The pieces were in place. Malaysian Hip Hop culture in Malaysia had its first recognizable voice in the form of its plucky, determined B-Boys, who overcame significant economic and logistical odds to build a community that taught itself, armed itself and nurtured itself, with the bare minimum of resources yet a surplus of passion.
The only question was: would all the hard work pay off? It might be easy to think of where B-Boy culture could fit in with the rest of Malaysian urban society now, but in the tumultuous days of the early and mid-80s, when even global Hip Hop was still finding its bearings, the answer was never that clear. Malaysia’s B-Boys began to mobilize.
Like-minded heads began to converge on sepak takraw and badminton courts and Rukun Tetangga community halls in the Kuala Lumpur exurbs to lay out their checkered mats and plug in their Sanyo boomboxes (or stuff them with up to 10 D batteries), and got to practicing. They huddled in front of tiny CRT televisions in the dead of night to pore over the exact minutiae of breakdancing movies and early, primitive music videos.
Of course, once these fresh “crews” began to get a lock on their earliest moves and routines, they would invariably want to see how they stacked up against the others. In Kuala Lumpur (KL), the most prominent meeting point was Central Market, which was reopened to the public in 1985 after an extensive facelift and rebranding into a cultural and tourism center. The area, still a hotspot for urban youth, especially from other states, became a melting pot for nascent B-Boy crews out for dominance over their peers.
After a few years, the rest of Malaysian Hip Hop culture– and Malaysian pop culture– caught up. Breakdancing and breakdancers quickly became visual shorthand for buzzwords like “edgy,” “hip,” and “urban.”
The Malaysian movie Gila Gila Remaja, which burst onto silver screen in 1985, prominently featured a breakdancing sequence that even its star, a young Faizal Hussein, took part in.
B-Boys became a go-to mainstay for government-sponsored public events, like sports meet launches and Merdeka Day parades, in an era before youth-oriented urban programs, like Rakan Muda and 1M4U, were even a thing. Pop stars began to utilize B-Boys in their music videos and stage performances, even over music that had little connection with Hip Hop – it just became the thing to do.
Malaysian B-Boy culture would have a lot more growing up from the tumultuous times of the 80s, and it would give birth to prominent names of its own: Che Bad, Bone Alfie, Boojae. Crews became mini-movements in and of themselves, and Malaysians became quite familiar with them: KL City Breakers, Shah Alam City Breakers, the Giler Battle Crew, Wakaka.
But that would all be in the distant, hazy future. In the beginning, Malaysian B-Boys were the frontline of a nebulous and uncertain young urban subculture that wasn’t just fresh on the local front, but was just finding its footing on the global stage. Before all the mainstream exposure, the club nights, the music industry credentials, the cultural cache of being tastemakers and regional ambassadors, a plucky subset of Malaysian youths took it upon themselves to adopt a faraway set of urban traditions and committed to making it fully their own.
Hip-hop culture in Malaysia began with the B-Boy.
WordsManifest is a founding member of The Rebel Scum and the Rogue Squadron Hip Hop collective. He was the co-editor of DJ Fuzz’s book The Way of the DJ. Words is also a photojournalist and the Editor of hyperlocal newsportal CoconutsKL.
Photos by Creative Commons