Updated: February 22, 2015 1:00:49 am
Atrack titled Stay Doped, Stay High begins with a sharp twang played by Purbayan Chatterjee on the sitar. As he plucks the sitar strings to create a pattern of notes in Raag Malkauns, the boys of Dopeadelicz, Dharavi’s rap trio — Rajesh Radhakrishnan aka Dope Daddy, Tony Sebastian aka Psycho and Agnel Avinash Benson aka Ben Z — let it rip: Smoke weed, live life like a legend/ Come on legalise it, don’t criticise it/ Come on legalise it, Don’t criticise it. The hook is in place and so are the shuffling drum and tabla beats, a unique mishmash of Hindustani classical music and hip hop. It’s dope. No wait, it’s “dope rap”.
“The message, of course, is to legalise marijuana. Herb is herb,” says Psycho, 22, the “dada” of his neighbourhood in Dharavi. Children shake hands with him, teenage girls smile and peek from behind curtained windows, the elderly smirk, as he takes us through the narrow alleys of arguably the largest slum in the world.“Hip hop allows me to articulate that idea in a better way. And with AR Rahman backing us, I’m aiming at a chance for a better life,” he adds. In the music video produced by Qyuki, a digital platform owned by AR Rahman, Shekhar Kapoor and Sameer Bangara, the trio look and sound like their American “bros”, and it’s all about keeping it real.
“Every day is a struggle,” says Pyscho, whose father, a factory worker works 18-hour days to make ends meet. “All the children here are studying hard to get an education, to give their parents a good life. I’m trying to do something off-track. But that’s what works for me, gives me a high,” he says. In Dopeadelicz parlance, the neighbourhood Matunga Labour Camp (or MLC) is referred to as Marijuana Legalising Committee and for the trio, their music is a way of getting back at the system and the social and economic inequalities they face on a daily basis. “We sing about issues that we think are important, which in turn can help popularise a genre that hardly exists in India. The idea is to make music about issues that are sidelined because people in this country take a moral high ground. Rap is a way to put our point across, the fact that we deserve an equal chance at a good life,” says Ben Z.
Growing up in a small two-room house in the shanty town, Psycho began smoking pot almost six years ago, after failing his school-leaving exams. Ben Z and Dope Daddy kept him company. “Pot and music became a refuge for us. We didn’t really have much direction in life,” says Ben Z. Psycho became a member of a rap group named Five Dawgs and began learning the ropes by watching “Snoop Dogg Sir and Eminem Sir” on the internet. “But there wasn’t enough opportunity with that group. So I quit,” says Psycho who then formed Dopeadelicz with his friends. They began practising near the banyan tree in the middle of Dharavi. In the beginning it was just a way to blow off some steam, stay away from gang fights and trouble.
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One of the songs doing the rounds on YouTube is Ai Shapath Sir, a Marathi rap with catchy beats and wordplay, and is inspired by the Mumbai police. The track came about when the three were caught by the police for smoking up in public. “They let me go because I rapped for them. We know of many people who have died on the railway tracks, while running away from the Mumbai cops who persecute them for smoking weed. There are far worse offenders in the country. I just really got sick of these unfair policing practices and wrote the song,” says Psycho, who knows every nook and cranny inside the labyrinth that is Dharavi. He’s been running in these narrow alleys with his friends, trying to escape the cops for a while now.
The police have spawned D Rise, an English-Tamil track, as well: I’m most hated by the cops/ They know I’m the bullet from the shot gun ready to pop/ It’s hard to face us so better get the whole flock, hold tight grip of ur Glock while you are crusin through ma block/ Tik-tok tik-tok we’ll be spinnin’ like the clock/ With Duracell batteries it won’t easily stop.
After Psycho’s ordeal at the police station, the boys put their pennies together and created an amateur video of Ai Shapath Sir and uploaded it on YouTube. It was noticed by the Qyuki talent team and their swag appealed to Kapoor, Rahman and Bangara, who decided to work with the trio. “They are talented guys and we are just helping them polish their skills and present them to the world,” says Bangara, who had also commissioned a short film on the group. Directed by Soumil Shetty, the documentary offers a peek into the lives of the three rappers and their popularity in the digital space. “We felt like heroes. The shoot was fun,” says Ben Z.
Even though fame beckons beyond Dharavi, the group still has to make a living from other avenues. While Ben Z has found a day job at a small music company as a sound engineer, Dope Daddy is interning at the Qyuki office. Psycho is unemployed though, much to his mother’s chagrin. “Humko iska smoking nahi jamta. Gaana gaaye toh theek hai (I don’t like that he smokes. It’s okay if he is singing). I wish he got a regular job. But I’m happy if he’s happy,” she says.
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