What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 Izah Azahari

A passion which sparked in the year 2000, this lyrical whiz kid started off much like any other rapper who found inspiration from the likes of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony with their all-time biggest hit Crossroads. He then found like-minded individuals who shared the same interest in rap when he came back to Brunei.

“In 2001, Too Phat was exploding with Anak Ayam. With that, they managed to break into the local market,” mused the rapper. “They came to Brunei to perform and it was then when I found out that a Hip Hop scene was existent here.”

Zed’s first concert in Brunei was for the “No Drugs, No Smoking” campaign. He was then known by his first rap name – ‘Lil Wish’ – which was inspired by Wishbone from the rap group Bone Thugs.

When Zed moved to Jerudong International School (JIS), he found more individuals who were really into rap music. Sharing the same interests and creative mind-sets, it was only natural to find ways to work with each other. He and his new friends formed Micbandits. They performed regularly for school events, and finally pursued their passion seriously after completing their ‘A’ Levels.

The Micbandits made it big in 2008 with Here Comes The Rapper which grabbed the attention of Malaysian rapper Joe Flizzow’s record label, Kartel Records. They signed on after graduating from university in 2009 along with other signees such as SonaOne from Malaysia and Richard J from Singapore.

Zed recounted going back and forth to Kuala Lumpur to finish a number of songs and ending up with an album which was ready to be released. However, luck was not on their side as he and his fellow group member ran into some trouble with the law which resulted in an abrupt pause with the Micbandits.

Zed Peace performs at Borneo Jazz Festival. PHOTOS: ZED PEACE

“We suddenly went quiet and went on hiatus, there wasn’t any announcement, but we were still in touch with Kartel,” he shared.

Although running into a wall, Zed pushed himself further. He released a solo project and encouraged a fellow Micbandit, Kro, to release his solo project along the way. They still used the name Micbandits as the main brand.

“With experience, I was more cautious this time round. I asked myself what I really wanted and what my targets are. I tried to get more exposure and invites. We performed for many different events to push the brand name to a wider audience. The aim was to make the group self-sustainable” he said.

Reflecting on his regular rap freestyle videos on Instagram, Zed says that is his niche and is happy that people can comment on his videos. He sets a target for himself to put something out once a week or once every two weeks, with spontaneous lyrics.

“I hope my followers can see that even though my lyrics are spontaneous, it is consistent and is fun to watch and listen to,” Zed added.

His latest release Kuat, produced by Nabil Iskandar is out now. Zed shares that the idea behind the song initially came after having posted about his story on his run-in with the law on social media, where he received the most engagement from his audience who showed strong support. One of them was Noh Salleh from Hujan.

“The song Kuat is about bouncing back and staying strong, where the lyrics centres on, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so that’s the message behind it. When hearing first it might sound like a hard rap song, but the message is actually very positive. There are messages about having faith, staying true and never giving up,” Zed says.

Having been involved in a lot of shows, Zed believes that high energy, catchy tunes are key. He highlights the ease at which rappers like Joe Flizzow or SonaOne are able to work the crowd with such raps. It is a skill he is trying to develop.

With a song like Kuat, he is more content with his live shows and will hopefully be part of his regular set list.

The rapper plans to work on more material with hopes of releasing something in the near future, as well as to find ways to work with more local or international artistes.

“Every year you’re gearing up for the next year, and that’s always been my thing as well, I want to make sure that there is progression,” he added.

Touching on the future of rap in the local music scene, Zed hopes to build a bigger community with other successful acts and more local rappers involved in the international music scenes.

“I’m really grateful for the support. It is nice to know that people are cheering you on, not just silently supporting. My fans buy my merchandise, songs and go to my shows and events,” Zed said thankfully.

“To the other aspiring rap acts out there, just be who you are but always work hard. It’s not easy. There’s not only one way to achieve your dreams. At the end of the day we all want to establish ourselves and our brand. I think our people are getting there. I hope to see more new acts within this year or the next,” he said.