Why You Should Be Listening To Bhau
The 27-year-old rapper from Kolhapur raps in Marathi and is the most exciting new artist we’ve heard all year
Bhau is Pradeep Kashikar, a 27-year-old Marathi rapper from Kolhapur, whose just released solo debut Yuva Halla Bol is a mix of lyrical intensity, fiery beats and stick-in-your-head tunes. Bhau was first spotlighted in 2010 on the show India’s Got Talent Season 2, and won over both the judges and the audience, making it to the finale, only to be edged out by the Shillong Chamber Choir. His song “Bhau Bhau” took down the government, the Indian caste system and also referenced the 26/11 terror attack with the line “Ajmal Kasab Bhurta Kasab,” calling the terrorist a thug.
This short-lived burst of fame was followed by a big leap. Bhau was spotted by Universal Music’s Artist & Repertoire team member Sajid Maklai and signed on by Universal Music Publishing. Achille Forler, managing director of Universal Music Publishing, introduced Bhau to Qyuki Music, a platform to promote musical talent, co-founded by Samir Bangara and helmed by Grammy-winning composer A R Rahman and filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor, who had judged the first season of the talent hunt. Impressed byÂ Bhau’s fire and ambition, Qyuki Music decided to produce his videos [check the video forÂ “Yuva Halla Bol” below].Â But it’s perhaps because Bhau inhabits what have historically been two very different worlds [rap and Kolhapur] that the rapper conducts himself with almost a cocky sense of pride. Bhau grew up on 4th lane Rajarampuri in Kolhapur, one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city or as the rapper describes it: “the cheapest and baddest area.” He says, “There was a slum close to my place in Rajarampuri. We never used to go there because the slum kids were quite brutal. They used to have kite fights constantly. They had this accent. In normal Marathi, it is hard to connect the lines, but this accent was rough and somehow made my rap seem more natural. Later, when I observed hip hop artists ”“ what kind of people they were [in America], the kind of language they speak ”“ it’s the same fucking thing in my language, how we fight and threaten.”
I meet Bhau at Universal Music Publishing’s plush office in the upscale suburb of Bandra. The rapper looks nothing like a scrappy young kid from the wrong side of the tracks. In an unbranded T-shirt, baseball cap, a comfortable pair of jeans and canvas moccasins, he doesn’t look like a wannabe hip hop star either but like a regular college kid. Only, Bhau never made it to college, but flunked school when he was in class nine and signed up for a course in animation. “I hated going to class. I thought they were pussy people.” Bhau was a self-confessed bully in school. “I used to play basketball and was quite tall. Nobody liked me because I would threaten to beat them up. Kolhapur is known all over Maharashtra for kustiÂ [wrestling] and beefing.” He confesses that he never meant to hurt anyone. “I only wanted to act like I was bad. I used to gamble, play matka when I was in class nine so I had this reputation. My dad has cried in front of my teachers,” he says of his father, who worked as a manager at the Employee’s State Insurance Corporation [ESIC].
Besides being drawn to hip hop because of TV, the rapper tells us that we have TV to blame for his potty-mouthed Americanisms. “By the time I was in class 2, cable TV had come in. I used to watch Nikhil [Chinapa] on Super Select on MTV. Uss time pe Eminem ke kuch songs play hote the so that was the new thing. [At that time, a few songs by Eminem used to play (on TV), so that was the new thing.]” The rapper doesn’t switch to Hindi too often and doesn’t bother with Marathi, speaking in mildly accented English without effort. Bhau explains how he wasn’t always so fluent in English and that the TV has also been the best teacher he’s ever had. “I never was good at English, I always failed in English. I was just good at grammar. My teacher explained that I was a good student but my brain had rusted. Sometimes, I had a dictionary with me while I watched a movie and noted the word that I didn’t understand.”
Even before he hit teens, Bhau bought himself a Walkman. “I would also sing like Michael,” he says referring to pop icon Michael Jackson and breaks into “Billie Jean” and “Who Is it” for proof. “His voice effects and harkatein [mannerisms],” he adds, singing his version of “Remember The Time” and punching his fist to palm, “They just hooked me.” When he was 22, a Kenyan friend and basketball partner introduced Bhau to hip hop. “He came to Kolhapur to study law and made me listen to Tupac first. When I heard the lyrics, I instantly connected. I used to go to him to get new music – some instrumentals and karaoke tracks as well. He was also the one who told me that if I rap in Marathi, I’ll be the first one [to do so] and that stuck with me.” Bhau wrote his first song “Bhau Bhau” during this phase.
A childhood instance of a schoolmate asking him which caste he belonged to had disturbed him enough to make it to this song. The line about the terror attack though seems like an afterthought to stoke the fire of his socially-relevant or what is known as conscious rap. When news of the 26/11 attacks broke, Bhau was all set to leave Kolhapur for a weekend of revelry in Goa. “My family tried to stop me but I just went. Everybody was talking about the attack at every check naka.” Bhau didn’t write the song until he signed up for the talent hunt in 2010.
In “Bhau Bhau,” the rapper also announced that he is the country’s first Marathi rapper. While the claim is debatable, he certainly made an impression on everyone who has met him. Says Chinapa, who was also the host on India’s Got Talent Season 2, “Rap is representative of rhythm and poetry and he had both. He also had a certain style and swag. The confidence he had was great ”“ it wasn’t arrogance but I was very impressed with the way he delivered his performance.” BhauÂ points to American hip hop legends such as Tupac, more mainstream stars such as 50 Cent, and East Coast hip hop icons such as Biggie Smalls and Method Man as his heroes. He says, “Those guys don’t need to rap, they just need to speak with you. That’s rap. It’s in their nature and their character. I don’t like Eminem. The feel is missing, he sounds pussy.” He slips it in towards the end of the interview that the traditional Marathi poetry form of powadas may have also been an influence on him. He says, “You say rap, I say powada. But powada has a feel of mythology and has been expressed in a respectful manner. A lot of people, especially college kids, don’t get hooked onto powadas, which is why I chose hip hop. I also got a sense of storytelling with hip hop.” His next songÂ “Yuva Halla Bol,” which has over 1,60,000 YouTube views already, is an aim toÂ empower the youth of the country.Â “I want them to just speak, speak up or speak against something, butÂ be heard,” says Bhau.
The rapper moved to Mumbai two years ago and has been looking for work besides having released his album produced by Universal Music Publishing. So what’s the big dream I ask him? “Rap saves my life. I do social so I could be a social icon. I want to tell people real stories.” He couldn’t have chosen a better city to move to ”“ we’re all looking for stories and salvation in Mumbai.
Listen to “Bhau Bhau” here
Listen to “Yuva Halla Bol” here