Too Phat: Malaysian Talented Hip-Hopper
It was the late 1990s. Hip-hop was still seen as a “black thang”, something Western, and record companies in Asia never thought it would catch on in this region.
Along came a young duo who managed to get international record company EMI’s Positive Tone division to sign them on. Even then, the record company was sceptical about selling their albums.
But Malique Ibrahim and Johan Ishak — better known as Malique and Joe Flizzow to their scores of fans — hit the bullseye with their breakthrough hit Whutadilly. Young Malaysians took to them and, more importantly, bought their CDs. Malaysia’s hip-hop duo Too Phat had broken into the mainstream, and the only way for them after that was up.
Today, Too Phat has fans across Asia. Its concerts in Indonesia are sell-outs, and it gets invites to perform in countries as diverse as cosmopolitan Singapore and the oil-rich state of Brunei. It is garnering fans in Thailand, the Philippines and even Japan. Its Taiwan tour in July pulled in more fans and there is now talk of collaboration with a red-hot, Taiwanese band.
The duo has also chalked up quite a few firsts in Malaysia. It opened for internationally acclaimed alternative rock band Linkin Park when the band performed in Kuala Lumpur in 2003. And Too Phat’s collaboration with hip-hop luminary Warren G on the track Just a Lil’ Bit went through the roof on the local and regional charts and propelled Too Phat’s album 360 Degrees into platinum territory, selling more than 100,000 copies. The album proper was launched in 2003; 360 Degrees The Platinum Edition was launched in early 2004 but the buzz about it is only just dying down. The duo’s next album is expected to be out by the middle of 2005.
Expectations for the album include even more collaboration with international acts. Also on the cards are a Japan tour and performances in the US. And, then, there are the awards, both local and regional. Never mind Malaysia’s Anugerah ERA Awards, even MTV has sat up and taken notice of the Malaysian hip-hopsters.
Not bad for a group that even its recording company thought would appeal to only a small market. And, definitely a dream come true for two boys — one then aged 19, the other 20 — who borrowed RM30,000 from their families to record two songs and who “just wanted to put our music out there”.
And the secret of their success? An Asian fusion — incorporating local beats with hip-hop and giving it “the local feel”.
“We love hip-hop. But we also knew we wanted to make the music our own,” says Joe Flizzow in a recent interview. And although there have been rumours of a break-up, Joe has said in several interviews that Malique was just “chilling out” for a while. “What do you expect? We’ve both been doing this since 1998. And we were just teenagers then,” he points out.
Too Phat does not deny that a large part of the group’s attraction for young Asians is the incorporation of the Asian element into their music, hence, the group’s predilection towards Malaysian and Asian collaborations. They say this is one way of promoting other musicians both locally and regionally, something they feel will benefit everyone — musicians and fans alike.
Credit: Joycelyn Lee