For Akash Khandelwal or rapper Aeke, hip-hop has been the most potent way of expression since he was a teenager. Like most artists, this 31-year-old Delhi rapper’s journey also started with jamming at local events until he became a sought-after performer.
Having gained considerable recognition, he embarked upon the journey of not just entertaining but educating and spreading awareness about social issues through his songs, and his latest venture, Lat, is in a similar vein. As the title suggests, the song is about behavioural addictions — compulsive addiction of rewarding non-substance-related behaviour — be it that of social media or eating that many of us may be battling, often unknowingly.
From extensive research to creating the song and successfully reaching out to his fans, Lat has marked a remarkable milestone in Aeke’s life, which he shared in an email interaction with indianexpress.com.
When were you introduced to hip-hop? Take us through your journey.
I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop. It started off with listening to an album called Aggression somewhere around 2000-01. Later, I explored more artists, both international and local. By the time I was 15, I had started understanding the language of rap well and would indulge in writing rhymes on a daily basis. I would write rhymes in the night and then would rap it out to my friends in school in the morning. Later, I found online platforms where I met more rappers who would battle it out on social media platforms. As I got into college and got introduced to the different music and dance scenes of Delhi, the idea of hip-hop engaged me even more. I started bboying at the age of 17-18 and formed a crew called D2BX. I did bboying for a few years and later even judged and organised a few bboying jams. And while doing that, I even started hosting the jams and started rapping.
Around 2012, I started writing and performing songs in the bboying circle. My songs – Cyphers is where hiphop grows and Where your crew? got a lot of attention in the bboying community. In 2014, I headed for a national tour along with some of the most well-known national and international hip-hop artists. For someone like me, hip-hop meant understanding all five elements of hip-hop — rap/emceeing, djing/turntablism, graffiti, bboying/breaking, and knowledge.
What led to the idea of Lat?
Lat happened after I had already made a movie on sugar addiction called Johnny Johnny in 2016 while I was doing post-graduation in Film and Video Communication at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. It was the first Indian movie that talked about excessive sugar consumption and diabetes. While I was researching for that movie, I came across different types of behavioural addictions. As a filmmaker and a designer, I could observe the extreme spread of behavioural addictions in India, but hardly anyone was talking about it. India right now is amongst the top countries of smokers, sugar consumers, and social media addicts. By 2018, my understanding of behavioural addictions grew much diverse and in-depth and I was witnessing these traits in me and in people around me. That’s when I realised that behavioural addiction or “lat” is something that needs to be spoken about and I used both hip-hop and film making to talk about it.
What kind of research and preparation went into creating the new project?
I started my research work with personal experiments. I wanted to feel the impact of social media, smoking, and sugar addiction. So I asked a few people around me to quit either one of these three things and tell me how they feel after one month. I also performed these experiments on myself. After one month, the responses I got were staggering. Most people could not believe the level of brain clarity they achieved and how healthy they were feeling. Some even said it helped them cope with mental health issues better. Soon, I started reading about the already documented works of different behaviorists and psychologists such as Neal E Miller and Betty Hart. The music video was also directed by me and there I visualised three characters who are addicted to sugar, social media, and smoking. The music was produced in California, the song was recorded in Ahmedabad and the music video was shot in Gurgaon. The music video was self-funded.
How has the response been?
The response has been unbelievable. ‘Lat’ has been heard by over 80,000 people on YouTube within two weeks of its release and it gets interesting to know the different kinds of people it has struck a chord with. I received videos of bboys dancing to the track in bboying/breaking/hip-hop dance events. Many people have made it their workout song or have included it in their playlists for their jogging sessions. I’m receiving responses on how the song has rung a bell and has motivated people to give up some addictions.
One such response came from an acquaintance based in Bangalore who was unable to quit social media and smoking and had been feeling suicidal for many months. After listening to the song, he researched more on the subject of behavioral addiction, which gave him a clear understanding of his addictions. The awareness about behavioral addiction in India is very less and needs a lot more coverage through mediums like films and music.
How are you spreading awareness about behavioural addictions?
For the last few years, I have been talking and working to spread awareness about addictions through different mediums like hip hop/rap and film making. I plan to make more songs and movies on such topics. I have also reached out to a few organisations to conduct motivational speaking sessions and plan to fund a few teams to conduct researches on their local regions and the behavioral addiction affecting people the most.
How has your family responded to your projects?
My family has been really supportive. I have constantly involved them in some way or the other. I have often shared my researches with my friends and family regarding sugar addiction or diabetes which has often helped them.
I am currently working on my next music video Gin which is about monetary issues and their impact on the social and personal life and is set to release later in December 2020 and then another song called Akelapan which talks about loneliness. Both these songs and ‘Lat’ are from my debut EP – Trilbum which was released on all major music streaming platforms in August 2020. Also, I am working on a new album that is set to release in 2021 and that will talk about my journey in hip-hop and along with my first feature film as a director that I’ve planned for 2021. Recently, I launched a record label – AkashGanga Records that aims to bring out the talent in music that dwells on social issues of India.