Middle-class, architecture graduates, public school educated — rappers in the Capital seek to break the template created by Mumbai
Rap music is gaining a lot of ground in the country, thanks to the two emcees from the mean streets of Dharavi, Mumbai whose music gave birth to the film Gully Boy. Now that the movie has been selected as India’s entry for the Oscars, the rise of rap is inevitable.
Two upcoming artists in Delhi — Yungsta and Frappe Ash — say the film’s success has resulted in a boom for the industry in Mumbai, which sees no dearth of shows or of money being pumped in. “The money has come in because of Gully Boy” Yungsta says, while Ash thinks that because everyone makes money, Mumbai doesn’t care about authenticity.
“Media has helped to spread a particular narrative on rap. Earlier, it spread the wrong notion about Punjabi music being hip-hop and now it’s Gully”, says Ash, who made his own solo music like Yungsta, before coming together.
The two rappers don’t quite fit the notion of a ‘Gully’ rapper. They have middle-class upbringings, and began scribbling lyrics when they were in 9th grade, in the days of Orkut. This social networking site that pre-dates Facebook served as their blackboard, a meeting point for at least 50 people who would give feedback, write their own poetry and post it.
Talent on this forum would be rated according to various nicotine substances, say the two Delhi-based rappers. A very good one would be called Cuban (cigar) and then it would come down to cigarette, bidi and at the lowest level was the label gutka (chewable tobacco).
The way they now rate each other is perhaps immaterial because even those who don’t quite have the skills, says Ash, get a stage to perform on. We have known the long-standing rivalry between Mumbai and Delhi, which here too exists. In actuality, it may just be healthy competition, but they also believe that everyone (in Mumbai) “is in a bubble and they make money in that bubble. In Delhi that bubble bursts quickly.”
Delhi certainly has the gift of bringing one back to reality, and for the two artists it would bring them back to the world of architecture, to day jobs which they have staved off for most part since graduating from a five-year course last year.
Since those early years when Yungsta, aka Yash Chandra, who hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur and Frappe Ash, aka Akshay Rawat, from Uttarakhand’s Roorkee met, they have moved forward with a collaboration to form Full Power — “which is fun and energetic but also socially conscious”.
The last bit needs explication. “People are free all day. They don’t have jobs.” To justify this statement, he gives an example of Instagram where young people keep uploading photos all day long. That’s one issue Ash brings up, then there are the deeply embedded social clashes in the country, and cultural norms which need to change. “But nothing gets talked about in the rap scene,” says Ash, a scenario which Full Power hope to change.
“If in your home you don’t get water, and I do, it doesn’t mean that I have lesser problems. I just have different problems”, says Yungsta, pointing out that they open themselves to criticism if they rap about something they haven’t gone through themselves. “We stay true to ourselves and we rap on things that we have experienced”, while Ash adds that they would want to connect with a larger audience which will relate to problems they may write and rap about.
The duo doesn’t think they should dedicate a whole song to issues such as the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir and the killing of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, for the fear it will sound like a rant. There are still others who are bringing to the fore the everyday lives of Kashmiris and what it means to grow up in a volatile state.
One such rapper who does belong to Srinagar is Ahmer Javed, whose new album ‘Little Kid, Big Dreams’ was released by Azadi Records, an independent Delhi-based label. He entirely focuses on his life growing up in Srinagar, bringing to the fore the violence faced by residents in everyday life.
While Yungsta’s Twitter posts may tell you his feelings about the current situation in the former state, it hasn’t permeated into his lyrics yet. “My dad told me to talk about Kashmir in some of my tracks. But my approach is that in a four-minute track if you only talk about one thing it becomes saturated. I don’t want to be too upfront.”
What he does instead is slip in a few lines. Like in the song ‘Red Alert’, “We talk about police being chors (thieves), ask people to boycott the government, talk about media, talk about Lankesh, but then also talk about our own personal struggles”.
What do they feel about the original inspiration — the New York rap scene, synonymous with lyrics on guns and crime? They feel tempted to venture into that territory — the problem is they haven’t experienced any of that in real life. Ash points out, “I am a single child, my father was in the army, so that swag will be missing if I rap on such things.” Yungsta too, got a public school education, unlike the deprivations gun-toting artists like NWA, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious BIG or Tupac might have underwent.
So, they came up with young Faizal, or as they like to spell it – Yung Faizal. Faizal is the character played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the critically acclaimed film Gangs of Wasseypur. “We made the song keeping him in mind, thinking: What if Faizal was a rapper? We get into that character, so it’s still us”, says Ash.
The different perspectives, borrowed from everyday life still makes it authentic, Full Power say.
For now, even if they may have some bone to pick with Gully Boy, they know it’s the film which has brought the rap scene to the forefront and into the minds of an average Indian. They hope that the buzz created does not die down. “We are still not that big, and my fear is the buzz dies before we get there…either the Gully scene gets squeezed out and runs its course” or the other outcome, a positive one they envision, is that a new style or narrative comes up.
They hope the latter comes true. They envision Full Power to become a brand. “We can lend our name to sell shoes, chips, anything,” they add with a laugh. “We have thought of all that”.