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Six degrees of separation may be a fair assumption of distance for the rest of the world. But within an ecosystem as compact and co-dependent as India’s forever up-and-coming independent music industry, closing the gaps between artists and audiences feels much more within reach. This can make journalistic interactions comfortable for the most part–-a space where you can share affinity for artists’ music easily if there genuinely is any. And on occasion, it can be terrifying too. Especially when you have to interview somebody you’re truly blown away by. In the lead up to my conversation with Tienas, the latest rapper on everybody’s radar, I find myself concerned about the latter. Would my fan-boying cross over into unprofessional territory, or worse still, appear phony? With his new mixtape only days away from dropping (at the time of writing this) I figure the nerves can’t be one-sided and decide to be straight up. Everyone deserves to know when they’re onto something special.
Tanmay Saxena is Bobby Boucher and Bobby Boucher is Tienas. Confused? Let me break it down. Born and raised in Mumbai, 22-year old Tanmay Saxena goes by the stage name ‘Tienas’ which is essentially just a clever wordplay on his initials (T ‘N’ S), taking cue from his idol Eminem, aka, Marshall Mathers (M ‘N’ M). While Bobby Boucher, the name he prefers being called by is just an alter ego, quite like SIim Shady or Young Sinatra, the Bobby in question here explains the relevance of it all. “There’s an Adam Sandler movie called ‘The Waterboy’ where he plays a wannabe football player. I like his name in it, Bobby Boucher. Plus, in the movie he stutters, just like me.”
The stammering sort of sets the foundation for much of Bobby’s fiery foray into hip-hop. When I first met Bobby, I was taken aback by his speech impediment. I thought it was some kind of a bad joke that the guy who was spitting so hard on the live performance of his track, ‘Heaven’s Gate’, stuttered so much in real life. But I guess I was as insensitive and judgmental as Bobby’s peers in school. “They were always suspicious of me like, ‘Oh, he doesn’t stutter when he sings, but does it when the teachers ask him a question. He must be faking it’. I used to be like, ‘Why would I fake this shit?” Bobby shrugs off his past with both indifference and discomfort. But life took a turn when him and his elder brother, who goes by the rap name ‘RaySon4 7’, stumbled upon the movie ‘8 Mile’. Bobby fell in love with rap and hip-hop and found certain excitement in spewing words in a rhythm over music. After constantly reciting Eminem’s songs and watching the movie over 10 times, it finally struck him : “Oh, wait. I can make my own songs.”
“I think I was 16 and the name was something like, ‘Everything Is Shit To Me’”, says Bobby reminiscing about his first song as we share a laugh. As the years passed, Bobby studied and improved his craft. He didn’t let himself be bogged down simply by rhymes, wordplay and metaphors, but started concentrating on what he’s saying and the overall aesthetics of the songs. He cites the influence of more likely heroes such as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, but doesn’t shy away from including Johnny Cash, Mac DeMarco and Jimi Hendrix amongst his idols. With his debut mixtape under the Delhi-based Azadi Records around the corner, he’s intent on labelling himself as an artist or a musician, beyond the world’s limited view of him as solely a rapper. To be fair, given that his trajectory is only beginning, he gets to call the shots for now.
In today’s world, it’s no surprise that Bobby is also a part of an artist collective called ‘FTS - Frequency Time Space’. A group of rappers who diligently put up songs on their YouTube page. From gems like ‘All Eyes On Me’, in which he talks about choking in BITS Pilani’s Rap Wars’, to ‘Franklin D’ a metaphorical track about his struggle with depression, Tienas isn’t afraid to be provocative with his choices. A personal favorite would be the bouncy ‘Fake Adidas,’ which dwells in the culture of excess and consumerism. But that’s all in the past as Bobby’s eyes gleam with a certain zest in anticipation of his debut mixtape and the releases that will follow.
“The mixtape is called ‘Unavailable’,” he tells me, offering me a bit in way of explanation. “I’ve been working on my craft and myself for quite some time that’s why I’ve been unavailable to the world. Honestly though, I’ve always felt like an outcast.”
He credits this to social anxiety partly caused by his speech impediment. Grabbing a smoke or taking a walk on the beach does put things to ease, but his nerves do act up while performing in front of crowds. His solution to it being, “One, I practice a lot. Two, I simply remove my specs. If I can’t see them, I’ve nothing to be afraid of.”
The mixtape comprises of roughly 15 tracks, which is almost puny compared to the 500 plus songs Bobby has written over the years. “It’s like there’s a Hand over me. This is what I know and this is what I do,” Bobby states simply. In fact, it was this determination and rigor that caught Azadi Records’ attention. “They’re like big brothers to me”, says Bobby referring to the co-founders, Mo Joshi and Uday Kapur. There’s palpable gratitude from Bobby’s side accompanied by love and respect for the label and its artists who have been instrumental in building the kind of support structure that champions regional and socially conscious music around the country. Bobby mentions the most important advice Mo gave him, “He said, ‘This is not checkers, it’s chess. One step at a time’”. Incidentally, Mo also gave Bobby’s parents the much needed reassurance early on, when they were on the fence about their son dedicating most of his time to music.
With a story like his, one can’t help but feel excited for Tienas. His talent is undeniable and his ambitions, admirable. It’s a common misconception that the explosion of hip-hop in India is credited solely to rappers taking up their regional language as a medium of expression. At the crux of any artistic movement is authenticity. Audiences gravitated towards the likes of Divine and Naezy, not only because they were spitting in Hindi, but because they were simply being themselves. Historically, art has always been about speaking truth to power and hip-hop has been the most eloquent of the contemporary forms. Tienas is likely to breed a newer generation of rappers and appeal to audiences, not because he’s rapping in English, but because he’s telling his stories, his way. “Music is for the soul”, says Bobby, “it really doesn’t have a language.”
When asked the generic ending question no interview process is complete without (where does he see himself in the next five years?) he doesn’t miss a beat: Greatest. Rapper. In. The. World. “Yeah, man. Everyone should feel like that. Not only artists, everyone. Like even him, he should feel like he’s the greatest waiter of all time, you know?” Bobby concludes as a young man clears our table.
[Unavailable is the much-awaited debut of Mumbai-based alternative hip-hop artist
Tienas. The Mumbai-based MC is a breath of fresh air in the city’s hip-hop community - bringing to the forefront a Nujabes-inspired sonic aesthetic that hasn’t been seen before in the region. Along with the mixtape, Tienas has also dropped stunning visuals conceptualised and executed by Bombay Arthouse for 18th Dec, the lead single off the project, which can be viewed here. Unavailable is also available for free download / streaming now.]
Feature image courtesy Aaditya S. Kumar
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