Enkore: ‘I Wanted the Music to Reflect Some of the Inner Turmoil I’d Been Dealing With’
The rapper on the process of making ‘Bombay Soul,’ one of Indian hip-hop’s most powerful, honest records this year
Earlier this year, Mumbai-based rapper Ankur Johar aka Enkore penned an open letter to introduce his sophomore album Bombay Soul. It’s not something many artists have done in the past and it spoke volumes about his willingness to let fans see a brand new side of him. He wrote, “I realized that I didn’t know how it was going to work out, but I had to make this music. I only had theories of where it came from but I was sure about where it had to go. I would never be able to sleep easy if I didn’t put the hours in and get my hands dirty, regardless of the outcome.” The letter went on to outline his struggles with anxiety, stress and depression, as well as setting out on a journey to understand himself better through music.
Bombay Soul, which dropped on December 3rd, was the outlet through which Enkore chose to express his thoughts around life, his middle class upbringing, the hip-hop industry and his relationships with other people. There’s a vulnerability to the record that makes it stand out from anything most Indian hip-hop artists are currently doing and that probably makes it one of the most important releases of the year. Where there is determination and anger, there is also fear and uncertainty within Bombay Soul‘s six tracks.
Mixed and mastered by Mumbai producer Vineeth Patil with New Delhi hip-hop producer Sez On The Beat taking the reins on production, Bombay Soul is built on smooth R&B, old-school soul, chill lo-fi blends and subtle desi instrumentals floating throughout. “I love soulful music and I love tastefully done desi music, so I wanted to bring those tastes of mine to the table together,” says Enkore. “But I also [wanted it to] reflect some of the inner turmoil and emotions I’d been dealing with–which gave the project a slightly darker tinge.”
In this interview with Rolling Stone India the rapper talks getting personal on Bombay Soul, experimenting with new blends of sounds, his impressive roster of collaborators and his plans for 2019. Excerpts:
Tell me a little bit about your mindset while you were working on this album. What did you want to say through these tracks and what do you want Bombay Soul to say about you as an artist?
Bombay Soul is genuinely less about me wanting to make any statements and more about what just ended up being things I had to get off my chest and emotions and thoughts that would consume me before and during the writing/recording process. It’s really just regular real life shit that I wanted to talk about, man. I never really thought about what I want the album to say about me as an artist either. I just knew that it had to be original and honest, and I had to make the best fucking album that I could without actually going flat-out broke. In many ways my previous project Libra Scale (2016), which has a lot more rough edges, gave me the lessons and the balls that I needed to dream this one up and then execute it.
There’s a lot of old school R&B/soul vibes in Bombay Soul, some lo-fi feels and some gorgeous minimalist desi fusions as well. What influenced these sounds? Who were some of the artists you were listening to while recording it?
This is really I think just my honest interpretation of a lot of the music I’ve listened to through life and not just a phase, musically. It’ll be long, long lists if I get into artists but I love that classic hip-hop sound. I love soulful music and I love tastefully done desi music so I wanted to bring those tastes of mine to the table together, but also reflect some of the inner turmoil and emotions I’d been dealing with–which gave the project a slightly darker tinge. Love to Sez for being patient and open to ideas and really tapping into a side of his artistry which he doesn’t do too much with other artists either.
You’ve got some super interesting instrumentals on this album as well–“Port Wine” and “Charsi Galli” are particular stand outs. Can you tell me a little bit about the production process and how you knew what felt right for each track?
“Charsi Galli” is the only non Sez beat on this, being done by my boy Sandesh Dharne, who’s from Dombivli. That one he just sent me as part of a continuous process of sending me beats and he initially imagined a really different type of song on that, a more chill one, but I had an idea of what I wanted to do the moment I heard it. I ended up changing the chorus and second verse on that as the song took shape but it tapped into a really visceral place for me and I just decided to let it spill on that. “Port Wine” is from the first week-long sesh that Sez and me had in 2016 where we worked on a bunch of beats which were in my arsenal. I had the chorus and the verses for a while, but changed my first verse eventually and got (singer-songwriter) Aarifah Rebello on board to duet on the chorus with me after I’d been floored by her gigs a couple times. She suggested bringing (singer) Ramya Pothuri on board to end the song with some classical vocals. The minute she suggested that, I was only thinking one thing—“One Eyed Monster” from my previous album ended with classical vocals and DJ cuts on it, and I decided to pick up from there and make this one too what is kind of a somber, honest epic in my mind. And of course the OG DJ Uri blessed it with some fine turntable work. That was a beautiful session too, at (The Fanculos’ frontman) Ramon Ibrahim’s place.
How did you choose each collaborator and who were you most excited to work with?
All the features actually came after I’d written everything, because then I knew the pieces of this that I was trying to find and the pieces were Urmila Sivadas-shaped in some places, and DJ Uri-shaped in some! I wasn’t really chasing collabs, but a certain sound and the right collaborations were the way to achieve it. I also wanna take this opportunity to shout out (Kochi-based gospel vocalist) Arunaja, and Raia who lent me their time to record some stuff, but I think it was a bit early in my process and I wasn’t sure of what I wanted and eventually just felt bad for not using any of the stuff they did. Urmila also recorded a lot more than eventually made the cut, primarily because I felt her voice and style really resonated with me and the theme of the project. My favorite though is probably the “Pinjre” outro where 12 dope Mumbai MCs (Adro, MC Altaf, BLUnt, D’evil, Dee MC, Gravity Kav-e, Sai, Sammohit, The Siege, Tienas, MC Todfod) came through to just vibe out and sprinkle a little bit of their soul into the project, and in a way where everyone was almost seamlessly blended together. That was a special little moment for me, where I just indulged myself. But I love the way Aarifah, Ramya and Uri helped me end the album on “Port Wine,” man.
What are your plans for 2019?
Definitely hoping to work out gigs in different cities, some videos, some merch and a lot more new music. This process of the album, especially being my own manager and publicist and exec producer, has taken so much out of me that I don’t think I wanna take this approach again for a while. It’s emotionally, physically and financially draining. I also really want to just be a little less premeditated or cynical in life, I want to live a little lighter and happier, and maybe that’ll reflect in my music as I move ahead too. I also don’t think ‘Bombay Soul’ as a concept or sound is as dark as this project alone, so this might not be the last you hear of that. I genuinely have no idea what I’m going to do yet, but stay tuned I guess. I just want to shout out Varun (Patil), (Mumbai producers) BLunt and Wide Octaves and (photographer) Ronit Sarkar for helping craft something that I feel is going to live on for a while. And everyone that’s listened to the project and shown us love and helped spread word, thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you!
Stream ‘Bombay Soul’ on Spotify here or on Apple Music below: