Homegrown artiste Sheik Haikel chats about being booted from radio, his suspected involvement in drugs, and more!
The first thing you notice about this homeboy rapper when he walks towards you is his afro perm. It's just so in your face, and his signature shades too - a mental image that sticks! You'd half expect him to be a hard-talking rapper who spews strings of machine-gun speed lingo as he pumps your hand but no, this guy speaks in a steady and earnest tone, with an opening line, "Thanks for having me."
And he really knows his music, giving a clear breakdown of the entire production process and costs when quizzed on his upcoming new rap album due this April.
"We've just finalised the line of producers I want to work with, glad to say that most of them are locals" says Haikel, in the first of many mentions through-out the interview, indicating his keenness in working with local musicians and how he is proud of our celebrated artistes, particularly two he calls affectionately as Godfather - Dick Lee (Godfather of Pop) and Najip Ali (Godfather of Almost Everything).
He said, "They're all so talented and I'd love to work with them if they have time. I'll have to start my begging very soon." Haikel is well aware that funding is hard to come by and it's a waiting game, having toiled 10 years before he finally launched his debut effort.
Here in Singapore, you just need to sell 7,000 copies of an album to have a gold record, but the sad truth is no local English album has achieved this. "Our local people have to understand nothing works without them.?Take Usher for example, his local market is the US, who has a few hundred million and we are a foreign market supporting them. So who's going to support us?" questions Haikel.
"I'm trying to have Stefanie Sun sing, while I rap. She's in a league of her own. But if that falls through, there're so many other girls who can sing here in Singapore. I've always got my wife Annabelle (Francis), she can really carry a tune!"
Fans of his debut 2003 album For Sure would be glad to know he's sticking to the same formula of catchy, clean beats, for his sophomore effort. For Sure was later picked up by record label EMI, re-launched with 4 new bonus tracks and was noted for its groove and sophistications. It nested more than five weeks in the Top 20 of Perfect 10 98.7 FM's chart. Talking about this station, one couldn't help asking Haikel how he felt about the whole radio hoo-hah which resulted in his dismissal.
"I was disappointed in the press in the way they handled it but I understand they needed to sell copies. They only published the letter from the parent - weeks after it was sent. Timing it accordingly to how they wanted it to be." he confided.
"Folks, especially deejays from other countries, were laughing that I got sacked for saying 'white panties' on the air. I think this country can take more than this. White panties are sexy, cotton ones to be exact! People have got to understand I'm not a radio deejay. Radio did not make me, they pulled Sheik Haikel into the show and that's how I talk. I wouldn't have changed a thing!" He claims he's still enjoying a laugh out of this.
Another sort-of guffaw inducing incident on hindsight, according to Haikel, was his clearance of suspected involvement in drugs. "Frankly, my first thought was - I felt so famous! I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, visiting a friend and I don't blame anyone."
His story was splashed across various media and did you know the front page of The Straits Times carrying his story sold 2.3 million copies according to Haikel? "I wished my albums sold that well!" he quipped.
The downside was this incident had its repercussions - he was forced to stay home for a fortnight and had to rely on people sending him food. He was being questioned over and over and quite a few of his shows were cancelled. Something good that came out of it is now, even the Uncle who cleans the Esplanade knows of Haikel and the drug bust incident and that he is a good boy.
He has since had many offers coming in and projects lined up for this year. Well, Haikel, one thing's for sure, many of the big-hearted Singaporeans will be Witulah!