Rapper Raftaar's new single, Instagram Love is all about love aaj kal and all that, he says. Dancing amid hot young things with pop colours surrounding them, he sways and sings, “In the morning, uthte hi dekhoon tera update kya, kiya follow tujhe hi, I love to see your Instagram”. It's a tune that is now stuck in our head.
Raftaar, the son of a former janitor with the Railways, hopes to rap about social ills. Pic/Atul Kamble
He says his inspiration comes from his own experiences with female fans on the photo social networking site. “Initially, I wouldn't check the notifications; there are too many. Then, one day, at the insistence of some friends, I checked my direct messages…” he smiles, seated opposite us in his vanity van on the sets of television show, Comedy Nights Bachao. What he found was expected, but still surprising. “There were girls telling me they love me. 'truly, madly, deeply'. They would say things like, 'It's not because you are a rapper, but because I fell in love with you'. How could that be? They don't even know me. All they see is the filter. You see the best side of a person, and that's not love.” It's why Instagram Love, produced and released by One Digital Entertainment two weeks ago, came into being. It's Raftaar's first-ever solo single.
A still from the video
The 27-year-old, whose real name is Dilin Nair, hails from Trichur in Kerala and is no stranger to fame. He started his career in 2009 with Yo Yo Honey Singh and RDB, with songs like Beer Bar, Gadbad and Tamanche Pe Disco. His first big hit was Swag Mera Desi Hai with Manj Musik. Ever since, he is known for his smooth rap and effortless swag. “I never call myself a rapper. Actually, my Instagram bio says 'a poet with a little bit of swag'.” His story is a rags-to-riches one, and he admits that that it could be the reason he is grounded.
“I call all my fans my brothers, because I am one of them.” His father was a janitor in the Indian Railways in Delhi, and mother, a typist. “All their money went into sending me to good schools. Now, they are happy with my success. My mom calls me and says, 'I need the latest iPhone!'” But, in Delhi, an expensive school meant his classmates would show off their fancy “lunch boxes”. “They would tease me, calling me a poor Malyali.” It was then that Raftaar's aggressive side took charge.
“I used to pick fights all the time. I got thrown out of many schools and was eventually sent to a school in Sonepat. That's why I am so good with my Haryanvi, Hindi and Punjabi. I have travelled on Haryana Roadways, after all!” he laughs.
One day, though, he woke up and realised he didn't want to fight anymore. “I think it's a matter of getting it out of your system,” he says. It could be a lucky coincidence that this decision was made around the time he started rhyming. “My father, during his cleaning days, used to bring home all the comics and books people left behind on trains. He wanted me to read. That's how my vocabulary improved. I used to find rhyme in everything — even things like 'hat, rat' sounded magical to me.” While he was pursuing a degree in English (Hons) and Bachelor of Computer Applications through correspondence from Delhi University, his friends introduced him to Eminem. “That changed my life. Eminem, The Game (he points to the tattoo of the same on his arm), Lupe Fiasco… I knew this was it.” He started recording on his laptop with flimsy headphones and uploading his music on Reverb Nation. In 2009, he met Honey, and started singing professionally. After working with him till 2013, he split. He claims Honey hogged the credit. He then got involved in an ugly spat with the star rapper, who after making a comeback last year from what most suggest was rehab, he said he didn't even know who Raftaar was. He was reacting to reports of Raftaar calling him an “insecure little girl”.
“I am so over that. What happened, happened. We won't work together again, but we are all doing our own thing musically.” What Raftaar plans to do next is release many more singles, because “albums don't work anymore”. But he also wants to keep true to what his rapping really wants to achieve.
“Everyone sings about girls and parties. I do too, but I do it with respect. In one of my songs, I say, charm a girl, patao her, but like a gentleman…” he says adding, “But the true aim is to make songs about social injustice, global warming, and subjects that are important to us. In my song Mother Nature, I sang 'rone ka kya fayda, galti humari hai'. I do the sexy songs so people can listen to songs like these. It's the only way it will work.”