The voice of the streets has taken over radio spots and while we are still practicing the new lingo and trying to insert phrases like ‘bohot hard’ seamlessly in the conversation, the underground hip hop scene is enjoying its moment under the sun.
Thanks to Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, street rappers are enjoying a golden phase in their careers and this isn’t just limited to their appearance in the movie. Because of services like Apple Music, the genre which was once underground is starting to go international.
Global appeal of desi hip-hop
Naved Shaikh aka Naezy, whose track “Aafat” intrigued Zoya Akhtar enough to make a movie, shares that no matter what the language is, “music is universal.” “Like we listen to ‘Despacito’ and ‘Taki Taki’, our music is also heard in a lot of places. We did a few tours in UK and got a lot of messages from people who don’t understand our language. They have now started listening to our music. I think the language barrier can’t stop us,” shares Naezy with a lot of hope for the scene.
Dilin Nair aka Raftaar has the same opinion. He says, “For people who don’t understand the language, it’s the beat. Rap starts to look a little more like pop when you talk about international numbers.” Divine agrees with his peers, “The beat is the backbone of the track, it’s the combination of the beat with the vocal flow that catches people’s attention, even if they don’t understand the words.”
Contrary to these opinions, Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head – Hip hop and R&B, Ebro Darden says that the popularity of Hindi tracks can get affected in English speaking countries. He says, “It (rapping in Hindi) will affect their popularity with English-speaking countries, just like I’m sure there’s some songs that don’t make it over in India from America. It will slow it down from getting as popular as it could.” Ebro understands the global appeal of artistes like Divine and Naezy and is loving the evolution of hip hop in India. “I love his (Divine) music. I don’t speak Hindi, but the beats are dope, and I love his cadence and his energy, which is really what I base a lot of music on,” Ebro adds.
Censorship, an obstacle for rappers?
While rap can be a form of social commentary, the commentary can be dictated by the music labels. If it gets too political or too controversial, a music label has all the power to curb the freedom of an artiste. Does rap still stay true to its expression?
Naved aka Naezy is proud of the fact that he never signed with any labels. One wonders if this will hinder his progress as a growing artiste but for Naved, this was a conscious decision. Every music company comes with its own set of politics and they don’t necessarily always align with Naezy’s philosophy. “Labels don’t want social messages, probably because they are scared of creating controversies or touching upon issues or they think it won’t sell,” he says.
Divine’s opinion on this is quite the opposite and this presents the stark difference between the approach of two up and coming artistes. “I think big labels function in a manner that suits every artiste. Each and every artiste has a different story coming out from their art and they need a tailored approach to putting out their music in front of the world,” he opines.
While these two present the extreme ends, Raftaar agrees that it all depends on the position one is in. His song “Mantoiyat” from Manto was censored for television and radio but is available in its original form on YouTube and Apple Music. “It’s the way you deliver it and the position you are in to deliver it. Then, the label believes in you. Gladly, I was in a position where the first thing I said was if I do this song, it has to be completely real like Manto.”
The diss track battles
The underground scene has also seen some battles and the one that brought a lot of attention was between Raftaar and Emiway Bantai. Raftaar speaks of this attention and compares it to Bigg Boss. “We like watching what other people are fighting about.” But he nevertheless agrees that the diss tracks that the two engaged in actually benefited the scene. “Because of the battle, people from abroad started reviewing our songs, even though they did not get the language, they liked the style.”
He concludes, “It’s sad that it happened but it got everybody a lot of attention. Not just Emiway but me as well. Earlier, people did not know that I was a rap artiste. They just saw me as a guy who made pop songs.”
Has underground hip hop peaked already?
While it’s all hunky dory in the world of desi hip hop, there is a genuine possibility of the genre getting overexposed. As trends go in Hindi cinema, once something gets popular, it is repeated until the audience starts getting sick of it.
“Everybody wants to be a part of the rap culture, every company wants an ad or a jingle that is based around hip hop. It has expanded commercially and a lot more work is coming towards people,” shares Raftaar. While Naezy appreciated the way the subject was handled in Gully Boy, he is scared of how it will unfold in the near future, “I feel slowly the mainstream brands and platforms, they are all interested in the genre and I am a little scared that this doesn’t go over the top otherwise the essence will be lost. I hope people don’t feel like ‘bas ho gaya abhi, aur nahi chahiye’ (now we are done, we don’t want more).”
‘Apna time aayega’ (My time will come) was the chant of Gully Boy but will it stay for long?