2019 is Indian Hip-Hop’s Biggest Year Yet
From stellar album releases, films, tours and more
When we featured Mumbai rappers Divine and Naezy on Rolling Stone India’s February 2019 cover – it was only the start of what would turn out to be a mammoth year for Indian hip-hop. Since then, there have been movies out, artists have released exquisite songs and music videos, we’ve seen labels get bigger which has led to tours across the country and more. Recently, Rolling Stone India and digital agency Qyuki launched #HaqSeHipHop, a multi-platform property that comprises a hip-hop podcast and video series, masterclasses and pan-India shows.
Ahead of the Haq Se Hindustan concert on November 14th at Mumbai’s Famous Studios which will feature some of the country’s best hip-hop artists, Nirmika Singh, Executive Editor, Rolling Stone India, says, “There’s so much more to Indian hip-hop than what we have seen so far, and with Haq Se Hindustan we hope to present the incredible multi-cultural expressions India has to offer across all five elements in hip-hop: from rapping, b-boying, beatboxing, DJing and graffiti. There’s no denying India is witnessing a mini-revolution in hip-hop — the established artists are consolidating their influence while the emerging talent is claiming their part.” New Delhi producer Sajeel Kapoor aka Sez On The Beat adds, “We didn’t think hip-hop in India would reach this stage so soon.”
Here’s a look at some of the milestones achieved by Indian hip-hop this past year:
The poster boy of Indian hip-hop, Divine, dropped his much-awaited eight-track debut album Kohinoor last month. The record features slick bass lines, fiery verses by Divine as well as a hip-hop skit by American rapper Nas. In March Naezy put out his first release since 2017 in the form of the mesmerizing “Aafat Waapas” in which he’s spitting lively and quick-fire rhymes to a pulsating beat by producer Phenom. The rapper also recounts his collaboration with Nas (the track “NY Se Mumbai” which also featured fellow rapper Divine and actor Ranveer Singh). “Yaar, abhi toh humne theek se shuru bhi nahi kiya hai (We haven’t even properly started yet,)” he says.
Seasoned Mumbai hip-hopper Ace made his major-label debut via Zee Music Company this year with the release of his second solo album UnderGod. Ace also took things a step further with this album as he dipped his toes in everything from jazz to metal, pop and trap as well as EDM.
Versatile rapper Enkore had two singles come out via Zoom Studios which included the bass-heavy “Dheet” and the smooth “Solo.” Mumbai rap crew Dopeadelicz’s track “Aai Shapath Saheb Me Navtho” is a tell-all song that came out in May. Rapper Stony Psyko spills the beans of being caught by the Mumbai police and getting through to them with his dope rhymes and also spits bars about his real name, his religion and address while the track is led by a smooth beat underlined with slick treble piano notes.
New Delhi rapper Prabh Deep’s “Maya” which came out this past April off his EP KING is a mellow and emotive song that leans almost towards experimental jazz meets hip-hop and features bassist Harshit Misra aka Hashbass and keyboardist Archit Anand while Prabh Deep’s heavy deliver makes for a fine listen. In a bid to raise voices during the #SaveAarey campaign, Mumbai hip-hop crew Swadesi released “The Warli Revolt” which has gone on to become the country’s most hard-hitting protest song.
More tracks making the rounds this year include rap crew 7Bantai’Z’s explosive “Kitaab,” Bengaluru hip-hop artist Gubbi’s scorching “Punaraagamana” as well as MC Altaf’s booming and free-flowing “Code Mumbai 17” and Mumbai MC Tienas’ debut album O. Indo-American rapper Raja Kumari has also contributed with releases of her own such as “Kaun Hai Tu” featuring Shah Rule and “Karma” off her EP Bloodline. Also out recently is Mumbai rapper Dee MC’s debut album Dee=MC².
Another big milestone that has pushed hip-hop to the forefront is the Zoya Akthar directed Bollywood blockbuster Gully Boy starring ace actor Ranveer Singh which brought the culture of India’s underground hip-hop scene to mainstream screens. Also, a documentary on Divine titled Gully Life – The Story of Divine produced by Supari Studios in association with Red Bull Media House, showcases the rise of Divine. At the start of the year, Vice released Kya Bolta Bantai? which chronicled the rise of Mumbai rap.
Hip-hop labels spearheading the genre include New Delhi-based Azadi Records who have been pushing the boundaries in what they do as well as the recently formed Gully Gang Entertainment who not only function as a label but double up as recruiters for up and coming hip-hop talent. Universal Music India and American media platform Mass Appeal also joined hands earlier this year to launch a brand new Indian hip-hop label, Mass Appeal India. Mass Appeal is an independent hip-hop label co-led by American hip-hop legend Nas and is known for releasing albums by some of the most popular artists in American hip-hop including Run the Jewels and the late J Dilla. Labels such as IncInk Records and Big Bang Music, Awaaz Records and Desi Hip Hop are also leading the way with hip-hop artists.
On the live front Azadi Records have been programming gigs across the country such as New Delhi hip-hop duo Seedhe Maut’s Shaktimaan Tour. Beverage brand Bira 91 also put together a massive show at Mumbai’s Richardson and Cruddas for the music launch of Gully Boy. Gig series United We Groove have also begun adding hip-hop artists to their lineup. International artists such as Wiz Khalifa and Jaden Smith also graced our shores earlier this year and fans of the genre can also look forward to American hip-hop duo EarthGang at the upcoming Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune between November 29th till December 1st.
Get tickets for Haq Se Hindustan Concert here.