I believe that ‘rapping’ has always been the most accessible way to express any oppression and hardship because it uses the most digestible form of art to put forward its point, i.e. music. As a country, we have historically been lovers of music, but until the middle of this decade, the only kind of rap music which we were consuming was all about fun, girls and alcohol. These songs were completely irrelevant to the political environment surrounding the nation and the socio-economic condition of the oppressed. They were all about the multiple ways in which one could get high and impress the ‘bandi’ (girl).
But none of these criticisms can take away the kind of impact these songs have had on the musical landscape of our nation. After all, the ‘Honey Singhs’ and ‘Baadshahs’ of our country have created a revolution which is impossible to ignore.
The music they created not only became incredibly popular but also took them to individual stardom, the kind which was usually reserved only for elite Bollywood superstars. But, eventually, a wave of change came. The landscape evolved. 2015 was the precise year when the ‘Gully Rap‘ of Mumbai took over the city and created ripples around the country.
The rap song ‘Mere Gully Mein‘ quickly became the new Mumbai anthem. Artistes like Divine and Naezy, the guys who came up with the song mentioned above, were local heroes. Their music spoke the language of the people. As fun as the rap song sounds, it contains scathing commentary against police brutality and socio-economic oppression.
In 2016, when Kanhaiya Kumar and his ‘Azadi’ speech took over the nation, a small-time, rising musician named Dub Sharma created a song around the whole controversy. And it instantly struck a chord with the rebellious youth of our nation, the ones who believe communism is cool but reservation is not, seemingly delusional about the fact that reservation is an integral part of communism.
Another music group called ‘The Casteless Collective‘, which includes 4 rappers and 15 other musicians became extremely popular in Tamil Nadu, by providing a platform to the voiceless segment of society who believed that they could express their disdain towards the establishment via this art form. Their Tamil language rap song ‘Anti-India‘ which was a raging piece of rap about the overt nationalism of the current regime, bordering on jingoism, became a cult favourite among the music lovers of our county, notwithstanding language barriers. Another factor attributed to this group’s success could be the strong conflict between Tamil Nadu’s state government and the central government. PA Ranjith, the famous filmmaker who directed two films starring Rajnikanth and whose films are fundamentally politically charged, leads this group.
In 2019, we’ve witnessed the ‘Gully Boy’ wave; a movie, starring legitimate superstars such as Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt which introduces Gully rap to the general public. From the elite to the economically backward, everybody can be heard crooning ‘Apna Time Aayega‘. It has become a rage, unlike anything Indian music had ever witnessed. The movie is not just about music but also depicts class struggle in a subtle and thought-provoking manner. It is loosely based on the lives of musicians like Divine and Dub Sharma, the former who is currently the undisputed rap king of our country, while the latter is much more experimental with his tunes and lyrics. His song ‘Jingostan’ from the movie mentioned above is a great number with wicked lyrics.
The two artists collaborated on the song ‘Azaadi’, the recreated version of Dub Sharma’s 2016 song, with an added rap portion by Divine which also became a raging hit due to its anti-establishment tunes.
More recently, a rap song against the much-maligned ‘Citizenship Bill’ of Assam, also became a blistering sensation all over the nation. While on the other hand, Hyderabad, my home city is still grooving to the fun lyrics of ‘Miya Bhai’, which accumulated a staggering 90 million views. Although undoubtedly great to listen to, this song is like an empty vessel with nothing much to express other than the fun aspects of the city.
Rapping is here to stay. Its popularity is on a constant rise with many of our youth actively trying to engage in this art themselves, including me. After all, rap is cool, and it’s the ‘new cool’ to be politically aware and a communist, but the kind of communist who understands what communism is!