For better or verse
A young rapper will launch his debut EP and discuss how art came to his rescue in an hour of need
If you talk to the current crop of hip-hop artistes who have steadily taken over the Indian indie scene, you'll find that most of them looked to the West to gain an understanding about rap music. They will state stars like Nas, Biggie Smalls, Tupac and Eminem as their primary influences. But that wasn't the case with Nitin Mishra aka Spitfire. A new friend he'd made after switching schools in class 11 — Ayush Khare aka Wordsmith — had introduced the 21-year-old Indore resident to rap music. Khare hand-held Mishra and taught him the ropes of rhythm and poetry, and when the latter started listening to famous artistes to further his musical education, the person who left the biggest impact on him was Bohemia, a Pakistani-Punjabi rapper with a massive following.
Mishra, who's now ready to launch his debut EP at a gig in Mumbai, tells us in Hindi, "I found it difficult to keep up with English lyrics when I first started listening to this music, but I felt a real connect with Bohemia. I started writing properly only after listening to him, and even now, you'll find him on the top of my playlist."
It thus follows that when Mishra and Khare formed a duo, he decided to spit rhymes in his mother tongue, Hindi. The two would perform in Indore's stuttering indie scene and at occasional gigs in other cities. But Mishra's first real break came when a clothing company launched a competition in 2017 as part of the promotions for Gully Boy, the smash-hit film. The winner would get a chance to star in a music video featuring Ranveer Singh. The youngster was then preparing to reappear for his class 12 exams. Khare, though, had already left Indore for higher studies. His friend was hence now on his own, though he provided Mishra with constant encouragement. The latter eventually won the competition and was included in the music video. He says, "Later, Ranveer Bhai asked Zoya ma'am [Akhtar, Gully Boy's director] to see if I could help with the film in any way. She heard my music and told me to come on board as a writer for some of the tracks, and that's how I came to pen some lines for Asli Hip-hop, the first track in the movie."
That's also how Mishra came to gain a foothold in the country's thriving hip-hop scene, and he hopes that his EP — Paathshala — will now help him cement his place further in it. It's a deeply personal endeavour and the tracks talk about how art came to Mishra's help in his hour of need, conveyed through lines like, "Shayar ke kaagaz kalam ka gham se rishta hai kya/ Tum jano na/ Larte sipahi ka maut se rishta hai kya/ Tum jano na." The rapper says, "I was working on a single and realised that there is an embedded concept in it, which is about how art can give you the vision you need to move ahead in life. It's what can save you. So, I drew from that concept to write the other three singles in the EP."
Those are what he will perform at a Khar venue this weekend, along with some unreleased material. Attend it to gain an understanding about how Indian rappers are slowly building their own vocabulary, which even the US — the home of hip-hop — is now gradually waking up to.
On July 19, 9 pm
AT Khar Social, Rohan Plaza, Khar West.
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