In 2006,Suvan Mathur,a Delhi University student,could not think beyond hip hop,a relatively new music genre in India. He rapped in college,reeled out international hip hop numbers and dressed the part too loose shirts,long basketball shorts,a peaked cap and several rings. A regular at hip hop nights in Delhi clubs,Mathur started learning DJing and planned to become a hip hop DJ. Cut to 2012 he is known to a few as DJ Uzi,lives in Mumbai and is hardly ever behind the console. There are few hip hop gigs taking place now. Most people expect electronica or Bollywood music,and I dont play these. Its a different music phase in India, he says,in a disheartened tone.
Over the years,while indie music spread its wings in the country and branched across genres reggae,ska,dubstep and blues hip hop seemed to have been pushed into the shadows. Today,few clubs slot hip hop nights,it has a negligible presence at music festivals,and there are almost no new names in the Indian hip hop scene. There isnt a lot of money in hip hop in India. In fact,some youngsters who play hip hop music are willing to do it for free, adds Mathur.
Of all reasons cited for this change,the most prominent is the emergence of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) that has replaced hip hop in clubs. Hip hop nights still happen but the audience is not very big. Getting international hip hop artistes is very expensive and a lot of event companies and clubs dont want to spend that much. Consequently,hip hop fans dont get the kind of thrill they want, says Shrey Dua,founder,Chaos Entertainment and public-relations officer for the Noida-based club,Quantum. Internationally,EDM is on the rise but hip hop is still among the top genres,but in India,the decline of hip hop coincided with the arrival of EDM three years ago.
The music calendar in India,too,has been getting packed. From the annual Sunburn Festival in Goa,that promotes electronica to Summer Storm Festival in Bengaluru that focuses on heavy metal and rock to Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival,most genres promote a certain kind of genre and artistes. Hip hop is missing in action. We hardly know of any hip hop acts that are consistent performers in India. I am sure there is a lot of talent but they have not been able to connect with the audience or make their presence felt, says Lalrinawma Tochhawng,founder of Escape Festival of Arts and Music,which will be held this weekend in Naukuchital.
The arrival of EDM did result in some fight back from hip hop artistes. The year 2010 saw the emergence of one of Indias first live hip hop outfits,Bombay Bassment. Known for tracks such as Rebirth of Slick and Bomb the Bass,the collective comprises MC Bob Omulo,drummer Levin Mendes,bassist Ruell Barretto and DJ Chandu aka Chandrashekhar Kunder. When we formed the band,the acceptance was phenomenal. Hip hop artistes are clearly not putting themselves out in the open,the way other indie bands do. They have to use social media to their advantage,they have to be consistent and not one-hit wonders. One cant blame record labels or music festivals, says Omulo,a Kenyan based in India.
Hip hop is not just music,its about community building. Lately a lot of artistes have been copying artistes from abroad,and that never works, says Tanmay Bahulekar,founder of Mumbai-based band,Microphon3. According to him,Yo Yo Honey Singh,of hits such as Brown Rang,is doing very well by localising hip hop. He is really good at what he does,he localises hip hop and has a big marketing machinery. If other hip hop artistes also start working like this,people will finally get a glimpse of Indian hip hop, he adds.