From sexist to sensible: Music that makes a statement
Rapper Raxstar gets candid about why he chose to rap on women empowerment, India’s music scene and wanting to be in Bollywoodlong reads Updated: May 18, 2017 18:24 IST
When Honey Singh says he likes girls in ‘short dresses’, when Bohemia sang about a girl who wants a Jaguar before she can commit, we all called them out for sexism. We have girls rapping and asking Honey Singh to back off, we have tweets each day, condemning such ‘trash’. But amid all this noise, there is a song that asked men to back off instead, and the lyrics go something like this —
She don’t want to dance with you,
She don’t want to drink
Fall back bro let her do her thing
Britain-based rapper Raxstar decided to bring to notice the fact that the most important part about empowering anyone is letting them be. And he did just that through his song for MTV Spoken Word, Balwant.
“My culture reflects in my music”
Raxstar believes many of us share similar experiences that are not unique to just people who are from India. “You see things in India that sometimes don’t make sense to you. The same happens here in the UK. I’ve seen both sides of that, and that’s what I want to explore through my music. Songs about culture, about duty towards your parents, respect, are aspects that are important in Indian culture but not so much in the West. That is somehow explored in my music as well,” he says, adding that his sense of music comes from his upbringing and all the different cultural senses he has had.
A party song with a meaning
“I was thinking about women in my life, people that I know, and from that point of view, I looked at how they represent themselves and I drew inspiration from that.”
Most party songs are about drinking, about people being up for things. There will be a song about getting drunk on the dance floor, or just about moving to a groove. Raxstar’s song has beats that will make you tap your toes, but at the same time, he somehow manages to flip the concept of a party song being sort of empty when it comes to lyrical value.
Raxstar wanted to change this idea of a party song being meaningless, and that is what got him to pen down something as meaningful as Balwant. “I was wondering how to add meaning to music and still have it upbeat. I was thinking about women in my life, people that I know, and from that point of view, I looked at how they behave, and how they represent themselves and I drew inspiration from that.”
Roots that lie in India
Raxstar’s parents are from Punjab, he has his relatives here and he comes to India often. When you talk to him, you realise that he has grown up on the same stuff that you have. A household where there’s Bollywood, lots of Indian food and Gurdaas Maan songs in the background. “An Indian household will always be the same wherever it is, so your culture remains with you, you grow up under its influence,” he says.
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“This is a difficult subject as a man too.”
“Things that my friends have told me, things that I have seen women go through, they all influence my lyrics definitely...it’s not an easy subject to address.”
Raxstar has focused the lyrics of Balwant on telling men to let a woman be. “Paise gaadi hire moti dekh ke impress hoti nahi, Kyun ke har chamakti cheez sona hoti nahi” (She’s not impressed with money, and cars, as everything that glitters is not gold).”
This isn’t his first song that speaks for women, by the way. He collaborated with Badshah for the song Bandook, the lyrics of which spoke about domestic violence, and partner abuse. He says his lyrics are influenced from what he has seen and heard around him.
“Things that my friends have told me, things that I have seen women go through, they all influence my lyrics definitely. It’s such a difficult subject as a man as well, to be able to communicate this, and write lines that are directed towards men. I hope people think the same things as I do when they hear these lyrics,” he says.
Women in his life, his family have appreciated his effort in making a statement. “It’s not like one song is going to change the world, but it’s a stepping stone in the right direction,” he says.
“Hip-hop is the voice of the voiceless”
Owing to the general nature of hip-hop, the usual buzz about the genre being the party kind, but Raxstar thinks there’s a lot more in the genre that can be explored. “I’ve always felt that hip-hop is the voice of the voiceless, of the underground. Surely the genre can be explored to send the kind of messages that my song is sending. The kind of messages that people might not listen to from mainstream music can be sent across through a ‘fun’ genre like hip-hop. I think, at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the artist to send out the message.”
The other side of statement
Songs today, the lyrics in particular, face a lot of flak for being sexist, encouraging stalking and other stereotypical reasons. So does Raxstar also think that songs these days are degrading? He doesn’t. In fact, he points out how difficult it is to actually bring something positive to the forefront. “I don’t think its degrading. It’s always been like that. It’s also about what people want, because if these songs are so degrading, why are they so popular? It’s about bringing a balance to music,” he says.
“People who make such comments are threatened by women who are in power, by equality. They need to be called out on such remarks.”
“It’s uneducated to make derogatory comments about women”
Those random, senseless comments about women, be it on appearances, or moral policing, outrage us all. Naturally, a person who chose to use music in the favour of the feminine gender doesn’t agree with these remarks. “I think it’s uneducated to comment like that. People who make such comments are threatened by women who are in power, by equality. They need to be called out on such remarks,” he feels.
Raxstar feels politics is a complex subject, but specially feels distrustful of people who want to be in power. “I think someone who wants the power is exactly the person who shouldn’t be given the power,” he says.
“I have been trolled a few times”
Raxstar is quite active on social media, especially on Twitter, where he is often seen sharing thoughtful quotes, songs and interacting with his fans. In today’s time, he feels it’s not only important but also great that social media has made it easier for artistes to interact with fans and others. “I wouldn’t be known in other countries if it wasn’t for social media. I think it’s a great platform for independent artistes to reach audience.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been subjected to trolling. “It did happen and earlier I used to actually respond to mean tweets. I used to get really riled up, but I stopped doing that. I decided it’s better to put your energy to productive things and ignore this kind of negativity,” he shrugs.
“Music scene in India is exciting”
Music in India is evolving, it’s in an exciting space right now, feels Raxstar. “There are great opportunities for people to express themselves in India right now. Things are looking up when it comes to the music scene,” he says.
“I would love to be in Bollywood some day”
Raxstar respects Raftaar, Badshah and the likes of them. Growing up on Hindi films like Ajooba and Shahenshah and also Aamir Khan films, he is open and keen on a Bollywood chance. “It would be interesting to do a Bollywood project. It would be a great opportunity, but I’m not sure how it could happen. However, if I get the chance, I will do it!” he says.
Listen to Balwant here:
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