Disclaimer – this article contains sensitive content relating to sexual assault, reader discretion is advised.
On Monday March 8th, hip-hop artist Masia One sat down with us to discuss her recent projects – the new single Not All That Glitters is Gold and last year’s EP Freedom Fades. But to classify Masia solely as a hip-hop artist would be imprecise, as this powerhouse has proven her artistry in countless genres from reggae to dancehall.
Born in Singapore and moving to Canada at age 8 led Masia (born May Sian Lim) to become a leading voice for Asian women in hip-hop – something no one had really seen yet. Initially set on becoming an architect and studying at the University of Toronto, immersing herself in Toronto’s community gave her the support to pursue hip-hop. In doing this, Masia began to break down any stereotypes or assumptions people had previously held against Asian women in the music industry. This was recognized by the Chinese Canadian National Council who gave her a Pioneer Award for paving the way for Asian women in hip-hop.
It did not take long for Masia to prove her talent, finding her video nominated for the MuchMusic Best Rap Video in 2005, with her track Split Second Time being played amongst the biggest names in the hip-hop industry. From there, Masia only rose higher and higher, moving to America to work with producer Che Pope who has also worked with greats like Kanye West and Eminem, where she was able to take her music to the next level, writing for and alongside hip-hop legends.
Currently staying in Malaysia, Masia One certainly keeps herself busy. The artist spends her time fighting for social change in South East Asia, through social media and her music, describing herself as “the bodyguard of the love and light warriors.”
Upon introduction, Masia listed many titles, yet still none cover all that she has achieved in her career:
Masia One: My name is Masia One, aka the Far East Empress. I am an MC, a singer, an artist, an arts educator, a sauce maker, just lover of life – and music and culture and celebrating the communities that grow these cultures.
Masia has spent her time as an artist all over the globe, immersing herself in culture, from North America, to Jamaica to her home in South East Asia.
Masia: Soon after [America] I went to Jamaica and that was just inspiration of course on its own, learning where hip hop came from, learning the tradition of toasting, understanding more of a shift from rapping being an ego thing, where it’s like “Look at me and my ill lyricism!” Going to street dances and seeing the – well they call it DJ in Jamaica – but seeing the DJ on the mic, working the crowd, feeling the energy and reading more that type of response, rather than it being just about me. And then coming back to South East Asia, touching down in Singapore, and starting all over again almost and relearning my culture and understanding the vibes out here.
Masia’s latest single Not All That Glitters is Gold, released February 4th, was written in response to a sexual assault against her assistant. It was released with a campaign to spread awareness of sexual assault in South East Asia, where these topics remain rarely discussed. The campaign works to spread resources on this topic and can be found at @not.allthatglitters on Instagram.
Masia: Well, I almost wish this song had never come to be as it was written from an incident that took place whilst on tour in 2019 in Australia. A team member, my personal assistant and dear friend was sexually assaulted by an artist that we were on tour with… What I also realized was coming back to South East Asia the reaction to her being very brave .. to speak out about what had happened to her. This is not something that is very common here because there is still a lot of victim blaming, a lot of shaming. And I realized that the response I got from a lot of people in the industry was to, “Oh Masia, protect your reputation, protect your money, don’t say anything about it, tell her to suck it up.” In realizing and understanding that there was work to be done…what trauma is, what is victim blaming, what is gaslighting, teaching terminology, and in doing so hopefully breaking a lot of the taboos on speaking out on these sexual abuses here in South East Asia.
At the end of March, Masia is releasing a remix, with ten artists from across the world, performing in their own languages to spread this message as far as possible. To find more information, look for the Not All That Glitters is Gold remix on Masia’s Facebook Page.
Last year, Masia released the EP Freedom Fades in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Produced by ALX, the EP was written about Masia’s time quarantining in Malaysia and the racism against the Asian community we have seen during the pandemic.
Masia: Well at the time I was in a place called Johor Bahru…There was literally armed guards with sub-machine guns standing at the oatmeal section [of the supermarket] and I’m like, “I’m just getting cereal!” So of course the feelings of isolation —I am someone who travels all the time, all through South East Asia, so the feeling of, “Okay now I have to stay put, now I gotta sit with myself, sit with my emotions.”.. Realizing a lot of people around me were really feeling it, whether it’s anxiety, whether it’s depression… And also realizing that mental health will be very much at the forefront of our discussions.
Masia made clear she was no stranger to racism, from being made fun of when she had just moved to Canada, to working in the studios in America, where she was just assumed to be a ‘pretty Asian girl’ for the music video when in reality, she was the one writing the music.
Masia: I wondered to myself what was the threat here [against Asians]?…So it is about representation, it is about speaking out in a way that makes sense to you… But taking the time to say ‘hey, this is pretty ridiculous, diseases don’t see a colour,’ I’m here in South East Asia, surrounded by Asian people and just watching the media in the West, scratching my head, like, ‘really, this is a thing?’
The EP was released alongside a mask with a Spotify link on the side, with the idea of (in Masia’s words), “A mask, music, and a message.” In addition, the partial proceeds of the EP go towards Samaritans of Singapore who help support mental health awareness, and raise awareness of suicide prevention.
It seems clear that whatever Masia does, she does with a bigger purpose supporting it, just like the mask, but also with her jerk sauce brand Suka Suka Sauce, which was crafted to bring the unfamiliar Caribbean culture to her home in Singapore.
Masia: It started out with me cooking for my friends, then we started cooking for events at the Singapore Dub Club. We noticed that people were scared — in Singapore, people were more apprehensive to come try new music. Reggae music has stigmas attached to it… so purposefully we threw reggae parties at the most expensive venues…but the one thing that gets Asians going is food through their bellies.
It seems that Masia has no plans on slowing down. When asked about what plans are for the future, there is certainly a lot to look forward to.
Masia: Freedom Fades is actually a plan of part of a three part EP, so I was going to release three EPs. I found that it was really hard for me coming back to South East Asia that people didn’t really understand where I was coming from. I came back here with this mish-mash of a Canadian, Jamaican, Singaporean accent and they were like “What’s up with this girl?” So, I wanted to create a three part EP series that actually shares a story of who I am, and also other third-culture kids who are just mish-mashes of the world, and that’s okay. So, I have the second of that EP series being recorded now called Fly Phoenix, so where Freedom Fades was to talk about the closing up of the world, I want Fly Phoenix to be about when everything has hit rock bottom, what does that ascension up look like again.
Carving her own path in the music industry, Masia One proves she is capable of anything, whether that is succeeding in new genres, or spreading education to create a better future. Whilst influential, she remains humble and likeable, and it’s always exciting to see what she is going to do next.