They are cool a la VHI Hip Hop Hustle, rhyme about chicks and cars and insist they are for “real”. Here come the desi rappers. But don’t go looking for meaning, brother
The lights were dim, the booze free and the regulars in Delhi’s Café Morrison were bopping to a series of retro hits. Till the band took a break. Then, a chubby young man, gawky in his red T-shirt, took the microphone and announced that M.C.Sid was in the house. The fairly intoxicated crowd cheered and jeered. A brave drummer accompanied him and after the first loop, Sid let it rip.
Standin’ over there you hear my rhyme/The world’s gonna end. It’s about time.
What’s to worry… Inflations in a hurry…/Prices rise and governments dive…
Kaun banega crore pati…. sallu’s policy . .. /Dus ka dum baby!/No one’s better than hum..silly
It wasn’t the greatest piece of rap the crowd had heard but hey, it rhymed and it was about their life. So they hooted. And M.C. Sid aka Siddharth Sood, management trainee by day, turned on the wordplay, jabbed the pot-bellied men and the twittering women in high heels with his sarcasm. Funnily enough, nobody was offended and the organiser’s ploy had paid off. Having a rapper boy is a good idea, eh? Welcome to India’s Rap Pack, where it is imperative to wear your underwear above the waistband, blasphemy if you don’t know who 2pac is and pathetic if you can’t dig what I’m saying.
Our desi rappers are few in number, all in their early twenties, look and sound just a wee bit like their American “brudders”, are sincerely influenced by the bling lifestyle and almost too earnest about being “real, my friend”.
What attracts most young guns to the genre is the freedom to speak one’s mind. “Rap music allows you to speak up and speak straight. As a lyricist, I’m hooked to the word play of rap music,” says Jatin Puri, 21, an intern with Music Today. Puri writes about Delhi’s crime scene, the Indo-US nuclear deal and more.
Unlike Bollywood rap, which incorporates the odd English sentence or word in a smattering of Hindi, English rap in India does not have too many takers on the pub circuit. While Delhi’s Cafe Morrison, Decibel, City Club DLF, Elevate and Agni occasionally have events where rappers perform, there are no regular “open mic” spots. Mumbai has more venues. One of the biggest events in the year for rappers is the War of the Rappers competition at Narsee Munjee College’s annual fest, Umang.
The performances work thanks to a DJ or a pre-recorded beat, but may we say, don’t go looking for the profound in the lyrics. Most writers suffer from a lack of imagination and get stuck in the banal. Sample this:
How many more gotta die?
Tell me why can’t we all just live in peace?
Tell me why did the uncle have to molest his niece?
What they emulate is a “street” image that rules the airwaves on Vh1’s Hip-Hop Hustle. “Everybody loves it when we rap about money, chicks, cars and cribs. I talk about social issues but I have to be careful that the audience should not get bored,” says Jayant Uppal. Uppal and his crew, the Asian Coast Soldiers are releasing their debut album, The Birth of Asian Coast, in December this year.
When 23-year-old Sood began rapping, he figured his alter-ego M.C. Sid had to be original with his rhyme or else he’d be wasting everybody’s time. “I rap (in English peppered with Punjabi) about what’s happening in the country. I want to make sure that the crowd is enjoying itself. I’m not into sending out a social message,” says Sood, who jet-sets from hometown Delhi to Hyderabad and even Dubai for shows.
Taru Dalmia, also known as the Delhi Sultanate (he’s a student of medieval Indian history at JNU), one of the older players in the circuit ain’t impressed by the grunge in the writing. “Most people have a completely absurd glamourised notion of street life and have no idea what the everyday reality of inner city life represents,” says Dalmia, who grew up in Delhi, Germany and Bay Area, US. “Local traditions of the spoken word like, for instance, the Charans in Rajasthan are much closer to the essence of rap than most of these hurry-come-up MCs who have sprung up since hip-hop became a mainstream phenomenon through Eminem and 50 Cent. Mostly people try to imitate commercial MTV rap music from America and do not represent either their social experience or what their own experience of life here has taught them,” he says.
Rappers admit they play to the gallery when the going gets tough. And though the image and the chosen monikers spell cool, the pay doesn’t. A rapper gets anything between Rs 15,000 a night to Rs 50,000, depending on the length of performance and venue. “It’s reasonable,” is all Mumbai’s self-proclaimed “finest rapper” Ace will let out. His real name, Abhishek Dhusia, may not inspire gangsta rap lovers, but as Ace, he found his fifteen minutes of fame when US hip-hop artiste Chammillionaire came down to Mumbai last year and Ace was up onstage with one of his heroes. And even if he ain’t rollin’ deep in dough, the crowd reactions sustain him. “Ppl look up 2 me n kids n Mumbai idolize me an al. Iss like m God for them, do get a lotta love, den I get hate as well. I got ma own fan club on Orkut n yea crowd reaction is damn important coz is dey who gonna buy ya album,” asserts the “soldier who just wants to make a difference”.
Dalmia, however, would rather have the brotherhood seriously ask this of themselves. “In the words of rap duo Dead Prez, What do you represent? What is your real intent? What are you learning in this so-called life? What is your world view? What has your life shown you?” he says. And if they have the answers, says Dalmia, “Come and meet me in a freestyle battle”. Keep the faith. We’ll be listening in.