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How India is Taking to Hip Hop

Podcast show Voice of Tha People’s co-founder and the vocalist of Mumbai hip hop group Bombay Bassment on how the hip hop community is getting bigger, in the first in a series of articles

Bob Omulo Sep 19, 2014
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A rap battle in progress at the gig series Monster Battles in Mumbai. Photo: Sushant Sawant

A rap battle in progress at the gig series Monster Battles in Mumbai. Photo: Sushant Sawant

Hip-hop music has seen better days. Why else would a byword like “Hip-hop Is Dead” even exist? Since the so called ‘Golden Era’ (mid-to-late 90s) when almost any rapper whose name you knew had a platinum record, today’s scene is indeed a far cry. Apart from a handful – Eminem, Jay-Z or Drake’s ilk or an odd Macklemore – the rest of the rap world can only fantasize about scaling the Top 40 countdown. However, the Golden Era scenario was perhaps an aberration, akin to what is going on in electronic dance music today, where mediocre artists who can replicate something close to the last big tune, get the spotlight. Most surviving big guns in the hip-hop industry are over 30, but most of these older rappers tend to be more interested in business and securing a family legacy – a mindset that doesn’t connect well with the average teenager, entertainment’s most lucrative demographic. There’s also the fact that the new millennium saw the rise of Southern Rap as industry standard. This was a sound that many casual listeners couldn’t comprehend nor dance to, and coupled with the heavy, intelligible southern drawls, hip-hop’s glorious run was bound to lose momentum, but alas!

Bob Omulo of Bombay Bassment. Photo: Vinit Bhatt

Bob Omulo of Bombay Bassment. Photo: Vinit Bhatt

The local scene hasn’t been much different either. Anyone following the scene for the past decade or so will tell you that we’ve seen better times. Whereas in the past, we had stars like 50 Cent coming to perform in India at his peak, we’ve now got accustomed to a new reality where even local talent considered top billing just three years ago now struggle to get shows even in India.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and we might just be done with the dry patch. If recent signs are anything to go by, we’re indeed staring at an oasis, and not a mere mirage in the distance. For one, there is a fresh breed of underrated emcees. No longer satisfied with hits, downloads and likes, some of these artists are releasing physical albums, performing at top venues in the metros and even signing with major labels.

Brodha V | Photo Credit: Parizad D

Brodha V | Photo Credit: Parizad D

One of the most prominent members of this coterie is rapper Krsna, previously called Young Prozpekt. He launched his first album Sellout at Hard Rock Cafe Mumbai in May this year and proceeded on a tour visiting a few outlets of the franchise around the country. Krsna is signed to Universal Music, but he is by no means lonely at the top. Bengaluru’s Brodha V signed with Sony Music in Mumbai earlier this year, an arrangement that has seen the rapper-producer jet in and out of The Bay regularly on contractual duties. Other acts also buzzing in the scene or in talks with prospective labels include Bengaluru’s Big Deal, Mohali-based Sikander Kahlon, all of who have managed to transcend the narrow confines of ‘underground hip-hop’, winning fans across genres.

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Watch the video for “Aathma Raama” by Brodha V

But emcees are not the only artists bringing hip-hop back in India, some of the DJs who never jumped ship when the chips were down are also seeing a slow return to regular gigging. DJ Sa, recently chosen Best Hip-Hop DJ at the VH1 Sound Nation Awards, leads the pack of spinners. A veteran of the Mumbai circuit, he is a regular at the annual NH7 Weekenders and he also plays at Blue Frog Mumbai at least once every month on their ‘Uncensored’ nights. His performances are not merely confined to Mumbai/Delhi either, with recent shows gaining a following for him in cities like Pune and Bengaluru too.

Representing female DJs of who we need more in the scene – is DJ Ishani, also from Mumbai. Her audiences stretch far beyond the country’s coasts, having only recently played for foreign audiences in Dubai and Oman. Besides international gigs and performing all over India, Ishani has a residency at I Bar in Mumbai, where she spins every Thursday to an audience that is otherwise starved of hip hop. And all this in a city that barely had a single monthly hip-hop night about a year ago.

DJ Uri. Photo: courtesy of the artist

DJ Uri. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Also worth noting is DJ Uri. With over two decades of experience, anyone else might have gone obsolete, unable to stay abreast with new releases, but the turntable general just keeps on rolling. Uri plays at some of the most exclusive clubs in the country – strictly on vinyl. Hyderabad’s DJ KAN-i, another international performer and also known for his Video DJing exploits, is another name in the national hip-hop DJing circuit which cannot be overlooked, alongwith Chennai’s DJ Kave.

B-Boys competing at the B-boy and B-girl Championship in Mumbai In April. Photo: Sushant Sawant

B-Boys competing at the B-boy and B-girl Championship in Mumbai In April. Photo: Sushant Sawant

While DJing has witnessed a renaissance in the past few months, b-boying is an element of hip-hop, which has endured, arguably better than the rest. Crews like Freak N Stylz, Underdog Kombat Crew and Roc Fresh have all already toured internationally and have also set up schools to spread the art of b-boying and the culture of hip hop. BEAST Mode and Slumgods/Tiny Drops are two other influential b-boying crews in the country. While these crews are from the metros, b-boying has spread to smaller towns as well, with the number of b-boys and b-girls exponentially growing.

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Graffiti is the fourth and final artistic element of hip-hop and has indeed evolved and found its following recently. Various crews and individual writers – like Zake (representing Beast Mode and D.I.S. Crews), Minzo (from Slumgods crew), Zine (AAC crew) and Snik (from JMS crew) – have risen to prominence all over the country, working with private companies and being invited to music festivals too. Yet, they failed to reach the masses.

Watch the Slumgods crew b-boy

Indian hip-hop needs a liaison between the two groups, which is what Voice of Tha People (VOTP) aims to serve as. Our weekly podcast The VOTP Show is another. The podcast episodes are similar to radio shows and are hosted by local artists as we seek to have it introduce (and reintroduce) audiences to both, hip-hop music and culture.

We hope to catalyse a change here, but none of this would be possible or even matter without you. We look forward to interacting with our readers as well as working on feedback and suggestions so as to ensure that this takes shape as a resource for Tha People – no different from how hip-hop was always meant to be.

Follow the VOTP Show on Tumblr.

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