REBEL shows Aman Ra’s greatest chops is still his gritty & guttural side – especially when he’s fighting societal expectations and elevating the prestige of budak flats.
I remember first getting hooked onto Aman Ra. It was 2011. He was still known as Kraft then, and he was featured in this video with like rappers from Sayla to Jin Hackman to SonaOne for a song called Run This with beats produced by Ego. I remember that video so well because it was a hilariously inconsistent ensemble. There were rappers from a variety of styles and not everyone packed the same amount of punch. Yet, that was my introduction to a whole gauntlet of local hip hop with a fresh sheen consisting of Jin Hackman and Roshan Jamrock when all I knew was Cat Farish, Too Phat and the Teh Tarik Crew. One stood out the tallest (height notwitstanding), Kraft.
Man, Aman Ra reframed my perception of what hip hop was, embodying that slow rap feel that was pretty rare in the Malaysian scene at that time. He showed me that rap wasn’t just about flow, beats and burns (even though he had all of that), but also about VOICE. If you’ve got your own thing, that people immediately know who you are when they hear you, you’ve got at least half of the game covered.
After changing his name to Aman Ra, he continued honing his craft with songs like #PANTUN100KERAT – exhibiting his prowess of weaving Malay bars into meaingful prose. And then Budak Flat dropped, and its class-defying gusto felt like a decade’s anthem.
So where does Aman Ra go next? REBEL – a compilation of tracks showing all the different vibes that can fit Aman Ra’s words and swagger. It’s got some hits, and some misses too; the latter when it clumsily ambles into a slightly more radio-friendly sound such as in the track Cinta Atau Cita-Cita.
Most of the singles released prior or after the album’s launch, such as BudakFlat, YeDowh, Bangun, etc, are the ones with the most solid foundations. The analog feel in Bangun centering a rags to riches tale (a recurring theme in Rebel) gives it an almost wholesome vibe of gratitude and resilience with the tagline “Selagi aku bernyawa, aku rasa kau berharta” and “Kalau aku jatuh sekali, aku bangun tiga kali lagi”. It’s the horns, the lyricism and the backing track that harks back to the resplendent era of early B-Boy culture that really seals the deal in this song.
What’s interesting is how certain singles are sort of breathed a different edge in the context of the entire album. When Malu Tanya Sesat came out, I wasn’t that taken by the hook or by the song in general, but in Rebel it holds slightly more weight as a bridge between the wholesome sound of Bangun to the mildly eerie aura of the next track Kita Cara Kita. It’s darker, more somber and stands in huge contrast to a lot of the other tracks in the album. (“Tidak mahu terjerumus dalam mimpi ngeri”)
The middle part of the album is where Rebel hits a bit of an awkward snag. In songs like Cinta Atau Cita-Cita, Aman Ra’s lamentations of his struggle between love and ambition is barely carried by the beat. Berada suffers from the same problem, but is boosted by the familiar flow of Altimet. Noh Salleh’s voice has been polished by production to such a degree that he doesn’t sound like himself at all. Nonetheless both Cinta and Berada are elevated (or are saved from being terrible), by the message within each song. After repeated listens, Berada is a pretty catchy anthem for a quarter-life crisis (sobs while wearing fake Supreme hats bought from pasar karat) and has poignant lyrics about living from paycheque to paycheque. The song also reminds us to not idolize material wealth that much (Ada harta belum tentu senang). Even then, it’s a song of platitudes, and stops short of being heart-rending.
The albums pick up pace again from Tabah is one of the more solid tracks in the album, with a stronger hook and beats that flaunts Aman Ra’s deep (tone-wise and message-wise) rap vocals. My most favourite pop-sounding track of the album is Saat Baru featuring the vocals of Kaka Azraff’s feature in Saat Baru feels like an early 2000s feature, like those old days when Siti Nurhaliza and Too Phat would collaborate on Dua Dunia It feels warm and familiar, with much to appreciate poetically.
BudakFlat still stands out as the best track of all of REBEL. No rap song has adequately represented the Keramat life as much as BudakFlat and it’s gargantuan colosseum-like status shall not be elaborated here because it’s probably been praised a lot by so many people since its release as a single back in 2016. When it comes to memorability, it’s really hard to forget this track. YeDowh has the most badass, production. It’s intriguing, alluring, hard. The drumline driving Aman Ra’s bars is addictive and not forgetting to mention that the song itself is feaking hilarious too with tongue-in-cheek lyrics like (Dia mintak password wifi seba dia nak connect). Rap Tak Ingat’s bragging swag (Aku bukan nombor satu jangan salah terkira, Aku nombor satu, dua, tiga, empat dan lima) gives me goosebumps too. This last tracks is a good final countdown, as Aman Ra shows off his best verbal acrobatics with fast flows. The line Aku suka flow, aku suka cash flow is dope.
In REBEL, Aman Ra has two sides. There’s the tamer, radio-friendly Aman side, and then there’s the ‘RRRAAA’ side – more aggressive, violent, heart-thumping hip hop. There are tracks that sit in that sweet spot which lies in between like in Tabah and Bangun, where it’s not too kitschy, and it’s interesting how Aman Ra develops that part of him and tries to weave his penchat for prose around. We all know he’s good at dropping bombs (metaphorically) but the more pacified side of Aman Ra still leaves a lot for wanting.
BudakFlat, YeDowh, Bangun
LEAST FAV TRACKS:
Cinta Atau Cita-Cita
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