FEATURES For Singapore MC Mary Sue, Winter Equals Warmth By Phillip Mlynar · March 25, 2024
Photo by Ivan Hrozny

The call of the koel bird turns up throughout Voice Memos From A Winter In China, a hybrid live and studio experiment that Singapore MC and producer Mary Sue recorded during a tour of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. During the album’s bluesy live segments—which feature the five-piece tour band Clementi Sound Appreciation Club and were captured via iPhone—Sue can be heard mimicking the trilling sound of the koel, an onomatopoeic bird renowned in Singapore for its prolific cooing. The crowd is encouraged to coo back, creating a kind of impromptu call-and-response session. Later in the album, on “Koel Calls,” Sue unlocks the significance of the sound: “Would you echo my koel calls?/ Yeah, the tales that I’m spitting I don’t tell tall/ Steady living, keep it written ‘til my nails fall,” he raps in his hushed flow, over droplets of synths. “On a mission, spread the healing through my slow drawl.”

The MC says the koel calls were added to the album as a way to bring, “this mundane aspect of Singaporean life to a whole new context in the winter in China.” On the album, the allure of searching out physical warmth during the frostier months becomes a metaphor fo finding emotional support through tough times. The warmth cannot be truly appreciated without first knowing the cold. It’s a theme that has been a cornerstone of Sue’s music since 2022’s KISSES Of LIFE, which was written and composed after the passing of Sue’s grandfather.

Merch for this release:
T-Shirt/Shirt, Cassette

KISSES OF LIFE was all raw, I didn’t really think when I was making it,” he says, “it was just pure, it just came out.” Sue first expanded from producing instrumentals to writing lyrics as a way to pass the time during two years of mandatory military service as a security guard. “Sometimes I think it’s hard for me to ever get back to that space—which is good, because it was such a hard moment for me. It’s hard for me to listen to that album because it’s so vulnerable. I don’t even really perform any songs from that album anymore.”

The album was released into an underground hip-hop scene that had recently crowned New York City’s MIKE king of a new generation. The region’s beloved boom-bap brawn had been replaced by low-key loops that prioritized emotional immediacy, while the MC’s traditional braggadocio gave way to confessional lyrics that admitted to moments of vulnerability and depression. Sue’s music seemed a perfect fit for the movement—a Singapore division of the New York scene.

“It was something about MIKE just being around the same age and using nothing but a laptop and making these beats, and the fact that he started with just a group of friends,” says Sue, who turns 25 this year. “In Singapore, I didn’t really have that community, so it definitely inspired me to kinda have that similarity—just how candidly he spoke about things, and how simply he put it. He didn’t have to be an insane wordsmith or have all this swagger to express himself. My first album was about my grandpa passing, and just the way MIKE talks about grief so candidly, it gave me refuge in that.”

Similar to MIKE’s 2017 breakthrough MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE, listening to KISSES OF LIFE feels like being privy to something that wasn’t necessarily intended to be heard. Its protagonist seems to be emotionally locked inside a confined space that he needs to either journal or daydream his way out of. But for Voice Memos From A Winter In China, Sue has written from more expansive horizons. There is no need for escape here; instead, the album’s seasonal setting becomes a defining—and liberating—part of the story, with Sue invoking winter weather to bring an earnestness to the struggles and successes he documents.

Merch for this release:
Cassette, T-Shirt/Shirt

Over the dying embers of guitar scattered through “Dragon,” Sue tiptoes “when the dragon’s sleeping/ Smoke in the cold ’til my hands start freezing.” The photograph that adorns the album’s cover was taken outside a snow-covered motel where Sue stayed during the tour; a large blue circle is superimposed over the image to represent a dragon, which Sue explains is a creature that’s often depicted holding blue pearls as a way to symbolize the pursuit of wisdom and self-improvement. On “Winter Love,” the MC recalls driving through a blizzard and discovering comfort, “in the winter playing sad tunes.” The tender “Post Tour Blues (Outro)” makes explicit the capacity to transform cold into warmth: “Stomping in the snow/ Pouring out my soul ’til my shoes feel broken/ Eyes started close, but my mind stay open/ Smoking in the cold ’til our hands feel frozen/ So much love for the fam’/ Man, my heart feels swollen.”

Sue says it was the inherently contemplative quality of the wintry weather he experienced on tour that directed the tone of the album. “To me, it feels like winter,” Sue says. “There’s a sort of—not coldness, but a comfortableness. For Singaporeans, when we feel winter, that’s like a dream for us, because we hate the heat. It’s just so special.”

“I would say this album is about finding warmth and comfort with all the grief and darkness that have carried along with me this year,” Sue continues. “I’m not fighting or pushing it away—it’s an embrace of all that comes with it.”

Read more in Hip-Hop/Rap →

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →