Meet the Rapper Who’s Making Hip-Hop Huge in Karnataka
Alok Babu aka All.OK has been in the game for more than a decade and now has viral-level hits to show for it
Remember “If You Come Today,” the English-language song that’s taken from 1978 Kannada film Operation Diamond Racket? It may have become known to the world at large in recent years for its hilarious language, but it was sung by Karnataka’s most famous hero, Dr. Rajkumar. Bengaluru rapper, singer and producer Alok Babu aka All.OK acknowledges this in his latest rock rendition of the song that went out to his 66,000 subscribers.
In 2007, All.OK and his hip-hop crew Urban Lads released their first album Explosion 1, and they got an unlikely star to launch it — Indi-pop icon Lucky Ali. It was the crew’s mentor, producer Sameer Kulkarni and his friends, who roped in Ali to what is the earliest known Kannada rap album to date. Alongside artists such as Gubbi aka Karthik Sundar Gubbi, Martin Yo and MC Bijju, All.OK– with regular collaborators such as producer Lethal A and rapper Rahul Dit-O–pushed Kannada hip-hop into film music as well as mainstream consciousness in Karnataka. He says, “Rap gets easier and better if one starts doing it in their own language first and then go global.”
But to start local, they did have to face up with facts that English-language music was still favorable in rock, hip-hop, pop and pretty much every other genre. And film music producers, too, preferred to stick to a local flavor for listeners. All.OK says, “Kannada music industry was a little conservative in terms of independent music, but not anymore. Kannada digital market is booming right now, so many new artists coming every day and we are so proud of it.”
His strength – All.OK’s YouTube channel now has over nine million views and he says his collaboration-heavy album KA 01  sold over 25,000 copies – is playing to the masses, especially the preservation of Kannada as a language (“Nan Kannadiga” has three million views) and Karnataka’s culture (“Young Engo”). He says, “I always wanted to stand out. Making commercial tracks are really easy but sticking to concept-oriented projects which speaks [about] reality is tough! And I love doing it.”
In the last 12 odd years, it hasn’t all been bouquets, though. All.OK recalls he was fat-shamed often and even when the 2013 solo single “Young Engo,” a call to the young and confused minds of the state didn’t do that well, his family and rap peers had his back. Up next is music for at least six Kannada films and more collaborations on up to 10 more songs (and KA 02, the second album) in the vault. “M.D.,” a song that touches upon drug abuse but more about celebrating the power of music. He says, “I want Kannada to be borderless market like Bollywood! Kannadigas are always open to new experiments, that’s the reason our graph is going up since day one. Trust me, it’s going to rain indie music.”
Watch the video for “Nan Kannadiga”