Doctor. Engineer. And, briefly, an astronaut. Sajeel Kapoor wanted to be all three at various points of his life while growing up. But, finally, he decided that he’d be best at something else: producing hip-hop beats for a living. He is now known in the music scene as Sez on the Beat — which arguably has a better ring to it than Dr Kapoor. His journey has also enabled the growth of hip-hop in India, and certainly in Delhi, putting the work of rappers like Divine, Naezy and Prabh Deep “out there”.
Apart from producing hit tracks by Mumbai rapper Divine like Yeh Mera Bombay, Mere gully mein, Junglee sher, he was also the man behind Prabh Deep’s debut album Class Sikh (2017), and comic group AIB’s theme song Tragedy mein comedy. Kapoor is one half of StunnahSezBeats, a collaboration with Guwahati-based producer Rajdeep Sinha, through which they sell hip hop beats internationally. The project that he has been lately busy with is Delhi-based rapper duo Seedhe Maut’s debut album.
“I was interested in computers and used to download different music softwares,” says Kapoor, who rarely steps out of his room in his west Delhi residence. Often, as a child, he would while away days playing video games with friends, as Bollywood and Punjabi music played on in the background. “One day, a friend told me about how he was using the software Virtual DJ to mash up songs. I found it interesting and thought of playing around with it to create my own mixes. At that time, I did not know that we could create our own compositions entirely,” says the 24-year-old, who was 15 then. He also listened to music by artistes like Tiesto, Skrillex and David Guetta. An active interest in electronic dance music (EDM) led him to creating his own tracks. “My father, who was a banker, said that if I want to produce music, then I should at least complete my graduation, so I have a back-up if that doesn’t take off,” he says. Kapoor joined an undergraduate course in computer science at the University of Delhi. He was in his final year when his father suddenly died of cardiac arrest. An only child, he lives with his mother, who is a school teacher.
When Sez started in 2010, EDM wasn’t as popular in the country as it now. “But the moment I left the genre, Nucleya (the Indian electronic music producer) got famous. Whatever he produces now, I used to produce it back then. It made me think why I left because the genre grew exponentially after that,” says the producer. On Orkut, a now-defunct social networking platform, Kapoor found an online forum, Insignia, where Indians got into rap battles with each other, or dropped songs and instrumentals. One of the earliest hip hop tracks to have an impact on him was Clown by the Indian rapper, Shrug, for it was something “different and fresh”. It also took a little nudging from Mumbai-based rapper Enkore, before Kapoor started trying his hands at hip hop beats, in 2012. “I didn’t like the hip hop genre initially, it seemed monotonous with no build-up nor progression,” he says. But when Enkore praised his first beat, Kapoor saw hope for himself.
When Kapoor started out professionally, there were other hip-hop producers like Ragged Skull and Sixth Element. There are many, from that time, who left the scene for not much was happening. But Kapoor stuck around. In 2013, Mumbai-based rapper Vivian Fernandes aka Divine, contacted Kapoor for some EDM beats for his track Yeh mera Bombay, and he readily agreed. “For about six months, it didn’t get much traction, but, eventually, it got picked up and the song went viral. It was way ahead of its time with its production, verse and quality,” he says.
This is also the time when Divine’s second track, Mere gully mein, was in works, but the rapper and producer couldn’t decide how to go about its release. “One day, Divine was performing at Mumbai’s Blue Frog when some Sony executives heard him and offered to release the song under their label. The song was explosive and that initiated the gully movement. And now, Zoya Akhtar is making the film, Gully Boy, on it,” he say.
Kapoor had almost dumped the beat of Mere gully mein because he didn’t like it. “It was a random experiment… But when I sent it to Divine, he liked it and sent the hook, and the song came about.” Their third collaboration, Jungli sher, became the first Indian hip-hop track to get an exclusive deal for seven weeks with streaming service Apple Music, and was also played on Beats1 Radio, hosted by American radio presenter Ebro Darden. “It became the biggest track, while Mere gully mein marketed hip hop to the masses,” says the producer.
What goes into making the perfect beat? Says Kapoor, “When I’m making a beat, I never exit the creative zone. Maybe because I listen to music of all kinds, every day, especially hip-hop. How will creativity not come if you listen to such good music?” he says.