Hip-hop artists on how the genre is placed at the moment in India
We scoop out artistes from across India who are furthering a genre that is at the heart of Gully Boy, the much-awaited Bollywood movie
Apna time aayega. That's the tag line for the next big Bollywood release that hits screens in February. It presumably refers to the two Mumbai rappers — DIVINE and Naezy — that the film is based on. And there is fever-pitch anticipation to find out how the corporate entity that the Hindi film industry is will depict a duo who, till a few years ago, were as underground as it gets.
But truth be told, unka time kaafi pehle aa chuka tha. The two had their first moment under the sun in 2014. That's when they burst through the ranks, immediately shifting the focus of hip-hop in India from the south to the gullies of Dharavi. It's true that Naezy has since dropped out of the scene. But a combination of factors — including raw talent, canny marketing and a willing audience — has seen the former become such a massive phenomenon that he's almost become synonymous with non-commercial hip-hop in the country.
That doesn't paint an accurate picture of how the genre is placed at the moment in India, however. For, it's not just about Mumbai's gullies. From Shillong to Delhi to Bengaluru, there are a whole bunch of musicians who are furthering a movement. Be it in Kannada or Urdu, they are starting a conversation that doesn't have any one language. So, we decided to take a pan-India look at where hip-hop stands today, shifting the focus away from Dharavi to some lesser-known musicians. Par unka time kab ayega? Sooner rather than later, hopefully.
It's around 2006. There is no sign of any hip-hop scene yet in this city. But a bunch of boys in Goregaon West's BEST Colony are so influenced by what they have seen filtering in on TV and on the Internet that they decide to adopt that lifestyle, because that's essentially what hip-hop is — a lifestyle. And they form Mumbai's Finest, one of the city's earliest crews. "We were like outlaws back then, you know? People used to laugh at us mockingly, asking us why we are trying to be something that we were not. There were no shows, no radio to speak of, and no YouTube either. It was pretty difficult for people to accept that it was just a case of a few like-minded guys coming together," says Ace, one of the founding members. Compare it to where things stand today and it's a straight reflection of how far this genre has evolved in this country.
Smokey the Ghost
Here's a bit of trivia. Even before the gullies of Dharavi had started buzzing with the sound of rap poetry, Bengaluru was already a place where India's then nascent hip-hop movement was taking shape. And that's thanks mainly to Machas With Attitude, a trio consisting of Brodha V, Smokey the Ghost and Bigg Nikk. "Actually, if you talk to DIVINE, he will tell you that he got inspired to come out and become a rapper after he heard Brodha V. That's why you will also see Brodha V making an appearance in Gully Boy," Smokey reveals.
When Kolkata act Adiacot released the track Gully Mein Apna Kutta Bhi Sher Hai last year, it was a direct attempt at shaking up a hip-hop scene that they felt had fallen into a rut after the popularity of Dharavi rappers had skyrocketed. "When they first came up, it was a new vibe for hip-hop in India. But it became stagnant after that. And we felt that it was time for us to show that Calcutta has a hip-hop scene as well. It was a calculated move I had made to shift focus to my city," founding member EPR says of the diss track with such below-the-belt lines that you can't help but go "ouch" upon hearing it. And Adiacot apart, there is also the Shillong-based duo Big Ri and Meba Ofilia from the east, who — when they won the trophy for Best Indian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2018 — scaled a peak that no other hip-hop act in this country has yet achieved.
Credit goes to Prabh Deep for slowly shifting the focus of Punjabi rap away from the likes of Badshah, Raftaar and Yo Yo Honey Singh. The 25-year-old from the Capital's Tilak Nagar still has some distance to go before he reaches their commercial success. But that's not what he was aiming for anyway when he announced his arrival with the hard-hitting Class-Sikh in 2017. And nor are the boys from Seedhe Maut, another Delhi-based act, in it solely for the riches. They recently launched Bayaan, their debut album, and Encore ABJ, one half of the two-member outfit, explains, "We are expressing ourselves through the songs in it. The word 'bayaan' itself means a statement, or expression. The thing is, we want our audience to know us better so that we can represent them better. And that's our job as hip-hop artistes — if someone is able to connect with our music, we automatically become their representatives, their mouthpiece."
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