I’ve got 10 years to fill a stadium, but only two minutes to fill your cranium.” The line is familiar to anybody who has checked out Humble the Poet’s YouTube videos, for that’s how he begins them. The Canadian spoken word artist and rapper is known for making a statement through thought-provoking lyrics, and doling out sane life advice.
Shooting to fame through his YouTube channel (which has over 1,21,800 subscribers) Humble the Poet also has two self-help/motivational books to his name — UnLearn, and its follow-up, UnLearn: Beneath the Surface.
The turbaned, tattooed, bushy bearded Sikh rapper (real name Kanwer Singh; 33) has spoken out against homophobia, domestic violence, and the racism he faces at times. Singh tells us why he chose hip-hop and its subculture, rap, as his instrument: “It’s an art form that came from people who didn’t have resources, who may not have had the different privileges that others may have had.
It was created out of necessity — to give a voice to those people,” he says, adding that in a country like India, where many people don’t have a voice, it becomes a wonderful way to express themselves. Singh, who is a live wire on stage, has performed multiple times in India before (he was part of NH7 Weekender and MTV’s The Dewarists), and visits about once a year.
Growing up in Toronto, surrounded by a diverse, multi-ethnic population deeply influenced Singh’s outlook to life, and helped him seek ideas and beliefs different from his own. “It’s one of the most diverse places on the planet. You don’t realise how beautiful and mixed the city is until you go to other places. I had friends from all walks of life and different socio-economic backgrounds, who spoke different languages. I had friends working at restaurants to help pay their parents’s mortgage, and friends whose parents took care of everything and they got to choose what car they want to drive to school.”
Singh’s upbringing was rather liberal. While his parents weren’t really in favour of music, they didn’t ban it in the house. “I am the youngest in my house so whatever barriers needed to be broken down, my elder siblings had done it.”
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What do his parents think of his brand of music and spoken word performances? “My mother’s not the biggest fan of the swearing, but both my parents and the rest of my family are extremely supportive of my work.”
Singh’s sense of identity is unique. His big hit Baagi Music, has lyrics that go: ‘Toronto’s in my heart, Punjabi in my blood, I’m not Indian, four knuckles to your eyes, if you call me that again. F**k Bollywood, we Punjabi, we the home of Bhangra and Jay Sean’s mom’.
He sports a tattoo of the word Khalsa on his back and a map of Punjab on his neck. And though he might come across as religious, thanks to his turban and beard, he doesn’t follow Sikhism as a religion. “…personally believe it was never intended to be one. The writings in Sikhi are very intuitive on the nature of man, and the causes of displeasure, it’s not a one size fits all recipe on how to live; that dogma came later… Sikh means student (some say disciple). I just want to soak in the world as long as I’m here (sic)”, Singh wrote on his Tumblr account in response to a follower’s question.
Singh is close pals with YouTube superstar Superwoman (Canadian-born entertainer Lilly Singh), and the two have done a couple of music videos together. In 2014, they collaborated for #LEH (over 11,529,800 hits), a song about everything that’s wrong with today’s young generation. Last year, they released #IVIVI (Roman numerals for 416, Toronto’s area code) as a tribute of sorts to the city.
“I was making a few videos on YouTube, but not on a regular basis. In 2010, she sent me a message sharing her goals and asking me for a little bit of help. We met, maybe, every six months or once a year to collaborate on projects. Slowly, we became close friends. We connect the most on sharing common goals, and understanding the importance of having a strong work ethic,” he says.
Humble the Poet will perform at The Lost Party on February 27, 8pm onward, at the Idhar stage
Saltar Lake, Lonavla
Tickets: Rs 1,818 onward on insider.in