Inside the mind of the inimitable rapper who found fame, got forgotten, and was resurrected via Twitter.
Baba Sehgal was one of the many Indipop performers we left behind in the ’90s. You remembered Thanda Thanda Pani (1992), though you wondered how someone could have found fame for lyrics so plain. ‘What were we thinking?’, you thought.
Until, Sehgal (50) discovered Twitter, or rather Twitter discovered him. And it was like the ’90s all over again. You learnt that the same blunt, trivial humour still, somehow, works. No, don’t think so? Tell that to his 48,000 followers.
But Sehgal didn’t instantly take to Twitter. He was more of a Facebook guy. “One day, I was watching an IPL match, and Gayle [Chris] was batting. I think I must’ve tweeted something like ‘Gayle is a whale and nobody can fail’, and I got 150 retweets.”
The floodgates had opened: Twitter became the door to Baba Sehgal’s stream of consciousness. And it worked. Here was a man expressing his thoughts on the world, without trying too hard, and with his own inimitable brand of humour.
bank agar deta hai toh kar lo borrow,— Baba Sehgal (@OnlyBabaSehgal) April 5, 2016
pls don't forget to go to d gym tomorrow..
Now, he’s perceived as funny even when he isn’t trying to be. “Recently, I tweeted something like, ‘Life mein nothing comes free, everybody wants to park in shade but nobody wants to plant a tree...’ It was just something I saw under my building. It was hot and people were standing under a tree and having a conversation about how everyone’s cutting trees, and that the government isn’t doing anything about it.”
How are those songs born?
But, as is the rule with Twitter celebrity status, you earn fans and critics at the same time. And social media can often be brutal. Something Sehgal’s learnt to deal with, not by saying he doesn’t care, but by actually revelling in it. “Some of the negative comments are really funny. Something like, ‘Arre, yeh takle ko kya ho gaya hain, humko sikha raha hain rhyming’ (sic),” he says.
life mein nothing comes free, everybody wants to park in shade but nobody wants to plant a tree..— Baba Sehgal (@OnlyBabaSehgal) April 4, 2016
In a way, perhaps, Sehgal understands the internet better than the internet understands him. “They’re always thinking in reverse, so they think, ‘What s**t is this guy doing?’ I don’t respond to them. But I just assume that everyone realises that when I say ‘Mujhko Grammy de do’, I don’t literally mean it.”
Yet, Sehgal makes it a point to engage with his virtual fans. He understands that the game isn’t to analyse the polarity of the comments, but look at the sheer numbers: that’s what determines his popularity. In fact, he even finds inspiration in what his digital followers throw at him. “You see, a girl had commented on the Rihanna o Rihanna song, saying, ‘Arre, isko koi Grammy de do.’ So I picked that up, and now we have a new song.
You call that rap?
While Sehgal believes going digital is every musician’s destiny, he also believes in live concerts. And if you thought he was an out-of-work performer who’d hung up his boots, think again. “I’ve been lucky that I always had shows to do: in the US, and in the south [India]. Then, in the last few years, NH7 Weekender [Pune, 2015], Stage 42 [Mumbai, 2016] and the YouTube Fan Festival [Mumbai, 2015] have invited me. God willing, I will never stop performing live.”
For now, though, he’s happy releasing his songs on the the web, rather than doing elaborate music videos. “Every time I release a song, people say, ‘Yeh kya kar raha hai?’ I’m happy with that response.”
Momentarily, he sheds his jovial image as he talks about the current prevalence of rap in Hindi mainstream music. “Honestly, I don’t think these film rap songs are rap at all. They’re just a couple of lines. Real rap has a beginning and an end. Look at rap music from the US in the late ’70s; each song tells a story. All my songs — from Thanda Thanda Paani to the upcoming Hip Hop Dieting — have a story.”
And just like that, Sehgal finds a way to promote his song. The next one promises to poke fun at urban India’s dieting obsession. His songs, created prolifically, haven’t just captured the attention of social media, but also, he claims, of advertisers. “Brands call to ask me if they can use lines from my songs. I simply say, ‘Paisa rakho aur use karo.’” We’re willing to bet that line, too, will make it into a song.