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Mumbai Rapper A-List Hosts Monthly Freestyle Rap Series

Rapper Ashwini Mishra aka A-List hosts Cypher Mania, where established and new MCs try their hand at freestyle rapping; also includes workshops

Rolling Stone India Nov 07, 2013
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Mumbai-based rapper Ashwini Mishra aka A-List Photo: Avni Murty

Mumbai-based rapper Ashwini Mishra aka A-List Photo: Avni Murty

Freestyle rap is no longer as relevant as it used to be, according to Mumbai rapper Ashwini Mishra aka A-List. Mishra says popular rap these days, with exception of rappers like Eminem, is more about incorporating EDM, with few role models to keep the freestyle form alive. That’s why Mishra and a group of 10-15 MCs and beatboxers get together every month for a cypher ”“ a group activity in which each rapper freestyles for about a minute.

This is the closest that the city’s rap scene can get to a live gig, says Mishra. He adds, “Most of the [rap] music [from Mumbai] was online but the scene hasn’t kicked off yet. I mean, I’ve been rapping since 2004 and I can still say that the rap scene is still new, so it’s just a matter of evolution.” Mishra started Cypher Mania over a year ago, as a group to organize cyphers in central Mumbai. The frequency of cyphers was once a week at a point of time, although it usually involved no more than 15 participants. Says Mishra, “After the first few cyphers, it became more of a workshop, since we got a lot of new people coming in.” Though a cypher is an informal gathering, there’s “a no bullshit policy” when it comes to the event. Says Mishra, “I remember I was slightly aggressive one time and I said no ”˜swag’ or ”˜wack’ [lame] rappers need apply and the kids [who showed up] got intimidated and were scared to do rap battles.”

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But there isn’t a censorship on topics, assures Mishra. Rather, he says Cypher Mania also involves experienced rappers such as Mishra, Ankur Johar aka Encore and Lester giving tips on stage presence and writing. Since a cypher is more of an informal gathering, Mishra says entry is free and open to anyone who’s interested in freestyling and rap battles.

This month’s edition of Cypher Mania, held on November 10th, is slightly different, since Mishra wants to promote freestyle rap beyond his scene. Says Mishra, “There will be tryouts this week so that we can see consistent freestylers.” Mishra also plans to shoot a video of this month’s edition and hopes to continue the format of cyphers. The plans is to make the gatherings a fortnightly event. Mishra is rather modest when we ask him how the rap battles would impact the local rap scene, “There’s no long-term plan, though. We’re just fucking around.” 

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