When you think about the Malaysia rap scene, an image of Helen Keller isn't the first thing that comes to mind.
But it's exactly how the video for Zamaera's explosive debut single, "Helly Kelly" (a play on the blind-deaf inspiration's name) opens, before the 22-year-old artist explodes into a verse that highlights her attitude and influences faster than you can turn the corner in an Escalade:
When I walk down the street, traffic
When I murder with the flow, its graphic
All Eyez On Me, that's classic
All the girls can't rap, it's tragic
When I hit it on the mic, it's magic
Things take a swerve just a few seconds later, and suddenly she's dishing out ammunition:
I don't understand
You said that you was werkin'
I saw your Instastory
4am and you still twerking
You even talk about your friends
How you wearin glasses but dem sh*t don't have no lens
She a Helly Kelly
Girl's a Helly Kelly
She ain't got no vision so I call her
The rest of the song continues at a blistering pace, and Zamaera's lyrics just keep building on the strong imagery. Check out the full video for 'Helly Kelly' to see what we're talking about:
If you knew Zamaera personally, you'd know that the Helen Keller reference wasn't anything out of the ordinary for her. While she's got a lot of musical influences driving her songwriting — Tupac, Queen, Missy Elliot, and even Celine Dion, to name a few — her lyrics also display her love of English literature.
In fact, Zamaera's a huge fan of poetry (Walt Whitman is a fave), and she's been a storyteller ever since, even joining a storytelling competition back when she was just 9 years old.
It was an unexpected — but totally natural — development that she'd eventually find her way into hip hop.
"I never thought I would become a rapper or a singer but I always knew I loved entertaining people whether it was through music or plain conversation," she shares.
"Upon releasing 'Helly Kelly' I thought I would be nervous, particularly because my background began with singing first and this was the first song I consciously explored the mannerism of rap. However, it turned out to be a smoother transition of sorts as I figured out how much I actually loved rapping; its fusion of poetry and storytelling is something I hold dear to my heart."
In her next single, 'Wanita', Zamaera channeled that fusion into a celebration of the boss lady, the modern Malaysian woman who's empowered to live the life she chooses, with badass lines like "Not a bread-maker but she make that dough":
And while language can sometimes be a barrier to listeners (she raps in Malay just as fluidly as she does in English), at the end of the day, Zamaera doesn't think it gets in the way of getting her message through.
"You know what's the best thing about hip hop? You can come from any corner of the world, from a culture that is foreign to yours, not understanding a single lyric of the song, but still bump to the beat and kick it with the flow. There's only so much that's different that one can rap about, ultimately it's how the song makes you feel right? Because human emotions remain the same. It's not so different what I do, I mean, it's all for a purpose that's bigger than me."
You can literally feel what Zamaera's talking about in her fiery freestyle during the Yo! MTV Raps cypher:
With 2018 seeing the release of her third single, 'Still Calling' (out now!), the recording of her first EP wrapping up in Chicago, and what promises to be a spectacular performance at the Good Vibes Festival on July 21, you can expect to hear a lot more from Zamaera in the coming months.
Make sure you're listening.
– Marco Sumayao