Sensational queer rap duo, Cartel Madras take pride in their norm-eluding music and culture-crunching lyrics. The queer rap duo comprises sisters Priya ‘Contra’ Ramesh and Bhagya ‘Eboshi’ Ramesh, representing the Indo-Canadian diaspora while their music also accords a voice to the LGBTQ+ community in general. The collective’s name is a conjunction of ‘Cartel’, the western term ghettoizing contemporary cultures, and ‘Madras’, the colonial label foisted on Chennai, India.
Now based out of Calgary, Alberta in Canada, the two sisters boast a Tamil background, being originally from Chennai, India. Being successful desi female artists in a western and predominantly white country didn’t come easy for the new-age duo, whose authentic sounds, powerful lyricism and unique South Asian influence eventually set them apart.
A unique blend of Gangsta-rap & South Asian Influence
Unfettered by basic genre tags, Cartel Madras’s music touches upon various styles like punk, house, South-Indian percussion and in doing so, transcends the norm for trap music. Their music is a war-siren urging queer individuals and young brown women to draw daggers against the injustice and discrimination they face in every facet of life. In summary, Cartel Madras is a ‘Zero-bullshit-tolerance’ group, aiming to ignite a revolution.
Their music is punchy, provocative and unapologetic. The lucid flow and powerful speech in their lyrics are meant to embolden listeners to own their sexuality and assert their individuality, despite bobbing amid an ocean of haters. Eboshi and Contra, who share an exceptional stage presence in conversation with their parent label, Royal Mountain Records, quoted, “We really want people at our concerts to feel like they’ve been punched in the face. It’s like a riot just passed you and you wonder what was that? How do I Do that again?” The duo has been infamous for leaving audiences in awe after their high energy, headbanger-style trap gigs.
Some of Cartel Madras’s notable performances have been their Canada Tour and opening sets for Fetty Wap, Hollerado, and Cliping.
Having overcome a barrage of hardships on their way to the top, the sisters leave no room for errors or complacence while rapping live. Initially conceptualized out of fear of failure, their motto, ‘Deliver every performance like it’s our last’ holds true even today, despite their critical success. Their hard-hitting, punk-inspired raves have gained notoriety in Canada’s hip hop scene and have bolstered a certain sense of FOMO among dedicated listeners in the scene. Playing out in harmony, their music and gigs create an atmosphere of coalescence for both straight and LGBTQ+ listeners across broad racial, religious and cultural spectrums, to come together and appreciate good music.
Their consistent streak of club-bangers and house-party benders, motivated the two to form hip hop collective THOT-police, adding further impetus to their brand of ‘Goonda Rap’. A vernacular spin-off to hip hop’s Gansta-rap genre, the duo’s music features references derived from the Indian subcontinent’s cultural landscape. While India, isn’t known predominantly known for its gangster culture or thug-like lifestyle, it is a land characterized by communal leaders who use religion and identity politics to invoke fear among people. Indian politicians are more like goons and they often abuse their privilege to divide people and further their bigoted, misogynistic agenda.
Being the EP’s central pulse, anthem and a co-feature on EA sports’ ground-breaking video game, UFC 4, Goonda Gold redefines the standard of Gangsta-rap infused with Desi samples. “When you hear it, it feels big like you’re watching this crazy-ass gangsta movie,” says Contra to her label Royal Mountain records. “And it does borrow from certain vintage South Indian filminess.” Rapid-fire in delivery—“Gold on my neck I’m a goonda / Got guns in the air like a junta”—backed by breakneck beats from the band’s D.C. Desi producer SkinnyLocal, the bars showcase the queer duo’s unequivocal rap finesse.
The verse tag (reference) to “Dawood Ibrahim,” aka India’s infamous mafioso is a binding force on the EP. The idea of incorporating Dawood’s bold, unbounded, and reckless persona while funneling it through a queer female lens, gave the track a distinct edge. Further elevated by Belgian trap producer DJ Yung Vamp’s touch, the song features well-spaced synths and skewed bars in the form of prolific poetry such as, “I fuck with all of my Desi hunnis / Put my other goodies in my other gunny / I’m cooking up some dosa to some Motown / That’s the wave I’m on now.”
Released on August 28th, 2020, under the stewardship of Sub-Pop Records is Cartel Madras’s new single, ‘WORKING’ is a tribute to the UK house genre that has been a major stimulus in their evolution as artists.
The single juxtaposes the duo’s clean, smooth-flowing vocals carrying a softer undertone, with a lucid tropical-sounding UK house beat. The shuffle-type song is mellow, groovy and a slight swerve from their regular punchy bars. With the heat turned down a few notches on the track, WORKING makes for an ideal weekend or road-trip jam with the clique. The tune’s catchy rhymes add to its groovy vibe, making it impossible for listeners to resist shaking a leg to the beat.
The video for “WORKING” was co-directed by the group and Gabriela Osio Vanden. The visuals, which stars the duo and fellow THOTNATION collective member Jide (who produced and mixed the song), saw its premiere at Berlin’s Pop Kultur Festival. “WORKING” marks Cartel Madras’s first new material since the release of their Age of the Goonda EP late last year, and is available via Royal Mountain Records & Sub Pop.
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