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A few things we’ve learned from afar

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Throughout my adult life, I’ve written about hip-hop culture. In fact, I fell into this profession partly because of my curiosity for the international hip-hop scene. Still, I have a lot to learn, so I’ll be using this column as a way to share some fast facts I’m learning about hip-hop from around the world. This edition is dedicated to hip-hop in India.

From its earliest days, rap music was a live phenomenon. In the early days of hip-hop, if you wanted to hear rap music, you had to see it perform live at a park jam, rec center, or block party. At that time, the closest thing to a rap record was the countless tapes recorded during these live jams. These bands, featuring early hip hop luminaries like Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay and the Zulu Nation, Kool Herc, the L Brothers, Cold Crush Brothers and many more were circulating everywhere, allowing listeners to hear live rap music. By the 1980s, rap music had become a recorded medium and a formal genre increasingly tied to the recording industry. Moving from a mostly live setting to records, hip-hop began to spread internationally. Young people around the world took notes from the American pioneers and combined this new sound with the musical traditions of their home countries.

Looking for new hip-hop and R&B sounds from around the world? Check out our playlist, The Global Cypher.

One of the oldest countries in the world, India’s musical heritage dates back far into antiquity. More recently, however, the influence of Indian music has touched everything from the jazz sound of John Coltranepsychedelic rock bands like The Byrds and The Beatles to modern electronic music. This cultural exchange between India and the rest of the world goes both ways. You started seeing the sound of hip-hop in India, for example, at the dawn of the 90s and today several Indian hip-hop groups have reached impressive commercial and creative heights, making India one of the global hotspots of the genre.

Today, India enjoys a booming hip-hop scene with artists like Divine, Raftaar, Badshah, Dino James, Fatty Seven, and others making major commercial waves and a rich underground scene. Reflecting how much interest there is in the county scene, Def Jam opened a new label division there earlier in 2022. Like many young people around the world, Indian rappers are brilliantly drawing inspiration from hip-hop and Western influences to create their own unique artistic voices. With that in mind – and with respect and deference to all the artists, DJs, writers and fans who push this culture forward – here are some things I learned about hip-hop in India.

Baba Segal

Rapper Baba Sehgal debuted in the early 90s and is commonly cited as India’s first rapper. In the early 90s, he released a trio of albums – Dilruba, Ali Babaand Thanda Thanda Pani – which combined rap with traditional Indian singing and New Jack Swing and beats influenced by Chicago house.

Asked about his beginnings in hip-hop, he once said IANSlife in an interview“I started rapping just to survive. I saw international videos and started to explore rap. It was coincidentally just a month before the launch of MTV in India. When I delved into the layers of rap and researched it, I must have read a lot, considering there was no internet back then. I created my own way of rapping, I made them funny and creative because I just wanted to tickle a funny bone in people. Today, Baba Sehgal is a major Indian music star outside of music, starring in several Bollywood movies and TV shows.

My Friends and I Made a Documentary About Indian Hip-Hop, and There’s Still a Lot to Learn

In the spring of 2018, rapper/producer/songwriter Raj Haldar was signed on to play his first India tour. As an Indo-American child growing up on the East Coast, Raj had visited India with his parents, but had not had the opportunity to play the music he loved there. Eager to document the experience, Raj invited me and my writing partner, Josh Leidy, to come film the trip. Unfortunately I fell ill and couldn’t come, but Raj and Josh spent a week in India, filming and interviewing artists in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. The resulting movie, Another word for heaven, spotlights the talents of Indian dance crews, graffiti artists and artists like Prabh Deep and Indian-American rapper Raja Kumari. Knowing that India had a vital music scene, I was immediately struck by the richness and diversity of the Indian hip-hop scene. And, in the years since the documentary was filmed, a ton of new artists have emerged.

Dino James loves Eminem, as do many Indian rappers

When we filmed the interviews with local artists for Another word for heavenone name kept coming up when we asked about influences: Eminem. The film 8 miles had a huge impact on Indian youth. Dino James, for example, explains how he first embraced hip-hop and started creating: “Like most of us, I was introduced to hip-hop by Eminem’s song” RapGod”. I have a song on my album, called “On the Rocks” about how I got into music, detailing my calling. Initially I had no idea what the rhyme patterns and flows meant, but that developed over time with more and more work.

Fotty Seven and his anthem “Banjo”

Gurugam-born rapper Fotty Seven creates high-energy songs based on complex flows. Earlier this year he released his club-ready anthem “Banjo”, a track he describes as “a haughty guy who thinks he’s better than everyone without really achieving anything substantial. in life”. Fotty began his career rapping in English, imitating his heroes 50 cents and Eminem, but eventually switched to Hindi. Fotty’s love for Indian culture is also evident in the sounds – many of his greatest songs include traditional Indian sounds in one way or another. A student of the game and a supporter of his peers, Fotty checks the names of Badshah, Bali, Rebel 7, Divine and, of course, himself when asked to name his top 5 Indian rappers.

Looking for new hip-hop and R&B sounds from around the world? Check out our playlist, The Global Cypher.