Baggy pants? Check. Loose T-shirts? Check. Flashy sunglasses? Check. Caps worn the wrong way? Check. These rappers look all set to break out into a verse about partying all night, alcohol, women and flashy cars. But mention India’s biggest rap star — Yo Yo Honey Singh — and they don’t seem impressed. “Those artists are all about showing off… But in real life, I’m getting pushed around in a crowded local train,” says MC Todfod (real name: Dharmesh Parmar, 19).
Instead, they sing about issues concerning the country — be it the December 16 gang rape in Delhi or the recent beef ban. These rappers are a part of a new video series, Hip Hop Homeland, which covers the growth of hip hop in the city. Launched by 101India.com, a youth portal, the series also covers the various subcultures of hip hop, like breakdancing, beatboxing and graffiti art.
The artists don’t just rap in English. Parmar, for instance, sings in Gujarati, while MC Mawali (Aklesh Sutar, 21) raps in Marathi. The young artists cut across gender and class, and believe that regional languages will help them spread their message in a better way. From south Mumbai’s BDD chawls to Andheri’s posh Millat Nagar, they reside in places across the city and are committed to changing people’s way of thinking. They say hip-hop has given them an identity, lifestyle and a sense of purpose.
“It’s a western culture but they have created their own language, form and style with it. They’re singing about things that matter to them and it’s important to promote that,” says Cyrus Oshidar, chief creative officer, 101India.
Founder, manager and lead emcee of Mumbai’s Finest, one of the city’s first rap crews, Ace (Abhishek Dhusia, 27) says that when he started out in the mid-2000s, information wasn’t readily available on the internet. “Whatever we did was offline — on the streets. We organised rap battles and fought for our name,” says Dhusia, who has performed with Grammy-award winning rappers like Chamillionaire and Flo-Rida.
The videos (less than 10 minutes each) feature breakdancing artists like B-boy Flying Machine (Arif Chaudri, 18; winner of the Red Bull BC 2005 National B-boying Championship) and B-girl Shawty Pink (Preeti Tiwari, 23). “My boyfriend, Anup Sathe (also a B-boy), introduced me to the scene. I was a dancer trying to make it into Bollywood, but I’m short, and that worked against me. Breakdancing helped me express myself. I wanted to test my limits and also showcase girl power,” says Tiwari, who’s a part of the hip hop crew Beast Mode.
Another Beast Mode member to feature in the series is graffiti artist Zake (23), who conceals his identity throughout the video by partially covering his face with a bandana. Zake usually sets out to paint on walls during the night, hiding from the police, which, he admits, gives him an adrenaline rush. He has “bombed” places like Carter Road and Bandra Reclamation. Even though what he does is illegal, the arts graduate states that “graffiti artists are never against the people. We don’t hit monuments or religious places.”
Visit 101india.com/music to watch the Hip-hop Homeland series