Emiway Bantai: ‘I Have Never Spent a Penny on Promotion’
How a hopeful youngster turned his dream into a reality
When budding Mumbai rapper Bilal Shaikh decided to pick a stage monicker a few years ago, he didn’t look too far for inspiration. He amalgamated the names of his biggest idols Eminem and Lil Wayne to forge his own new identity. But up until 2010, Emiway Bantai knew nothing about hip-hop—he was introduced to it that year when classmates played Slim Shady’s “Not Afraid” to him. That song changed his life.
Bantai is one of the very few music artists in India that have catapulted themselves into superstardom solely with the use of social media. You’ve only just got to look at his one million followers on Instagram and nearly six million YouTube subscribers. His numbers speak volumes, as do his slick rhymes and sprightly personality. Bantai makes no bones about the contribution of social media in his career. He says, “It’s very important—the crowd and all the Bantai fans are there because of social media. I have never spent a penny on promotion. I believe in hard work.” The hip-hop artist adds, “Because of social media, people in far-flung places like Bihar and Rajasthan can hear my music.”
Bantai was still a teen when he released his debut bilingual single “Glint Lock” in 2013. The rapper’s skills on that track might not be worth writing about, but the humble video has since amassed more than 400,000 views on YouTube. Bantai would later quit his English rhymes and stick strictly to rapping in Hindi. Although “Glint Lock” pushed him into the genre, his 2015 hit single “Aur Bantai” would put his name on the map. The song currently sits at a cool five million streams on YouTube. On his latest releases, the heavy hitter “Dhyan De” (where he fits in as many words as he could) and the lo-fi “Skrrt Karenge,” the rapper showcases his versatility as an artist.
As far as influence among local crowd goes, Bantai’s fan following is second to none. His packed gigs continue to generate hysteria among attendees every single time, his streaming numbers are shooting through the roof and he is the only artist to have won the Best Hip-Hop Artist (People’s Choice) Award at Radio City Freedom Awards three years in a row (2017-2019). Earlier this year, Bantai also featured on the soundtrack of the Ranveer Singh-starrer Gully Boy, on the song “Asli Hip-Hop.”
The rapper’s meteoric rise in the music scene in the past few years has also demanded a change in his look. The t-shirt and jeans that you saw him sporting in the video for “Aur Bantai” have given way to a meticulously crafted layered styled—baggy sweaters and bomber jackets, that are complemented with shades, hats, kicks and the trademark beard. He says, “It’s very important what you wear and how you look—it gives you a unique identity. The basic idea is to stand out in a crowd.”
Now firmly established as a bona fide rapper, what’s next for this social media icon? “I never plan anything; I go with the flow. I have a lot of songs and I am figuring with my team when to release them, but there is no major plan as such,” he says. One thing is for certain—whenever his next track comes out, a social media frenzy will follow too.
Styled by Myntra
Photographed by Priyank Nandwana
Art Direction by Tanvi Shah
Fashion Editor Neelangana Vasudeva
Hair and Makeup by Jean-Claude Biguine India
Location Courtesy The Bar Stock Exchange, Juhu, Mumbai