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The Rise Of India’s Hip-Hop Scene: Here’s How It All Started

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Hip-Hop is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing music cultures. It all started with the “Back To School Jam” hosted by DJ Kool Herc on August 11, 1973, in Bronx, New York, the U.S.A. Since then, many rappers and DJs have made a name for themselves in the world of Hip-Hop.

The trend of Hip-Hop spread rapidly throughout the world and reached India. Nowadays, Hip-Hop is very popular in India. The youngsters simply love it. However, not everybody knows how all of it started in our country.

Let me take you on a ride from the first Indian rapper to the state of rap in India.

The First Rapper Of India

In 1990, Hip-Hop was introduced in India by Punjabi rapper Baba Sehgal (Harjeet Singh Sehgal). Baba Sehgal started the trend of Hip-Hop and rap with hit songs like “Thanda Thanda Paani” (sampled Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, which in turn sampled Queens’s “Under Pressure”), and “Dil Dhadke”.

The True Birth Of Indian Hip-Hop/Desi Hip-Hop

In the early 2000s, a non-Indian man provided Indian Hip-Hop with the spark it so badly needed. Bohemia (Roger David), a Pakistani American rapper living in California, along with a Hip-Hop producer Sha One (Seth Agress), released his debut album “Vich Pardesan De”.

Bohemia rose to prominence after he released his first full-length Punjabi rap album “Pesa Nasha Pyar”, which became a sensational hit in India.

The Age Of Desi Hip-Hop

Influenced by Bohemia’s popularly, a group of five individuals, Yo Yo Honey Singh, Lil Golu, Badshah, Raftaar, and Ikka, together known as “Mafia Mundeer”, came crashing into the Punjabi rap scene. The group produced many hit Punjabi rap songs throughout their career. After some time, two more artists Alfaaz and J Star joined the group.

Unfortunately, the glory of this group was short-lived. Soon, several members of the group parted ways in order to work independently.

Then, in the early 2010s, Punjabi rappers tasted a lot of success as they swiftly rose to fame and started making songs for Bollywood. At the peak of his career, Yo Yo Honey Singh was being paid ₹70 lakh for one song.

Raftaar and Badshah have also been making their presence felt in Bollywood. The song “DJ Waale Babu” became quite a rage back in 2015.

The Birth Of Gully Rap (Street Rap)/Original Face Of Hip-Hop

Everyone knows that Hip-Hop is an art form which was born in the streets of Bronx, New York. It was revolutionized by the likes of Jay-Z and Nas. Inspired by these legends, Naved Shaikh (Naezy) a young boy, emerged from the streets of Mumbai. Naezy dropped his first track “Aafat!” on YouTube with a raw music video in January 2014. The track went viral because of Naezy’s versatility, impressive skills, constructive storytelling.

For the first time after Bohemia, Indians got a taste of real hip-hop. Finally, there was some real competition for rappers like Yo Yo Honey Singh and Badshah. That’s when Yo Yo Honey Singh dropped his studio album “Desi Kalakaar” (August of 2014). The album did well, but didn’t get as much attention as his previous works.

Another young rapper from the streets of Mumbai started making his presence felt with his awesome rapping skills. Vivian Fernandes, better known by his stage name Divine, started gaining popularity with his hit single “Yeh Mera Bombay” that he released on his YouTube channel in 2013.

Divine became so popular that he got signed as an artist by Sony Music Entertainment. In 2015, Divine and Naezy collaborated for a song called “Mere Gully Mein”. The music video for that song starring Divine and Naezy was uploaded on Sony Music Entertainment’s YouTube channel. The days of asli Hip-Hop were just getting started.

Finally, India’s First Hip-Hop Movie

Director Zoya Akhtar listened to Naezy’s song “Aafat!” and Divine’s song “Mere Gully Mein” feat. Naezy. She was very impressed and wanted to portray the stories of both these young rappers. She approached Naezy and Divine and pitched the idea of making a Bollywood movie based on the lives of Naezy and Divine. Both of them agreed.

via Giphy

The movie was released by the name “Gully Boy” starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt on 14 February 2019. The movie was a box office hit with 8.4/10 IMDb rating and an astonishing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie was loved by everyone who saw it and the cast even involved other talented underground rappers from Mumbai like Emiway Bantai (Sharukh Shaikh) and Kaambhari (Kunal Pandagale).

The movie was a milestone for Indian Hip-Hop and is a must watch!

The Face Of Indian Hip-Hop Today (Boht Hard!!!)

The success of “Gully Boy” proved to be beneficial for all the young underground rappers who possess exceptional talent and skills, each of them hustling to become one of the best rappers in India.

The underground rappers from Mumbai have gained a considerable amount of exposure after the release of “Gully Boy” and are looking forward towards the growth of the culture in India.

According to me, hip-hop will keep growing in India as new young and talented rappers will keep getting exposure. The future of Indian Hip-Hop is as bright as the sun for the artists as well as the fans.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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