Going with the flow

Updated: Jun 15, 2019, 07:43 IST | Shunashir Sen

A young man from Dharamshala, fresh from winning a rap competition in Mumbai, shows how Indian hip-hop is not just an urban phenomenon

Going with the flow
Warboy and DEVM perform at the competition

Anyone who thinks that hip-hop in India is an urban phenomenon should meet Ashutosh Rai aka Warboy. He — along with his producer, Devam Pandey, or DEVM — has just been declared the winner of Red Bull Spotlight, a national-level hip-hop competition held in Mumbai. And the 20-year-old hails from Dharamshala, a small town cradled in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh that's best known for being the Dalai Lama's adopted home. That's where he picked up his rhyming chops, starting in his mid-teens and practising his craft till he was good enough to stave off competition from 10 other Indian cities.

Rai's journey started in the ninth grade, when a friend who's 10 years older than him, and who he considers his mentor, introduced him to rap music. "I heard it and I immediately felt that I can also write stuff like this," he says. But he adds that he initially had a casual approach to hip-hop. That changed when he shifted schools in Class 11, and suddenly found that he had few friends to hang out with. Hip-hop thus started consuming his time in a more serious manner, with the youngster immersing himself into the worlds of artistes like Lil Wayne, Wu Tang Clan and Kendrick Lamar.

Ashutosh Rai aka Warboy (right) and Devam Pandey aka DEVM
Ashutosh Rai aka Warboy (right) and Devam Pandey aka DEVM

The next step in his evolution came when he shifted to Noida for college and met Pandey there. The two of them soon built a musical partnership. And when Pandey came across the competition by accident while surfing the web, he suggested that the duo apply for the auditions in Chandigarh. After missing a 4 am train, catching a 6.30 am one, and reaching the venue one hour into the auditions having started — all with just `500 between them — they eventually made it to the national-level finals in Mumbai, judged by notable acts like Dopeadelicz, Swadesi and Seedhe Maut.

The plan after this win is not to rest on its laurels, and return immediately to the studio to make more music. As is the case with many young rappers, Rai first started off rhyming in English, but later switched to Hindi since he felt that that would help him express himself better. His influences, he says, aren't the same as someone from Mumbai or Delhi. "I am from the mountains and the issues I talk about are different," he says, adding that there is a rap scene in Dharamshala, though it's "under underground". Either way, it exists. And let's hope that with Rai's win, more and more schoolchildren from the town help place it on the national hip-hop map.

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