Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, starring Ranveer Singh, has been garnering interest since the release of its trailer because of its authentic portrayal of the street rap scene in India. It has piqued interest in that genre of music even for people like me, who don’t usually listen to rap.
While the film is inspired by the stories of prominent rappers Divine and Naezy, who are leading the scene in India, there are many underground rappers who enjoy a fan following but are not as talked about in mainstream media. These guys borrow from their own personal struggles, write about the facets of the cities they come from. What sets them apart is how their songs don't rely on tropes like drugs and cars, but come from a deeply personal space and something that resonates with the common people.
We look at nine rappers from across the country, who with their distinct voices, have contributed to the genre:
1. Vighnesh Shivanand a.k.a Brodha V
Brodha V began his rapping career at 18 and by participating in rap battles like Insignia on the social media site, Orkut. The Bangalore-based artist released a mixtape called Deathpunch independently, which had a limited release and caught the attention of the hip hop fraternity and the independent music circuit in South India. He then went on to collaborate with artists like Raghu Dixit on Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and singer Benny Dayal for the single “Round Round”, which was listed on the top 10 tracks on Saavn.
He has a mammoth following of 93k subscribers on his YouTube channel.
2. Emiway Bantai
Bilal Shaikh aka Emiway Bantai became a viral sensation with his 2014 video Aur Bantai. The video raked in about 2 million views, and made Emiway a rapper to watch out for. He was also recently in the limelight for his ‘diss’ tracks against contemporaries Raftaar and Divine. Some of his other popular songs are “Samajh Men Aaya Kya” and “Kadak Ban”.
His YouTube channel has about 2.4 million subscribers. You can check out his songs here.
3. Sofia Ashraf
What makes Sofia stand out is that her songs mostly address the harm large corporations cause to the environment and society. Her first song ‘Don't Work for Dow’ criticised chemical company Dow's failure to compensate victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. She came into the limelight again in 2015, when she released the video ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ addressing the mercury pollution in Kodaikanal from a thermometer factory owned by Unilever.
4. MC Prabh Deep
The 24-year-old Punjabi rapper shot to fame when he rapped about the ill-effects of a highly competitive and cut throat education system. A high school dropout (forced by circumstances, not by choice), he worked as a salesman and as a call centre representative. Eventually he went back to doing music. His USP is his skill as a story-teller and this is what really sets him apart from his peers. A lot of his videos stem from personal experiences and the toxic masculinity that he has seen over the years. His video “Class-Sikh”, explored the gloomy alleys of Delhi’s lower-income neighbourhood Tilak Nagar, with a lived-in feel and one that represents the harsh social reality.
He released his first album in 2017 and today he has 9.5k subscribers who follow his YouTube channel.
5. Khasi Bloodz
This group of rappers from Shillong have based most of their songs on the political climate and our notions of morality. They’re extremely brave in the expression of their opinions and you see that in their lyrics. What’s also cool about them is that one of the members, Bok, also cooks some delicious chicken bread pakoras which he then uses to fund his music career. So if you’re in Shillong and hungry, you know who to reach out to.
You can listen to them here.
6. Madurai Souljour
This group takes immense pride in their culture, and gives you a glimpse into Madurai through their lyrics. Their rap is in Tamil and the group began their journey by jamming at tea shops and then went on to make their own hip hop album! Cousins and members of the team Syan and Nowsa first discovered rapping when they heard the emerging Malaysian artist Yogi B. Their videos on YouTube have now crossed over one million views.
7. Sumukh Mysore a.k.a Smokey The Ghost
This 28-year-old Bangalore rapper has been rapping since he was 10, and eventually got a government job as an evolutionary biologist. In fact his research led to his boss getting the results that he was waiting for about 30 years, and even got a patent. But he decided to leave this cushioned career and use the analytical skills that he developed for his music. Until then he had been rapping in an American accent, but this prompted him to rap in an Indian accent and narrate stories that would resonate with the people of India. His YouTube channel now has over 12k subscribers.
You can check out his work here.
8. Seedhe Maut
At a time when there were not too many rappers in Delhi, duo Encore ABJ and Calm began Seedhe Maut. The duo pens the dreams and aspirations of people from small-town India and societal pressures that most young people deal with. Their first single “Shaktimaan” under Azaadi records again reveals the angst of the common man. The title is an ode to the television series Shaktimaan and outlines the life of a frustrated bank employee trying to break free from the clutches of the corporate world. Their music is now available across platforms like Saavn and Apple Music.
You can listen to their work here.
9. Ankur Johar a.k.a Enkore
A graduate of Mithibai college in Mumbai, this rapper made his debut in 2013 with his album Libra Scale which revolved around Johar’s personality traits as a Libran and trying to balance his life. The latter stems from the fact that Johar was pursuing his MBA at that time and also doing a day job and trying to make a career in music. His latest album Bombay Soul talks about dealing with trials and tribulations of living in Mumbai and how it can be a really tough city. Recognition for Johar also began to trickle in when he won the Radio City Freedom Award for Best Indian Hip Hop artist in 2013.
You can listen to his work here.
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