Naim Daniel on Flizzow, film and ‘Fobia’: “I want to prove a point”

The Malaysian actor is finding sure footing in music with debut album ‘Fobia’ and collaborations with Joe Flizzow and ALYPH. But as NME finds out, he’s eager to do more

Naim Daniel cuts a buoyant figure as he bounds into the Zoom frame from his Glenmarie home. It’s taken us a month to secure face time with the 24-year-old Malaysian, and no wonder: the actor’s star is rising in the music world, having released a single featuring hip-hop luminary Joe Flizzow and his debut album ‘Fobia’, which dropped on the once-in-a-lifetime date of 22.2.2022.

“Right now, we’re just watching to see how we can cater to the market with songs they like for the next music video,” Naim says with a grin of his next plans for ‘Fobia’. The songs on the record are like his “nine children” – the creation of each akin to character-building, a tough but necessary process.

“This song ‘OK (You OK ke tak tu)’ was really challenging for me to do,” he reveals. “I spent so many working hours on that song just to work on the simplicity. Usually you want to do something complex, like pecah kepala [head exploding].”

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“To do something really simple yet annoying” – or infectiously catchy – “was really hard for me.”

Naim Daniel has been in the public eye for over a decade now. He first began his professional acting career on the 2008 Internet drama Jelma alongside veteran actors Norman Hakim, Fauziah Nawi and Aida Aris and quickly became a regular on terrestrial TV serial dramas. He took roles in 13 dramas from 2008 to 2020, expanding his repertoire to television films along the way.

Naim also built a devoted following on Instagram, where he first started sharing his singing. His fans eventually convinced Naim to try his hand at music, leading to the release of his debut single ‘Sekali Lagi’ in 2018. On ‘Fobia’, he offers a modern, appealing mix of pop, R&B and hip-hop – the last connection cemented by a feature from ALYPH, the Singapore producer and rapper of SleeQ fame.

Naim was conscious he had to make his entrance into the hip-hop world an authentic one. “I really feel that combination of hip-hop and pop just works,” he explains. “To make it happen, I [couldn’t] do it half-heartedly. It [had to] be very something special, like ‘Habis Sini’ with Joe. I love listening to rap and hip-hop myself, but to present myself as ‘Naim Daniel, the guy who can sing and rap’ is quite tricky.”

He is of course talking about none other than Joe Flizzow, a legend in Malaysia’s rap scene who popularised hip-hop culture in the country with his crew Too Phat. The founder of label Kartel Records who helped unearth talents like SonaOne and CJ CZA and now the managing director of Def Jam Southeast Asia, Flizzow is also a bona fide rap mogul – and a bucket list feature for many local rappers.

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Naim had been hunting for a rapper to guest on ‘Habis Sini’, “but something just wasn’t clicking”. So he shot his shot in Flizzow’s Instagram DMs – and he said yes. Working with the veteran was a steep learning curve: “When he kicked into the studio I was like, ‘what the hell am I doing with my first verse?’” Naim recalls. “The first draft was such a mess. Thankfully Joe supported me.”

Flizzow eased Naim into the process, bringing in SonaOne to give his two cents on the writing of ‘Habis Sini’. “I didn’t even ask [Flizzow] for his aid to write,” Naim laughs. “He just said, ‘Come to the studio’, and I crashed his studio with Sona. Sona’s like the tech guy with his Macbook, and they just sit with their fingers over the record button. And I’m the one getting put on the spot!”

As Naim tells it, Flizzow and SonaOne gave him something akin to a hip-hop education. “I’m here looking at my paper and wondering, ‘when did I ask these guys to help me write?’ when I realise, oh – maybe it’s not about helping me write but wanting to help me vibe with the situation, which is a part of rap culture, recording sessions and how it all works.

“So that night I focused on putting my bars down and eventually found something that got Sona vibing. It ended up that I wrote my bars on my own! Joe and Sona didn’t want to take over the process, they just were there like, ‘do your thing, man.’”

“Acting is my first love and singing is my first crush”

This baptism by fire with Flizzow and SonaOne could not have been more different from Naim’s remote collaboration with ALYPH, who features on the album cut ‘Biar Tuhan’. “My experience of collaborating with ALYPH,” Naim leans in with a conspiratorial air, “was like working with an urban legend. I’ve never met him, not even once! There wasn’t even a video call or anything, I just received an email with his file and was like, ‘OK, this can work’.

“That said, it just opened my eyes to two different ways collaborations happen,” he muses. “There’s Joe’s work ethic, and there’s ALYPH’s. Working with others gives me some POV [point of view] on how to handle things.”

Naim is grateful not only for the support of music industry veterans, but his fans. “It’s not just a one-man journey. I’m glad I’m not the only one growing up – my fans are growing up with me,” he says. “Like, some of my fans even have kids now! I feel glad because I’m part of their growing-up process. It’s kinda sweet, because when it comes to art it’s not about ‘you’, but [the] people around you and how you get connected with them and they get connected with you.”

Naim Daniel Fobia album interview Joe Flizzow
Credit: Press

Some of those fans no doubt want to know how Naim is balancing his dual careers. “The transition from Naim Daniel the actor, to Naim Daniel the singer [is] kinda tough for me sometimes. I still get these questions from the press like, ‘when will you be acting again?’, and I don’t want to differentiate,” he says, running a hand through his long fringe.

“Acting is my first love and singing is my first crush, and both of my professions complement each other because I become familiar with emotions and how to express them in work.”

He adds: “I’m quite choosy about projects now. If there’s a very special project that’s very challenging for me [in terms of] character development and my commitment, then I’m up for it.”

“It’s not just a one-man journey. I’m glad I’m not the only one growing up – my fans are growing up with me”

Besides the next music video from ‘Fobia’, Naim also revealed plans to go on tour with his “brother” and ‘Sedih’ collaborator Ismail Izzani, who like Naim is signed to World Peace Entertainment, a record label headed by ‘Adrenalin’ singer Faizal Tahir. The tour is still in its planning stages, and Naim doesn’t want to commit to any dates or locations, though he expects it to happen later this year.

“It’s been a while since we’re gotten to perform onstage together, just to get to mingle with the crowd and the people supporting our music – I’m kinda stoked for it! I won the AJL [the televised music contest Anugerah Juara Lagu] in 2020, then COVID happened, so we just gotta get back on track,” he says, the effervescent smile from the start of the interview spreading across his face as he contemplates performing for a crowd again.

Naim Daniel Fobia album interview Joe Flizzow
Credit: Press

Though eager to share ‘Fobia’ with his fans, Naim is also looking forward to broadening his musical horizons. “Whatever I’m doing, I don’t want to tend to one particular genre, you know? I still want to explore new things in this industry and for myself, there are a lot of things to learn,” he says earnestly.

“I feel [having] a support system in this industry like Joe, or even ALYPH, will open a new chapter for me. I want to prove a point that even newcomers can do something that’s out of the norm.”

Naim Daniel’s ‘Fobia’ is out now via World Peace Entertainment

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