Exclusive: Naezy on Gully Boy: People are looking at us like we're pioneers of Indian hip hop
With Gully Boy releasing on February 14, mid-day.com got an exclusive interview with Naezy, the rapper on whom the film is loosely based. Starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, Gully Boy's jukebox is already ruling the charts
Underground rap and hip hop have gained quite a bit of momentum on the block, courtesy Zoya Akhtar's film, Gully Boy. The film features Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, and is loosely based on the lives of rappers Naved Shaikh, aka, Naezy, and Vivian Fernandes, aka Divine. These rappers have tried to bring about a revolution in the society with their impactful rap songs. The film is set to release on February 14, 2019, and the film's cast has been busy promoting it extensively. So are these rappers, who are the real heroes of this film. While Gully Boy is a day away from release, mid-day.com got in touch with Naezy to delve into his journey and how it figures in the film, talk about his experience of associating with Ranveer Singh and Zoya Akhtar, and what he's expecting from Gully Boy.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did Naved Shaikh become Naezy?
I became Naezy because of hip hop. As a kid, I was always Naezy and I would indulge in a lot of mischiefs. I didn't know that I had a different personality inside me; I realised it only after I started singing hip hop and performing on stage. It brought into focus a crazier version of Naved and with this 'crazy' he became Naezy. That's how it became my stage name.
How does it feel to have a film based on underground rappers, that is largely inspired by you and Divine?
It feels great that a movie is being made on our lives. Gully Boy is not a biopic, but at the same time, it is loosely based on us. The structure of the story is based on what we used to do, how the struggle was during the initial days, how we turned hip hop into an art form from the gully, how we used the language and the whole medium to become what we are today. It's a good feeling that a film is being made, and I think the masses, who are not listening to hip hop and don't know about us have now become interested in knowing about us. It's a good thing for us.
Can you tell us about your first meeting with Zoya Akhtar?
I came into the picture in 2014. At that time, nobody knew about me. When I saw that everyone was rapping in English, I came up with Hindi rhymes and gave a different authenticity to the flow. I made hip hop real with 'Aafat,' my first DIY video that was shot on the iPad. With Aafat, I gained recognition and people got to know what happens in the 'gullies' (lanes) of Bombay. Zoya Akhtar ma'am had heard this rap while editing Dil Dhadakne Do. Our common friend, music composer Ankur Tiwari showed her the Aafat video and she got interested in it. They got in touch with me and Zoya ma'am started asking me questions like, 'Tell me about your life.' We jammed for a while, and from there she began planning a movie on street rap.
What was your first reaction upon learning that Zoya Akhtar wanted to make a film based on rap and hip hop that featured Ranveer Singh?
My first comment to Zoya ma'am was, 'This is too early because we have just started our careers.' To which she said that the film won't be a biopic. It got me excited, but at the same time, it made me nervous because I didn't want everyone to know what my story was. At that point, I was too new to the industry. I was scared and nervous, but at the same time, I realised that this was very important to do on a bigger level. The responsibility has increased these days because people are looking at us like we're pioneers of Indian hip hop. Therefore, it's very important to maintain that consistency. Sometimes, I feel that I should take a step back, and other times, I think to myself that we have just started, so we've got to end this on a high note.
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How closely have you been a part of the filmmaking process?
We (Naezy and Divine) have been with Zoya ma'am since the initial days. We've been sitting and jamming with her. We helped her with the script by telling her our stories; we even took her to our hoods, because there are two worlds – one, where Zoya ma'am comes from, and the other where we belong. I think we made the script more authentic and we were always around when she required something. We were also around when the dialogues were being written and also during promotions. This movie is very close to our hearts. She also would come to watch our performances and we've built a good relationship with her.
You have also done workshops with Ranveer Singh. How was the experience, and how is Ranveer when it comes to learning how to rap?
When we are around, there's a different level of energy and a different environment because we as rappers are calm and serious. Ranveer Singh, on the other hand, is very energetic. So, when we hang out together, it balances out. We tell stories to him and he enjoys our language – the way we talk about hip hop and chill. He's a good listener and he's been listening to hip hop for a while. We also listen to the same music and therefore it's good when we are together.
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The jukebox of Gully Boy is ruling the charts. Out of all 18 songs, which one is your favourite?
I like Kaam Bhaari's rap, because he kind of sounds like me, he's a little Naezy. What he does in his flow is very 'tadtadi' 'takpak takpak'. So, I like the flow and he's the new kid on the block, who is coming up with different and unique styles. Also, I like the song Azadi by Divine.
Didn't you want to rap any of these songs from the film's jukebox?
I wasn't around when the film's music was being made. I had taken a break and was out of the country. It became really hard for them to get in touch with me. So, that's why I am not in the album.
Do you think rapping will be given more prominence post-Gully Boy's release?
Definitely! It is going to help us a lot because people haven't known about us for a long time. Four to five years ago, we were working so hard underground, and now Bollywood has woken up to the Indie scene. So I think 'The Gully Rap', 'The Bombay Hip Hop', all of this is going to come into focus and become a cult now. The masses will accept it because it's getting validated by Zoya Akhtar and big names like Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt. People have started thinking that the underground rap scene has value.
How has life changed on a personal level for you after Gully Boy?
Life is still the same. I still wake up early in the morning to write rhymes, go out to the studios, jam, listen to music, travel around the city – everything is the same. It's just that people have started recognising me on the streets a lot more. Now, even at places where you don't expect people to recognise you, they are like, 'Yeh vo hi hai na Gully Boy vala?' (Isn't he the guy from Gully Boy?). They come and ask for selfies. Sometimes, I get irritated, and think 'Kyun famous ho raha hu yaar?' (Why am I gaining fame?) It's a mixed feeling; I also feel good that people are recognising me. Life is changing slowly. We are popular, but we don't carry ourselves that way. We still travel on our motorbikes or use public transport. It's tough at the same time because there are issues happening in our locality, at home… we face a lot of problems, but simultaneously we are being recognised globally. I just did a track with Nas (American rapper) which is a very big thing for us. Life is definitely changing; it's not a plain road.
Did your family support the idea of you taking up rapping as a profession?
It's always been hard at home. My family never supported me because they wanted me to be an engineer or a doctor, who would work 9-5, have security in his job, and come home on time. Now, when I come home post 10 pm or 12 am, they start throwing comments like, 'Shareef ghar ke ladke itni der se nahin aate' (Children from good families don't come home so late). They are over-protective. They think that the industry is a bad place and I shouldn't be rapping. The image they have in their mind about rap and hip hop is that it's about the objectification of women, consuming alcohol and doing drugs. I think they have negative thoughts about this and have been stopping me for a while from rapping, but I am trying to explain to them that what I am doing is different. I can do this without getting into the negative stuff. It's a fight between me and my family.
So who is your favourite rapper?
My favourite rappers are Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and Biggie.
What are you currently working on?
I had taken a break, but now I am making a comeback with a track titled, 'Aafat Vapas'. It's being mixed and mastered by international engineers in New York and the UK. Now, we are trying our best to make the sound quality as top notch as we can.
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