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How Indian Rapper-Producer Illah Found Home in the Ganglands of Los Angeles

Hear Mayurath Sinh Gupta’s latest auto-tune employing collaboration “No More”

Anurag Tagat Jan 30, 2019

Los Angeles-based producer Illah. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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On the surface of it, it’s easy to sum up Los Angeles-based singer-producer Mayurath Sinh Gupta aka Illah as a metalhead who got into emo trap, but there’s much more in the mix. From his days in electro/metalcore band IAFWAY and Rabbit Is Rich in New Delhi to jamming riffs for L.A. band SHUN and now on the come-up as Illah, Sinh has established stable footing in both worlds.

Although the 21-year-old has been visiting his second home in Los Angeles in California since 1999, he enrolled at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles in 2015, pursuing audio engineering. He says about his decision to move and get into music full-time, “At the time my parents were facing a trial in court and as that continued, I decided that I had to find ways to make money in order to fund myself.”

In the three years since he’s been in L.A., Sinh seems to have seen most of it all – from gangbangers to finding mentors in the vast West Coast music circuit and of course, plenty of plays for his tracks released on SoundCloud and YouTube along the way. His latest, “No More” has over 60,000 plays on YouTube, while one of his best known songs remain “itriedtokillmyself,” which has over 123,000 plays on SoundCloud. The common thread remains not just in Sinh’s honeyed use of auto-tune, but also the lo-fi hip-hop aesthetic, which leans on guitars and 808s when it feels purposeful. Sinh says about his songwriting, “I’ve been broke, paid, betrayed, felt loved, slept on couches, been shot at, lost friends, felt overwhelmed, felt happy, felt sad but during all this what I realized was that I can’t feel the same every day.”

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In addition to writing his own music, Illah has credits with producer Azide for working on tunes from rap group D-12’s member Bizarre and has just started talking to Wiz Khalifa producer Sledgren. It’s networking but with a very low success rate, considering Sinh says he writes about a hundred emails every week and messages up to 40 “influencers” every day to get the word out. Releasing music since 2010 under different monikers, Sinh says the Indian stereotype still weighs heavy out in American music producer circles. “It’s 2018 and I still get Apu jokes,” Sinh says, referring to the Indian character from animated TV show The Simpsons. The internet helps, thankfully. “My physical impression versus the person you hear in my music are really different for people because they have a prerequisite of the Indian stereotype which I never was and couldn’t be, even if I tried. A large part of my work is done on the internet where I’m not judged for how I look,” the producer-singer explains.

Interestingly, the gang culture in Los Angeles and California appears like an invisible hand that has supported hip-hop and rap, even though artists have often highly sensationalized crime. As someone who’s seen and lived through some of it, Sinh admits none of the violence or loss of life needs to be “glorified and exploited” the way it does in music. “They use it to look hard or tough. What people don’t realize is that there’s difference between being a gang member and being a gangbanger and when some of these artists blow up off the pseudo image of a gangbanger or member in the street.” He adds that rappers “often can’t even give back to their community they claim to have repped in their songs because some aren’t even from that neighborhood.”

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For his part, Illah’s music will keep Sinh in his lane, working on a 12-track full-length album that’s due in 2019. It features West Coast rap veteran O.Y.G Redrum 781, while there’s another mixtape in the works with go-to producer Xan Xan aka Dhawal Handa, among more music. Illah will have credits on work with Pune-based producer Karan Kanchan, New Delhi producer Heuse, guitarist Chaitanya Bhalla (part of ska band The Ska Vengers) and more. Sinh adds, “I have a seven-track EP on the way and some tracks in the works with California Punjabi rappers Deep Dollas and Slim Swagga too!”

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