While India's hip-hop scene is still relatively new, its giving rise to a generation of talented artists who are spotlighting the country's vast linguistic diversity and cultural multiplicity. The soundscape of Desi hip-hop is a unique and ever-evolving blend of various regional flavours and dialects. The self-expressive nature of rap music allows these artists to convey their individuality while also reconciling differences and bringing together diverse communities.
From the gullies of Mumbai, where the rhymes are fast-paced just like the city, to the smooth and melodious flow of Punjab's underground rap scene, here’s a starter pack to India’s regional rap landscape.
Venturing up north of India, the Kashmiri rap or Koshur rap scene is a powerhouse of intense sound and themes. Hailing from a region where political turmoil, militarisation, and identity politics have dominated for decades, the youth have found solace and expression through rap music. Kashmiri rappers Ahmer, SOS, and Qafilah are essential to the scene and each bring their unique style and voice to the fore.
Ahmer, for example, made a memorable debut with his album "Little Kid, Big Dreams" which offers a powerful commentary on life in a country of contrasting beauty and battles. His music delves deep into issues such as military occupation, conflict, and censorship endured by the people of Kashmir. With a blend of Koshur, Urdu, and Hindi, Ahmer's music is accessible to a wider audience, bringing awareness to the struggles of the region.
SOS, a dynamic duo comprising ‘Aatankki’ and Tufail Nazir, who are both inspired by old-school conscious hip-hop. Their music highlights socio-political issues with a subtle panache while rapping about themes of resilience and struggle. Their words cut deep and are delivered with razor-sharp precision.
Arif Farooq, also known as Qafilah, is yet another influential rapper from the region, whose politically charged music has made ripples in the scene. His anthems of protest incorporate themes of religion, censorship, and Kashmir's pain, urging listeners to pay attention to the injustices.
Punjab has been one of the earliest adopters of the rap scene in India. Its unique blend of regional folk music with hip-hop beats has helped create a distinct sound that has won over audiences across the country. Over the years, the state has produced several prominent rappers who have made a significant mark in the music industry. However, with the recent shift towards a more lyrical conception of hip-hop in India, newer artists are emerging with their own unique soundscapes.
Rappers such as Sikander Kahlon and Bagi Munda share the stage as Punjab’s frontrunning artists that are also bringing a new dimension to the scene.
Sikander Kahlon is a veteran of the Indian rap scene and is widely recognized as one of the most prominent rappers in the country. With several successful albums and numerous accolades to his name, he has already proven himself as a force to be reckoned with. Despite his success, Kahlon remains true to his roots and continues to stay authentic to his unique sound, addressing issues such as social inequality, politics, and corruption. His artistic entanglement with Punjabi culture and history makes him an irreplaceable voice.
Bagi Munda, hailing from Chandigarh, is a rising star in the Indian rap scene. His raw storytelling abilities and deeply personal lyrics have captured the attention of audiences from all over the country. Through his music, Bagi Munda vividly portrays life in the 'hood' of Chandigarh, providing a detailed and often vulnerable perspective on the struggles and triumphs of living in his community. This honesty and lyrical prowess have earned him a dedicated following who are particularly enamoured by his ability to connect with them on a deeply emotional level.
Moving towards the Seven Sisters of India, we hear a sound rooted in self belief and conviction. The North East region of India is often ruled out when it comes to discussions about the country's hip-hop scene, but this region has been producing some of the most exciting rap artists in recent years. Despite being plagued by political instability and social challenges, young rappers have been using the medium of rap to voice their struggles, express their culture, and bring about social change.
Jelo, a rapper from Mizoram, possesses a unique style of delivering his rhymes, characterised by its cutthroat nature and rhythmic flow. He has a certain undeniable charisma that draws in his audience, captivating them with his confident delivery and commanding stage presence. He is known for his ability to weave vivid stories with his lyrics, painting pictures of his experiences in Mizoram and offering a window into his life and the life of those around him.
Meba Ofilia hails from Shillong in Meghalaya. Her music is characterised by its soulful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics, and a fusion of different genres, but mainly hip-hop and R&B. She often addresses social issues such as gender inequality, discrimination, and empowerment in her music. Meba with Big Ri also won the Best India Act award at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards for their song ‘Done Talking’.
Khasi Bloodz, a rap collective from Meghalaya, have been making waves in the Indian hip-hop scene with their unique blend of Khasi folk music and hip-hop beats. The group's music is heavily influenced by their Khasi culture and identity, with their lyrics often also being delivered in the Khasi language.
The rap scene in Gujarat stands out with its unique and abstract flow, which sets it apart from the rest of the country. Dhanji and Siyaahi are two prominent rappers hailing from Ahmedabad who have established themselves as frontrunners of the state's effervescent rap scene. Owing to their Gujarati, English and Hindi blend, their music is carried by a choppy flow and creative production styles that have created a sound that was previously unheard of in the rap scene.
Collaborative tracks from both of them include Screenplay, 4424 and standalone tracks that reflect their playful music making including Peep The Tareeka, Guru, Blood Payment, and more.
Bangalore’s rap scene is known for its lightning-fast flow and clever wordplay that can go over anyone’s head. Hanumankind, Smokey the Ghost, and Killa K are the main proponents of this style, each with their unique voice and style. The scene is a mix of English and the regional language of Kannada and elucidates the social, political and personal themes with finesse.
Hanumankind’s rapid-fire delivery and witty lyrics have garnered him a large following. His smooth flow and commentaries have already cemented him as one of the most skilled rappers in the country and propelled him to more mainstream audiences. On the other hand, Smokey The Ghost has been working his way into the music industry by switching careers and remaining true to his essence as a rapper. Having worked on big budget projects like the Bollywood film Chennai Express, Smokey the Ghost has paved the way for many.
Maharashtra's rap scene is a testament to the state's rich musical heritage and its ability to seamlessly blend traditional elements with modern hip-hop beats. The fusion of Indian classical music and rap has become a hallmark of the region, making it stand out from the rest of the country's hip-hop landscape.
Shreyas, a rapper from Pune, is a prime example of this unique sound. With his impeccable flow and selection of beats, he has carved a niche for himself in the Maharashtra rap scene. His ability to tackle social issues and address them in his music has garnered him a loyal fanbase and widespread critical acclaim. Shreyas' music has the power to both inspire and provoke, making him a vital voice in the Indian hip-hop community.
Another noteworthy artist from Maharashtra is MC Altaf. Born and raised in Dharavi, one of Mumbai's largest slums, MC Altaf has risen to prominence with his socially conscious lyrics and thought-provoking music. His ability to blend traditional sounds with contemporary beats has earned him widespread recognition, including a spot on the Gully Boy soundtrack.
As hip-hop continues to evolve in India, it's clear that the genre has firmly established itself as a powerful tool for cultural expression and social commentary, reflecting the experiences and struggles of a diverse and dynamic nation.
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