Answer the below ‘yes or no’ questions in your mind (or aloud – depending on who’s around you and how easily you get embarrassed):
- Is ‘Mere Gully Mein” the only local Hip Hop song you can think of?
- According to you, is Indian Hip Hop limited to the few rap verses sung by Yo Yo Honey Singh in the middle of other Bollywood songs?
- Do you think Baba Sehgal was the only early Indian/Hindi rapper?
If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of the questions above, you’re about to have your Hip Hop knowledge expanded.
Hip Hop today around the world
Through the evolution of each of the core elements (graffiti, rapping, breaking, knowledge of self and MCing), Hip Hop as a movement, continues to change and grow – around the world. In the 70’s, during its infancy stage, Hip Hop was thought to be a temporary fad. However, it didn’t take long for that line of thinking to change as Hip Hop continued to rise and grow. In fact, in 2017, Hip Hop and R&B surpassed rock as the biggest music genre in the United States, according to a Nielsen Music report.
Now, Hip Hop even has ‘extended’ elements that include street entrepreneurship, fashion and style, language, beatboxing and a few more. Hip Hop lyrics have also been incorporated into curriculums in schools and colleges to teach a variety of subjects, including creative writing and poetry. There are even courses on Hip Hop studies offered at universities across the US.
Just like the early pioneers of Hip Hop used their art to capture the spirit of the youth, this genre has always stayed fresh and fun by constantly evolving and adapting, while staying true to its roots. When the entire music industry experienced a decline in CD sales, rappers started to give away free mixtapes on Datpiff. Then came the SoundCloud rap movement that turned talented DIY internet musicians into overnight sensations with major record deals, sponsorships and live shows. Using free apps like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Vine, emerging Hip Hop artists find ways to promote their work and reach the masses, making Hip Hop a global form of expression for youth identity.
So how can something that started with one man and his turntable but is now a multi-billion-dollar industry, still feel the same? Because Hip Hop continues to provide a voice for underrepresented groups, and has kept its soul.
Indian Hip-Hop/Desi Hip-Hop
Hip Hop in India seems to have two origins – one was way back in the 1990’s with artists like Baba Sehgal singing ‘Thanda Thanda Pani’ – the ‘desi’ version of ‘Ice Ice baby’. The second beginning was in the early 2000’s when it matured into an art form – but still remained largely underground. At both instances, it was mainly imitation rap, a kind of mimicry of American Hip Hop. When artists started rapping in their vernacular, regional languages, be it Tamil or Punjabi or Hindi, is when Indian Hip Hop truly started to blossom. Because now, these artists were giving a voice to their people, while also reaching wider audiences and becoming a part of a larger community.
Just like how Hip Hop emerged from the streets of NYC, one very talented young Indian boy started gully rap in India. His name is Naved Shaikh (Naezy). Through his music, he spoke about the daily troubles of the common man, life on the street, politics, corruption and women’s rights. Soon after, another Indian rapper by the name of Vivian Fernandes (aka Divine), started gaining popularity with his single “Yeh Mera Bombay”. In 2015, these two artists collaborated for a song called “Mere Gully Mein” which was uploaded on YouTube. This was a major turning point for desi rap…because of what followed – the movie Gully Boy, based on the lives of Naezy and Divine. The film and the attention the music got, inspired more underground rappers to dream big and work on their art. It helped bring Indian Hip Hop into conversations and introduced India and the world to gully rap.
Apart from Gully rap, there are local Hip Hop artists that are experimenting with sounds and beats, incorporating different styles and melodies. By giving a voice to the everyday Indian and with its socially conscious lyrics, Indian Hip Hop is becoming something that’s relatable and inclusive. According to Delhi-based MC Kode, (who started the battle rap scene in Delhi), “We need an openness of the people towards rap and hip-hop. It’s about education right now rather than going hard, going in. Make sure that people know hip-hop is not just a movement. It’s more than that.”
So, even though it has a long way to go, Indian Hip Hop is now stepping out from the shadows, into a future that looks bright and brilliant.