Seasoned Indo-American Hip-Hop Artist G-Deep Talks Hard on Labels, Making It in Music
The New York and Philadelphia-bred Punjabi-origin artist has worked with rap heavyweights like Mobb Deep and more
G-Deep is someone who stuck fliers in mandirs and posted them under car vipers and gave out his CDs for free in 2008. Then, the Indo-American hip-hop artist saw a truck full of thousands of CDs of his albums get off the loading dock in Mumbai. He feels better on the Internet now, where streaming gives a level playing field of sorts, but definitely doubles down on his criticism of record labels.
He says over the phone from New York, “My request to labels is – do not fuck up the streaming business. Don’t go in there and start chasing big numbers, because artists will be poor again.” Before the pandemic threw a lot of things out of gear in the music industry, the artist points out that “everybody was doing everything” in the pursuit of metrics and money.
Bhangra, Sufi, Punjabi/Hindi pop and more are all flowing through G-Deep’s veins and it shows in his discography so far. From his 2011 album Hiq Vich Jor up to his latest single “Taani Yaaran Di 2,” there’s an unshakeable sense that the artist is part of the movement that is making Punjabi language music global. He says about his identity, “I don’t know if you’ve heard this saying, but aap jahaan rehte ho, aap wahaan ke ho jate ho. Aapka khaana and gaana leke jao. (Where you live, you become a part of. Just take your food and music with you)”
Releasing music with labels ranging from Sony Music India (“Hip Hop Nikka” in 2017 and Gadar in 2016), Times Music (the albums Sher Punjabi in 2008 and O’Billo in 2010) to Venus to T-Series and several more, G-Deep had a stint as a music director for Punjabi movies as well. Much before that, though, he was a 17-year-old in the thick of things as a newly transplanted American desi kid in a dingy hotel in the suburb of Malad in Mumbai. “I took my passport and I put it in my shoe ‘cuz it was the most important thing,” he says with a chuckle.
By his own account – even if he’s saying it in a self-deprecating manner – G-Deep became a “smart guy” by the time he was 31 years old and had his own say in a lot of matters. Now, the artist with songs like “De De Gehra” (2013) with Juggy D to his name, says he wouldn’t necessarily liked to be compared to Indian singers. “Compare me to Drake, because this is the music that I’ll make,” he says.
He’s long crossed off collaborations with Wu-Tang Clan’s Cappadonna (“Nach Leh”) and Mobb Deep’s Havoc (“Nain Sharabi”) and more. Most recently, he’s been working with a major American popstar as a songwriter and featured artist. Among his go-to producers at the moment are Brooklyn-based Ajax Beats, Damon Elliott (a seasoned beatsmith who’s also R&B/pop/soul powerhouse Dionne Warwick’s son) and Floridian artist Mixsano the Great.
With one foot in that world, G-Deep’s attention also remains on India. He hails the success of hip-hop artists like DIVINE and mentions there’s a song with rapper Sikander Kahlon coming up. As far as the industry in India goes, however, he’s pretty sure that you can only make money if you perform at all-night jagrans (religious ritual) or work in wedding bands. “A lot more struggle is there for us. But, you know, we’re just hustling, and that’s all we can do,” he says.
It might seem to an outsider that he’s glided through his pick of several labels, but G-Deep confirms that music companies have a long way to go India. He says bluntly, “They don’t really do nothing for you. Labels are like PR companies. At the end of the day, if they don’t give me money to pay my bills, how’s that going to work?”
Past the decade mark in the music world and now focusing on his second decade in business, G-Deep is sure of one thing. “You are the label, you are the product. Once you believe in yourself, these labels will believe you. And you can only believe them when they cut you the cheque,” he says.
As for the global movement that is now slowly becoming more inclusive of brown artists, the hip-hopper is all for breaking down barriers. “We are in the country where the Vice President is Indian ethnic. This is a time for Indians to really make it in America,” G-Deep adds.
Watch the video for “Da Desi Kidd” ft Paul Cain below.