Dhanji's highly anticipated debut album, Ruab, has sent ripples of excitement through the Indian hip-hop scene. Hailing from Ahmedabad, an unconventional hub for hip-hop, Dhanji has managed to build a fervent following through a strategic buildup to his album release. With seven mixtapes under his belt, the artist has piqued curiosity with listening sessions, live band performances, a single release, and enthusiastic word-of-mouth. What sets Ruab apart is its genre-defying approach that transcends all your expectations when you think of hip-hop in India.
Drawing inspiration from hip-hop legends like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, Dhanji infuses his work with a deep appreciation for artists like James Brown. In Ruab, he effortlessly switches between Gujarati, Hindi, and English, backed by jazz and R&B-influenced drums and bass guitars, creating a unique sonic landscape. The album spans a wide spectrum, from laidback rhythms to the heavy boom of trap drums and 808s, offering listeners a rich and diverse musical experience.
The album also features carefully chosen and beautifully executed collaborations, which add both depth and dimension to each trackk. What's more, each feature complements Dhanji's artistry, creating a cohesive and engaging listening experience. It's a party come alive musically. And I'd even go as far as to say that for a lot of people, including myself, it has changed the way we experience music and storytelling via hip-hop.
Thematically, the album hits all the notes that make up an artist's dilemma. Dhanji combines his freestyle candour with intricate lyricism and varied delivery, pushing the boundaries of his craft. Through his lyrics, he explores themes ranging from desires and class differences to vulnerability, mental health, the challenges of being an artist in a capitalist world and his connection to the city of Ahmedabad. But these expressions aren't conveyed in a linear way as lyrics often work. Instead, they're embedded in the poetic ways Dhanji uses language to paint a picture. The album is a meticulously crafted collection that weaves a complex narrative, akin to a non-generic film with layers of interpretation.
Sonically, Ruab is a fusion of funk, G-funk, jazz elements, boom bap and hip-hop, drawing inspiration from James Brown's work. Produced by Circle Tone, Unfuckman, Sammad, EBE, MLHVR, and Acharya, along with PSV and Blu Attic, the sound is a quintessentially avant-garde for Indian hip-hop and is brought to life by instruments like the drums, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, bass, and electronic guitar. If that doesn't seem magical enough, the screams, the conversations, the pandora's box of adlibs, the samples and dialogues from Bollywood and Hollywood, and the trilingual joyride of his unmistakable flow will make you see that Dhanji is truly in a class of his own.
But what's even more fascinating is that these themes and sounds come together in one big soup that can be considered fundamentally inseparable from Dhanji himself. This album is a manifestation of his psyche, which has somehow managed to birth itself in a way that's just as cryptic, raw, and chaotic as our unconscious. Ruab brings the same treatment to Indian hip-hop that Kanye, Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator did to hip-hop in the West. To say the least, it's progressive, experimental and individualist in a way that's so honest and real, it becomes the voice of the people. It's by no means an exaggeration to say that this album has single-handedly expanded the sonic palette of desi hip-hop.