EPR Iyer: Rapper, activist, Robert Frost fan
The 30-year-old from Kolkata came in second on MTV Hustle. A song on farmer suicides that he wrote and performed at the show’s finale in October, has gone viral.Updated: Dec 07, 2019 18:45 IST
He’s rapped his way to the national stage, with songs about corruption, communalism, violence against women and farmer suicides. He came in second on the country’s first rap reality show, MTV Hustle. Ekla Cholo Re (Go Alone), a song on farmer suicides that he wrote and performed at the show’s finale in October, has gone viral. Excerpts from an interview with Kolkata boy Santhanam Srinivasan aka EPR Iyer, 30.
When you started rapping in 2005, Kolkata didn’t have much of a hip hop culture. Why rap?
I have always loved poetry. I love the haiku. And rap is staccato poetry, but with rhythm. When I was 16, I started thinking seriously about rapping, precisely because it was something no one else was doing at the time in my city. I discovered the music of Linkin Park and Rage Against The Machine. They’ve inspired me as much as Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda and Wilfred Owen.
Your group, Adiacot, has a song titled Gully Mein Apne Kutta Bhi Sher Hai, a take on what you called the pretentiousness of Gully Boy culture. What do you mean by that?
Indian hip hop has a rich history going back about 15 years. There were text battles on Orkut; rappers like Raftaar and Brodha V struggled to get out their message.
Then suddenly Gully Boy comes out and these two rappers are being called the origin of Indian hip hop. The film gave a boost to the culture, but Indian hip hop has deeper roots. The north-east has the first huge hip hop culture; there’s no mention of that.
So we at Adiacot decided to shout out to the real originals. And we wanted to challenge this idea that to generate a million views you need a huge budget, women, big cars. So we made our video in one take, without a budget. It has more than a million views on YouTube.
You took protest rap to the reality MTV show, Hustle. What was that like?
Rap has a very niche audience in the country. So when MTV announced the show, I really wanted to be a part of it. I needed to reach a wider audience with my songs. It was a tough contest. We had to create and perform a new song every week for 10 weeks.
My genre is socio-political writing. I wrote on [slain journalist] Gauri Lankesh, Neha Shoree, the drug inspector in Punjab who got killed, on farmer suicides and their march in Maharashtra. Neha Shoree’s father, Arun Shoree, texted me saying that thank you for remembering his daughter’s sacrifice to the country. That was really touching.
What are you looking for with your music – fame, a reaction, change? Do you think it’s working?
I want to push myself, push my art and show people that you can put important messages in your music. It’s working for me. A lot of people reach out with their stories of social injustice and ask me to write songs about them. I’ve become almost a reporter on the streets.
What’s your favourite line of poetry, rap or otherwise?
‘And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep’ by Robert Frost.