Detroit based rapper Asoka looks to challenge the Indian brand of hip-hop
“I think Abhishek Bachchan, Hard Kaur, Bohemia; all these guys are a joke. They’re not real emcees. I feel it’s time for real hip-hop to rise in India instead of these cheap imitations. They don’t have any knowledge on the actual culture or subject matter. Quite frankly as an Indian, it’s embarrassing to have some of these people represent us,” 22-year-old Karan Batta aka Asoka grudges the “fakers” in the industry with this commanding air about him. Well, for this emerging rapper, this comes easy – for one, Batta must sit smug in his Detroit home right now so he needn’t bother with euphemisms, and as much as he aspires to revolutionise the Indian music industry with his ‘real’ dope, he underestimates the overriding presence of Bollywood. We wish we could better prepare the lad who has spent a greater share of his years in the States. Currently Batta resides on 10 Mile, Detroit, where his folks run – as he puts it – a ‘mom and pop store,’ rather close to the thug hood at 8 Mile, infamous for its cutthroat freestyle battles. From what Batta suggests he never really roughed it out at such battles. So his impassioned speech about artistic integrity and hip-hop culture doesn’t translate to what sits before us: A dusky-skinned lad in a plain white shirt and fitting jeans with a softness in his eyes suggestive of a well-mannered homely disposition. But before we judge on exteriors and welcome demeanour, the ramble of curt swearwords on a track of his, blare out of the speakers and our first impression is turned on its head.
It was when Batta was around 14, that he heard the godfather of gansta rap and his tryst with rap came to be. “I was a casual listener before, but 2Pac pulled me into rap,” Batta speaks of the late Tupac Shakur with a feverish veneration. Starting off, Batta referenced music magazines, channels and hip-hop albums to hone his craft. “It was this one article on DMX which truly enlightened me,” in the insightful article, the rapper divulged a lot about his formula and tricks of the trade. Batta started to record barebones samples on a make-do software and a $ 3 worth microphone. With time, Batta started to record albums played mostly to friends and family, and gradually his basement found use in a state-of-the-art home studio. With his 7th album Batta found his feet in the business; he started doing a few stage shows and the word spread. In 2004, he was approached for his first mixed tape, Hype 101, hosted by 50 Cent. And the ascent began with many such projects coming his way, but Batta halts to make mention of what he considers to be his greatest achievement yet, “In June 2006, DJ Fatal (2Pac’s DJ) approached me to do a full verse on an unfinished 2Pac track!” The track featured on an official Tupac Shakur CD, sponsored by Shakur’s company Makaveli. Batta’s April 2008 release, The Underground Rapper features Stanley Benton aka Stat Quo (Eminem and Dr Dre’s artist); Hussein Fatal aka Bruce Washington and Young Noble aka Rufus Cooper III (from 2Pac’s group The Outlawz); and Sonjay Dutt from SPIKE TV’s TNA Wrestling. Impressive, but Batta still suggests huge road blocks in the American hip-hop scene for an artiste such as himself: “There is a lot of racism, it’s very tough to break in, it’s like a stereotype – if you’re not black, you’re no good… and it’s tough to get airplay as well.” On this brief visit to India he approached some labels and also auditioned for some projects but nothing is definitive yet. Though he had come with the intention of staying back for good, some urgent business compels his return to Detroit. His fiery ambition comes through when he refers to himself in second person as we ask him for a ‘best of’ list – “That would have to be, Asoka, 2Pac, Nas…” his fingers authoritatively slice the air with every name he takes. Batta promises to be back soon, and of what we suspect, back with a vengeance.