We trudged along the small roads of Kampong Glam, lined with vibrant shophouses on both sides. It took a lot not to buckle under the scorching sun. Over in the distance, a mosque towers over silently, radiating an air of serene tranquility. The deceptively sleepy neighbourhood is home to a thriving ecosystem of arts and culture just lying beneath the surface. An eternity and a half later, we finally found ourselves along Aliwal Street and in the distance we caught sight of a familiar face.
THELIONCITYBOY, a.k.a. Kevin Lester.
Sometime ago, we caught up with THELIONCITYBOY at the House of Vans Tour. We spoke briefly before we immediately fell in love with the down-to-earth charm that is Kevin Lester. We spoke on matters regarding music, business, family, culture and identity over tea. Here’s how it went down.
Let’s talk about Paradise.
It took a while to create. As an artist, I was discovering my sound and myself for the longest time. Paradise, is the moment when I was most comfortable as an artist. I figured that this is the kind of messaging I want to put out. This is the kind of artiste I want to be.
It started from this one song I was writing; I always write singles and never know if I were to write an album. With that one song, I sort of figured what I wanted to talk about. It’s about those little moments, the simple moments that exist that no one talks about, and it’s like, why can’t those moments be paradise to some?
I make music in a studio out of Bukit Ho Swee. On break we go downstairs and eat Bak Chor Mee. It’s all chill, it’s all real. Making the album is paradise, as opposed to the ones on the post cards of Singapore.
The album has a very relaxed sort of confidence to it.
Yeah and that was important to me. Because, when you talk about all these darker things, you don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or to be too literal and descriptive. You just want to paint the picture and walk away.
When I first started writing, it was very typical hip hop where it’s all, ‘I’m better than you’. But, after I kinda figured myself out, you start to tell a message and I like to drop little hints, because I feel like they paint a really cool picture.
I want to tell my stories in a light-hearted way that we all understand. Because, that’s me. I grew up in a place where we spoke each other’s language and celebrated each other’s cultures. Why pretend to be something else? This is how I grew up.
“To them, I was this strange guy who doesn’t look Asian but is Asian.”
Has this always been a reflection of your current state in life now?
No man. I grew up in a Eurasian family, and sometimes you don’t even know who you are. Growing up, I didn’t know who I was. There was a moment where I thought myself as ‘Eurasian’ and then there was a point where I identified more as ‘Indian.’ It took some time before I transitioned, even as a musician. I didn’t know who I was until I started working and putting up music. It’s sort of like talent development and eventually I became more comfortable with who I am. Just a typical Singaporean. I’ve accepted that.
What has been the most defining moment in helping you discover your identity?
One of the main thing is getting to do music overseas. I got picked up by an American label and they kept bringing me overseas. The more I went, the more I felt like I needed to be more me. There’s always another rapper around the corner who can do what you do – but I found that the more I spoke like me, the more people wanted to talk to me. To them, I was this strange guy who doesn’t look Asian but is Asian. Eventually, I became more comfortable while I was out there, and I brought it back here. I decided to clean up with the writing and thought about who really is THELIONCITYBOY and what is his voice.
Working on Paradise, who is your MVP?
Flightschl, but that’s an easy answer. We’ve developed a sound together. We both sort of listen to the same music. When it comes to music, we push each other.
If you had to introduce your music to someone, which one track which would it be?
‘Yaya’. It’s the kind of music that I listen to on my own. It’s light and more chill. I’m more into this mellow and chill sound. I’ve been told I’m the hipster rapper here, and I don’t know what that means but I do like hipster music (laughs).
You bring up local places a lot in your songs.
They play a part of my life and thats the only way I know how to write; I see things and I listen to people. It’s always been a part of my life. I went to St. Gabriel’s, I grew up in Serangoon Gardens, I went to church in the Seletar area. That’s how I grew up, so those places really stuck out.
So the music video for ‘HRLY – Harry Lee’ is coming out, tell us about that.
It was directed by the same guy that did ‘YaYa’, but it was a lot tougher, We went to Keppel area, where we shot the industrial vibes, then we went to the pose segment where we had twenty people? That was fun because it was initially supposed to be 10 people, but friends kept calling friends and it escalated pretty quickly. Hopefully it looks cool. We got a little lion mascot too, but only the head.
When is it dropping?
“You can’t just play an alter ego when you do rap, because people can always smell that.”
Is there a time when TLCB clocks off and you go back to becoming Kevin Lester?
We’re one and the same. I know that’s an easy answer to give but in what we do, it’s non stop. If I go to the club I’m working. When I hang out with my friends, I’m working. If I go on social media, I’m also working.
You can’t just play an alter ego when you do rap, because people can always smell that. I mean there are times when I just take a breather, when I’m on holiday, but even then it’s always on my mind, it’s what I want to do and it is who I am.
What about on stage?
I’m a lot more amplified on stage. I want everyone to have a good time, same at the club. I’m that guy. At the end of the day, at a live show, I want everyone to have a good time. I want to entertain.
Do you feel like you’re responsible for the crowd’s happiness?
Of course! There are no free shows, someone took a bus or a taxi to see me. Someone paid money to come down. Two or three hours, however intimate it is, I do feel responsible. It adds to to your journey, and every show should be like your last.
What about becoming a father, has that influenced your music?
Definitely. It’s hard to say no, but right now I’m more focused on making a career for them.
How do you juggle so many things?
You become a dad and you sort of realise it’s harder to keep up some of the lifestyle choices, especially when you wanna give the kids everything. But if you wanna be a musician, this is what you gotta do. You gotta choose the moments you gotta be at. I’ve been lucky to have a supportive family. So I also wanna show people it can be done.
Do you think Singapore has its own sound?
Not right now, but something is happening. I’m seeing younger people hustling. That’s where the scene is at, it’s wide open now! There’s a lot of space to do music now, and not just hip-hop. The music is good and it shows. There’s definitely a movement going.
If you haven’t already, you can check out TLCB music here on Spotify. We highly recommend that you do. TLCB is, in our humble opinions, the definitive Lion City Boy.