, and there’s all these little threads that become who I am today. I really love this band called Metric from Canada and Radiohead; they’re both still a huge inspiration. I also went through a big phase of playing a lot of fingerstyle instrumental music…that was interest. So, there’s definitely been many phases over the years but they’ve all culminated in what I do today like I do a lot of fingerstyle folk playing with my acoustic guitar so it all carries through to the present.

Acacia Evans

What has been your favorite part of your musical journey?

My favorite part of what I do is touring so  I guess that’s been my favorite part of everything so far. I didn’t travel a lot growing up and even my first time driving out West, I was blown away just by the landscape and scenery change. It literally took my breath away. I felt like I was on a different planet! But being able to go out there and then play my music and talk to people who listen to my music and hear about their lives and what they do; it’s kind of a magical thing. There’s a collection of little moments within that but touring, for me, is really special.

Speaking of touring, are there any fun rituals you do when you’re performing?

Post show, I always have a glass of wine. I never drink before I play because I find that I lose all my musical abilities and it’s not good for anybody. I’m not that kind of person where I can have a drink on stage or something but it’s one of my favorite things to do now. I come off the stage, sit for like ten minutes and have a glass of wine just by myself.

Wine is definitely the best way to wind down!

Yeah, it’s my go to. The combination of the wine and the adrenaline going down…it’s one of my favorite moments. And then I go out and talk to people and typically hang out at the venue. I meet people and have conversations and yeah. That’s usually my routine.

If you could tell anything to your younger self anything now, what would you tell her?

I would tell myself to slow down honestly. I think when my YouTube channel started getting bigger numbers and it was growing, I was so afraid if I stopped working at any point  that it would just collapse. It would be over and I would be spending the rest of my life wondering why I didn’t capitalize on something that was going so well for me. I had that fear so I worked and I worked and I worked. Eventually, I just burned out. I would work insane hours to the point where I couldn’t anymore. I would just be so tired. It wasn’t the healthiest way to cope with what I do, obviously. And that’s something I’m still trying to figure out – that balance. Taking moments to breathe and experience life around me and live…it’s so important.

What can we expect from you as 2018 closes and we enter 2019?

In 2019, I’ll be going on tour so I have a bunch of dates on my calendar. I’ll be going back to Europe and playing in a bunch of countries I’ve never been to. And mostly just, releasing music. The nice thing about being independent is I can put things out as I make them and you know, it shows a journey of growth musically and people keep following along with me. That’s the plan for right now!

Congratulations! Sounds exciting.

Thank you!! I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be a good year!

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Roxane Gay Loves the Fairy Tale Ending

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Jay Grabiec

Roxane Gay presents Pretty Woman at TIFF followed by a conversation about the romantic comedy genre and how the message of the film holds up 28 years later.

Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, follows Edward, a billionaire hotshot who needs an escort for some deal-making social events, and hires Vivian, a beautiful prostitute he meets on Hollywood Blvd, only to fall in love.

Since it’s release in 1990, the film continues to find a place in the hearts of many, including Roxane Gay, who remains consistent in her love for this legendary rom-com. When asked about how that love has evolved over time, Gay says, “what I appreciated when the movie first came out was the fairy tale. I love fairy tales. What I appreciate more is the craft now. It’s actually a really well made movie despite the problematic nature of how it deals with sex work and how it deals with gender and the fact that black people are only in service roles. Other than all of that, it’s a really tight screenplay.”

In the current cultural climate, representation of both race and gender, are both very important issues. And though it’s been said before, it is important to continue talking about these issues. Gay has been covering the topics for years in her literary works such as Bad Feminist (2014), Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (2017) and Difficult Women (2017). She has become the voice of feminists everywhere, an inspiration and a leader, helping to move the conversation forward.

So how does a feminist icon rationalize her love for romantic comedies, which are typically portrayed as girlie fluff? The answer is two-fold. For one, we need to stop being ashamed of our love for the romantic-comedy genre. The problem in Gay’s opinion, is that things that women like are often treated as frivolous. “Ultimately it comes down to misogyny as usual. Because women are the primary consumers of romantic comedies and so anything that women are interested in is terrible. Romantic comedies rely on normal life and love and living and of course they have these idealized versions of life and love, but they’re still interesting.”

Secondly, Gay explains that she is, “able to love things despite their bad issues and in the spectrum of problematic pop culture, this is actually not that bad.” Immediately after saying this Gay chuckles, endearing the entire audience to her even more, as she realizes she quoted the title of a collection of essays she edited, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (2018). And she’s right, Pretty Woman is not that bad. In fact, it’s great in the way it continually emphasizes active consent through Vivian’s repeated words, “I say who, I say when, I say how much.” The root of which says that Vivian’s body is hers to control. A message that applies to all women (and men for that matter) and that is just as important today, as it was 28 years ago.

Gay outlines that rom-coms do have a formula: boy meets girl, boy or girl falls in love, there’s an obstacle, and then a happily ever after. And that that formula is tried and true. She also expresses the lack of need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the genre, because attempts to do so are often done badly. Instead of changing the genre, she wants to see more character development for the male leads. Often times the female lead has to be so many things, as is the case in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character has to be charming, sexy, interesting and elegant. This is in stark contrast to Richard Gere’s character who simply has to show up in a suit. “Like, what does he do with his free time? What does he look like in jeans? I think that we’re supposed to think that she should just be grateful that this man is going to treat her with a modicum of decency. No. Let’s have some personality, some texture,” pleads Gay.

If you have trouble with the endless options on Netflix, then look no further. Here are Roxane Gay’s top five romantic comedies, outside of Pretty Woman, along with the reasons that she loves them:

  1. Imagine Me & You (2005), because it’s so sweet and tender.
  2. No Strings Attached (2011), because she loves when people say “I’m not going to have in love” and then they fall in love.
  3. Love Jones (1997), because it’s sexy.
  4. You’ve Got Mail (1998), because it was like a cultural critique of Barnes and Noble.
  5. Something’s Gotta Give (2003), because it shows that you can be older and have just as messy a love life as someone forty years younger.

Or perhaps you’d like to revisit Pretty Woman. You won’t be sorry you did. If not for the fairy tale romance, then for the wonderfully 80s soundtrack. Here Gay talks about why she still loves the movie today:

Pretty Woman is my favorite movie and has been since I first saw it, in the theatre, in 1990. Back then, I thought Pretty Woman was so romantic. What’s not to love about a down-on-her-luck, charming sex worker meeting a handsome billionaire and the two of them having a whirlwind romance, falling in love, and rescuing each other, as Vivian (Julia Roberts) suggests at the end of the movie? I am older now. I am a feminist. I recognize the problematic nature of Pretty Woman‘s story. I recognize the fallacy of fairy tales, and still, I believe in them. Still, I love romantic comedies and how they make it seem that life and love are not nearly as complicated as we make them out to be. I love all the moments in Pretty Woman that make my heart swell: when Edward (Richard Gere) takes Vivian shopping to ensure she receives better treatment than she did when she went shopping on her own; the warm relationship Vivian develops with hotel manager Barney; how she handles the snobby women at the polo match; and Kit (Laura San Giacomo) and Vivian’s realness as they navigate life on the margins. But most of all, there is the romance, the sex on the piano, the night at the opera, the wild implausibility of this love story — and how willing the movie makes us to believe in that story anyhow. —Roxane Gay

Gay currently has multiple projects in the works including a book of writing advice, an essay collection, and a YA novel entitled The Year I Learned Everything. She would also like to write a romantic-comedy of her own and has her eyes on a dream cast that includes Bad Times at the El Royale’s Cynthia Erivo and Creed II’s Florian Munteanu.

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