A protein biologist. An entrepreneur. A rapper.
Young India is a fraternity of undocumented hustlers. Restless in spirit, they sail through the social constructs of dos and don’ts to manifest their individualistic identity. It’s a place where a scientist with patents to his name, can also have a career as an English rapper for as long as 12 years. Such a gem is Sumukh Mysore, aka, Smokey The Ghost. And if there’s any chance you’ve been sleeping on him, it’s about time you know his story.
“It’s like a moniker of monikers.”
Before there was Smokey The Ghost, there was Smokey. “Virality was not even a concept back then”, says Smokey, who remembers rapping from the tender age of 10. Now 28, he remembers starting out as a part of the legendary text-battling community of Orkut, which consisted of a lot of MCs from the current scene. His claim to fame was with 2008’s ‘Machas With Attitude’, a rap trio from South India consisting of him, Bigg Nikk and Brodha V. From spitting on a track from ‘Chennai Express’, to garnering 200k+ views on a video which came out in 2012, MWA and the early scene can serve as a splendid response to anyone questioning the inception of the currently thriving hip-hop movement. But eventually the three took individual routes and made things for themselves, “Smokey The Ghost was basically the death of Smokey. I’m not talking about myself when I’m doing Smokey The Ghost, I’m telling other people’s stories.”
...Brahmins don’t rap?
“It’s not that they don’t like my music, it’s just that they don’t think it’s worthwhile to pursue it in a country like India”, says Smokey. A Bangalore native, Smokey hails from a conservative Brahmin family. Naturally, there was a certain cultural barrier and Smokey had a hard time explaining the nuances of this alien and modern art form. Moreover, this exchange took place during a time when hip-hop and rap wasn’t even the ‘hot’ thing to do, let alone be a viable career option. But with time, his family has become more accepting of Sumukh’s dedication towards music, to the point that even his mother calls him ‘Smokey’ now.
Young Sumukh was ignoring his boss’ call for days. Infuriated by his incompetence, Sumukh’s boss at the National Centre Of Biological Sciences had asked him to wrap up his last set of experiments and leave. After mustering up the courage, Sumukh finally answered the call to get the news of a lifetime. In the haste to finish his work, Sumukh had accidentally managed to get the results which his boss was vying for, for nearly 30 years. This not only led him to get his job back, but also became his first patent. The analytical skills developed through the course of delivering more patents and research papers led him to take a self-critical route which bled into his artistry. It was then that he decided to drop his pseudo-American accent and take pride in rapping in his original Indian accent.
“That’s the reason why I revamped everything. If Chance raps with the Chicago accent, Biggie with the Bronx one, it’s only fair that I rap with my authentic one so that they know I’m a rapper from South India.” However, the constraints of a hectic 9 to 5 (which are sometimes pushed to 1 AM for a scientist) led him to quit his job of 4 years and venture into co-founding a medical device company called ‘MUSE Diagnostics’. Now, he makes sure to maintain a balance and use his entrepreneurial and business skills in his music career as well.
HER NAME IS?
LOVE. PARENTS. SMILE. SHE.
This four track conceptual mixtape is why we’re here. Even though Smokey has been turning heads of the likes of Aerate Sound and Malfnktion with his stunning features on tracks in the recent past, it is his forward-thinking, lo-fi mixtape which needs to infiltrate your playlist. Laced with stellar minimalistic production, this project manages to create an immersive vibe for multiple listens. With the subject matter revolving around the above-mentioned song titles, this mixtape stands out by touching on topics and themes rarely explored by the Indian rap community. Flowing through it is a female spoken word that forms the crux of the project — a clever take on identities, which is best experienced and not explained. However, championing all this is a seasoned MC comfortable in his own skin and putting his best foot forward.
The North & South Of India
“Acting like Bollywood’s made for the south,
In a national language I don’t know about.”
Historically, there has always been an unnecessary segregation between ‘north’ and ‘south’ India in conversations revolving around culture and art. Cunning businessmen have utilized this opportunity to craft different ‘markets’ through means of linguistic barriers. The above mentioned bar from Smokey’s track, ‘Smile’, speaks of the frustration when niche artists, such as a ‘South Indian English Rapper’, are questioned about the viability of their reach, “The problem is the ‘English’ market is fairly spread out. People complain about linguistic barriers even though they love songs like ‘Gasolina’ and ‘Gangnam Style’.”
To this day Smokey occasionally dabbles with mainstream music by performing on film songs under an alias. Even though there’s decent money involved, he still has reservations about the consequent artistic compromise “The thing about mass music is that it has to be dumbed-down. You can’t write intelligent shit and put it in Bollywood. That’s frustrating.”
The Road Not Taken...
12 years in the game with genuine talent really makes you wonder why Smokey isn’t as well known as you’d think he’d be. Funny enough, Smokey was offered the same Sony Deal that Brodha V has, but refused to sign it. When asked if he is jealous in any way of Brodha V’s success, he calmly smiles and answers, “It’s a common question and I’m not at all uncomfortable to answer it. We had been doing MWA for years so it was time we matured and do something different. We still have great conversations. He’s made moves for Indian hip-hop that nobody has. In fact, we might even have collaborations on the way.” But one would wonder that an anti-institutional attitude like this might hinder an artist’s progress, however at the same time, ‘growth’ shouldn’t hinder the individual’s personal ethics, “As you grow old you realize it’s not about the views and the likes. It’s about the catalogue and the art. I want to put out music because I love it. I want to be proud of the stuff I put out even 5 years from now. If people listen to it, well and good, if they don’t - fuck ‘em.”
Smokey The ?
Inspired by the likes of MF Doom, Smokey is really keen on being ‘the rapper’s rapper’. He wants his DIY efforts to inspire younger rappers who should never have to make excuses regarding the lack of ‘resources’ to make music in today’s day and age. As for what the future looks like, his answer, much like his music, keeps us asking for more, “There are different rad ideas going around. I don’t want to do Smokey The Ghost forever, I want to evolve it into something weird later. But only time will tell.”
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