Disabled rapper Wheel Smith preparing for his biggest gig to date

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
Danial Bawthan, also known by his cheeky artist moniker “Wheel Smith”, has written more than 40 songs, of which two have been released. (Photo: Nurul Amirah Haris for Yahoo News Singapore)

When 24-year-old Danial Bawthan first received an email inviting him to perform at the upcoming True Colours Festival concert in Singapore, he was shocked.

“I thought it was spam at first. Then I got nervous… and later realised that this is the big moment that I have been building up to as a musician,” said the rapper and freelance sound designer.

The festival, held in Singapore for the first time, showcases disabled artists from all over the world, including Danial and seven other local acts.

The concert, set at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from 23 to 25 March, will be Danial’s biggest “gig” to date – and his most personal yet.

At the age of four, Danial was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

The disease, which causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, left him using crutches at the age of 12, and four years later, in a wheelchair.

It was also around the same time when the ardent hip-hop fan started actively pursuing his interest in music.

Increasingly conscious about being left out of physical activities in secondary school, Danial distracted himself by writing songs and dabbling in different instruments.

“Music gives me a sense of identity,” he quipped. ”I guess sound doesn’t label you that much. You can’t tell if someone has lost a limb when he’s singing.”

With around $3,000 saved up from a job stint at a salad bar after his N-levels, Danial invested in a MacBook laptop and the Logic Pro X audio software.

As his interest in hip-hop grew, the self-taught musician spent another $3,400 to build a small “sound booth” in his bedroom to allow him to “record anytime he wanted”.

Since then, Danial – also known by his cheeky artist moniker “Wheel Smith” – has written over 40 songs, of which two have been released.

His first EP, “The Roll Out”, is heavily influenced by hip-hop artists Kanye West, Childish Gambino and 50 Cent. It contains four new tracks and is set to be released this month.

As part of his performance at the concert, Danial will be beat-boxing as well as rapping a song off his upcoming EP called “I Know”.

Inspired by his experience living with muscular dystrophy, “I Know” is about his own awareness of others’ perception of him. Danial cited being “stared at by others in public” and having parents “pull their kids away” from him as some examples of such behaviour.

He hopes the True Colours concert will encourage others to include disabled artists at regular gigs and that his own participation will set a good example for his peers.

“To be a successful rapper and a music producer is to set the standards for the next generation,” said Danial, who is also an active wheelchair rugby player. “They can then say, ‘Somebody like him has done it.’”

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