Music's allure often finds its zenith in collaboration, where melodies morph into powerful narratives. We came across the artistic panorama of SOWUT (Taiwan) and Shelhiel (Malaysia), two distinct artists who have woven their individual signatures into the global music tapestry. United by passion, they've forged an alliance that seamlessly merges SOWUT's lyrical finesse with Shelhiel's production wizardry, culminating in their latest revelation, "Girlz in the Mirror (Boyz Too)."
SOWUT, renowned for his raw authenticity, reigns as a luminary in Taiwan's hip-hop realm. Fusing gritty rhymes with velvety vocals, he transcends rap's limits, earning acclaim through genre-blending narratives. The achievement and performances at MTV Taiwan's "The Rappers" talent show undoubtedly secured his position as a hip-hop icon. Beyond his musical feats, SOWUT's creations resonate with life's nuances, inviting listeners into his world with unfiltered candor.
Elevating SOWUT's lyrical brilliance is Shelhiel, an accomplished sound artisan hailing from Malaysia. His musical journey, sparked at a young age, has unfurled into an audacious exploration that defies traditional confines. As a producer, Shelhiel's compositions function as auditory time capsules, effortlessly conjuring emotions and eras with exquisite finesse. Seamlessly blending nostalgia with inventive flair, he has earned global recognition. From emotive harmonies to irresistible dancefloor anthems, Shelhiel's versatility gleams, enrapturing music enthusiasts worldwide. Moreover, his adeptness in both production and singing vocals adds yet another dimension of dynamic artistry to the equation.
Their latest triumph, "Girlz in the Mirror (Boyz Too)," epitomizes their shared musical devotion. Building upon the success of "Fashion Angel (Asia Remix)," the track melds SOWUT's rap finesse and velvety vocals with Shelhiel's production genius. This harmonious fusion bridges the 2000s with the contemporary, not just a composition but an ode to unity and innovation. As we venture into a conversation with these maestros, we unravel their inspirations, artistic intricacies, and the magic born from their synergy.
Q1: How did your friendship begin?
SOWUT: It all started three years ago when I was invited to perform in Malaysia. As fate would have it, Shelhiel was also one of the performers at that event, and that's when our friendship blossomed. After I returned to Taiwan, it wasn't long before Shelhiel reached out to me. He invited me to contribute to his fresh single, "Fashion Angel(Asia Remix)" Interestingly, this was around the time I joined NXWV. My label mates were amazed by Shelhiel's musical taste and production skills so they suggested that we collaborate on a song for my upcoming solo album.
Shelhiel: I remember the moment I first heard the song "PIKACHU" I was genuinely impressed by the sheer talent of these two individuals. Fast forward to 2016 when I was in Taipei, I invited SIMON & SOWUT to perform at my gig at Revolver. Experiencing their live performance showcased their undeniable stage presence. I soon discovered that SOWUT was consistently pushing his own solo projects, showcasing a skillful flow design coupled with an edgy rap style. When assembling the roster for the "Fashion Angel(Asia Remix)" which we affectionately called the Asian Avengers team, I knew SOWUT was a perfect fit.
Q2: How did you two manage to create those musical fireworks, and what are your thoughts on each other's tunes?
SOWUT: Well, imagine if music were clothing – I'd be the designer, crafting the flow and harmonies like a tailored outfit. And in this musical fashion show, Shelhiel takes on the role of the stylist, ensuring the whole song comes together in a trendy ensemble. I've got to say, Shelhiel's music is like haute couture. It's got this deep cultural groove and a constant evolution vibe. He's basically the superhero of merging music and persona! When you listen to his beats, I guarantee you'll all be nodding and saying, "Now, that's stylish!"
Shelhiel: He totally nailed it! When a rapper of this talent speaks, it's always on point. We've got a musical connection that's as smooth as a perfect beat drop. For me, it's all about diving into his musical intentions and creative lane. As the producer, my mission is to give SOWUT a musical lift to new heights. It's like I'm helping him build his music dream world, one sound at a time.
Q3: As millennials raised in different corners of the world, how do you, as a singer, a rapper, and a producer, lead the young audience to take a trip down memory lane, representing the exuberance of the 1990s-2000s, which saw the emergence of chart-topping genres such as UKG, 2 Step, Breakbeat, Jungle, and DnB? Additionally, what are your thoughts and feelings about the trending Y2K revival?
SOWUT: I honestly only started seriously diving into those genres earlier this year. It all began last year when I found myself not really knowing what to listen to anymore, and I was even questioning what direction my music should take. I was in a musical standstill, utterly stuck. The current music scene felt a bit repetitive, so I decided I needed to revisit what I used to love – I needed that reminder of my genuine love for music. Since last year, besides moving from Kaohsiung to the northern part of Taiwan, I've been relishing in all the things I used to enjoy. I've been playing old video games, rewatching classic movies, and, of course, listening back to the music I cherished. Timbaland's tracks and songs produced by Pharrell Williams/Neptunes for various artists have been my nostalgic go-to. Their tunes were the soundtrack to my high school years back in the 2000s.
After relocating, thanks to my frequent collaboration with our label’s music director rgry on recording my album, I found myself reconnecting with production and arranging (I had taken a two-year hiatus). What's more, both the styling assistant and my manager at NXWV have roots in the underground electronic music scene, and their influences have played a significant role. Engaging in music discussions online with them and attending electronic music events with my manager has exposed me to some truly incredible rhythms and tones. Blending all these musical experiences together and then carefully selecting my favorites, I realized that many of the tracks I loved were from the years 1998 to 2002. That's the musical style I'm most eager to dive into right now.
As for this Y2K revival, what we're mostly seeing is a focus on 2 Step and Jersey club, along with a resurgence of fashion trends. However, for those who dig a bit deeper, they'll find that the Y2K era is a treasure trove with endless possibilities. Just the brief span from 1998 to 2002 offers a plethora of styles to explore – it's akin to wandering through a vintage store.
Shelhiel: I come from a middle-class family, and we didn't have things like PlayStation, Xbox, or cable TV (MTV, Cartoon Network, etc.). During my school years, I was engrossed in playing emulator king (256 SNES & Sega games in 1 CD), immersing myself in 8-bit games from the '80s and '90s. So, I was somewhat out of sync with mainstream pop culture – I was living about a decade behind the cool crowd, you could say. It wasn't until around 2012-2013 that I truly started embracing pop music.
Around 2011, I wrapped my head around dubstep, and it wasn't until 2015, when I heard "fx - 4 walls" that I really understood the essence of garage house. As time went on, I delved into the history of UK electronic music and bass music through research, and I realized that all the genres I loved were essentially part of the same family. When I released "Fashion Angel" in 2019, garage wasn't that big around me, but for "Fashion Angel (Asia Remix)," I decided to experiment by blending four different beats into one song (drill, night bass, garage, etc.). It was just a playful idea at the time, but now UK music is exploding in popularity. I'm already working on something that I think could become a musical trend. I might also dabble in UKG since I feel pretty comfortable with it. Most importantly, I need to feel the joy in making music – that element of fun can never be lost.
Q4: Any stories, inspirations or fun facts behind this latest collaborative single “Girlz in the Mirror (Boyz Too)”?
SOWUT: This song can easily claim the title of being one of the most reworked and longest in the making. It's been through the whole pandemic journey, numerous online discussions with Shelhiel, and it wasn't until recently when Shelhiel came to Taiwan for a while that we finally got to sit down face to face and bring the track to life. It's been a back-and-forth process that's taken three years. I'm hoping they'll introduce a new category at the Golden Melody Awards for the longest in the making single – I'd definitely take home that award! I even have my acceptance speech ready!
Shelhiel: I gave SOWUT two different beats to see which one resonated more with him, letting him choose. But then he went ahead and combined the two beats to create a single song. It was a really clever move.
Q5: Plan for the second half of the year?
SOWUT: I'll be releasing an album by the end of this year and focusing more seriously on both the artist and producer aspects of my career. In the upcoming months, you can expect to hear my involvement in the production of both my solo and collaborative singles.
Shelhiel: Having a baby! I mean, a music baby – which is essentially releasing new songs. For the first time, I'll be collaborating with more producers and working within a team, unlike my usual one-man show approach to creating a song. Stay tuned, everyone!