Kit Naga’s ‘Son of the Dragon’ is Perky, Playful, and Surprisingly Personal
Review by Lim Jack Kin

“My biggest dream is to shine a light on Malaysia as a queer artist. We have a lot to offer,” says Kit Naga. Having recently returned to Malaysia following a few years living in Australia and then Sweden, this dream holds a special gravity for the singer-songwriter behind Son of the Dragon, his debut album released this year.

“Malaysia is kind of anonymous in the international [music] market. My biggest dream would be to make my country proud, and be myself. But my smaller dream,” he added, “[would be to] keep creating music.”

Those two desires have definitely left their marks on Son of the Dragon. In short, it feels like a distillation of Kit Naga’s personality; a snapshot of a young, independent musician intent on carving out a place in our musical landscape and on having a good time along the way.

Beginning with a series of contemporary R&B-inspired tracks, the album starts with its cheeriest songs. Its light tone is somewhat reminiscent of Katy Perry’s earlier work a la Teenage Dream, though with a production style focusing more on electronic piano, drum machine beats, and pitch-corrected vocals, along with uncomplicated lyrics that unfold like a pastel-coloured greeting card.

As it progresses, the songs get more introspective and a little more serious, while folding in a few trap and hip hop influences. They never ease up on the tempo though, making Son of the Dragon a smooth, upbeat listen overall, albeit one that doesn’t really stray too far from convention.

Expressions of Kit’s exuberance shine throughout the album, from its tongue-in-cheek reclaiming of stereotypical Chinese imagery on the cover art to its opening track, ‘Babe’, where he flatters and sweet-talks a stubborn lover, completing a rhyming of ‘ecstasy’ with a giggling ‘hehe’. The music video to that song—following Kit ‘parenting’ a child doll—hammers home this mood and aesthetic, filmed in a cutesy interior filled with light pinks and baby blues. He describes his creative process as “Go out and have fun”, and that joy is writ large on Son of the Dragon.

Another thing to note is Kit’s fascinating use of language; to be frank, Son of the Dragon’s songwriting is straightforward, even simplistic at times, with lines like “I will never stop, keep on riding” from ‘Trying’ or “Not the type that can be tamed / At least not before you came” from ‘No Rule’ feeling vaguely like lyrics we’ve all heard before.

Even so, Kit sings with an audible Malaysian-Chinese accent that subtly transforms each line’s delivery. It may seem like a small thing—it may even sound ‘wrong’ to the dogmatic—but I can’t begin to explain how delightful it is to hear the phrase “You give my life new purpose” sung with the exact same scansion as “Bring me out of character”. With a ‘Western’ accent it simply wouldn’t work, but Malaysian English makes possible all sorts of wonderful new combinations, even if this record isn’t using it to convey dense metaphors or complex poetry.

That said, Son of the Dragon is not without its lyrical or thematic gems. It’s not all just feel-good pop, as Kit Naga occasionally drops a powerful, serious line. In “Colours”, a sweet love song, he hits out at the bigotry of institutional religion and sings “I was told by Jesus / What I love is sinful / Jesus ain’t here / So that just makes it simple.” As an independent artist, Kit isn’t signed to a record label that might censor his work, and he uses this creative freedom to be as honest as he can about his experiences.

The rest of the album undergoes a mood shift as Kit begins to look inwards. “School” is a nostalgic but regretful look at the follies of childhood, while “Dream” is a song about pursuing an artistic career from working class roots. The latter also contains my favourite lyric in the whole album: “Dream is a privilege when you got nothing to eat.” Finally, the album closes with its only somber track: “Bear”, a small outro song about loneliness sung almost like a children’s nursery rhyme.

It’s these sparks of sincerity that keep Son of the Dragon from being overly one-note, and they’re also a reminder of the hidden nuances in Kit Naga’s style, as well as the pressures and challenges he works around to produce his art.

As a debut, this record is an effective mood piece first and foremost: it’s lively and effervescent, just like the artist himself, and while the production work on it isn’t unorthodox or groundbreakingly visionary, it’s clean and conventional enough to let his colourful personality take centre stage.

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Lim Jack Kin is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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