NEW DELHI – A fledgling hip-hop culture is emerging in India with more young artists finding their voices in a country where underground rap has limited appeal.
Commercially driven hip-hop has made a niche for itself over the years but lyrics addressing socio-political messages on poverty, corruption, drug abuse and gender inequality have yet to find mass resonance with India’s 1.3 billion residents.
According to emerging artists, rap has yet to hit the mainstream across India despite the fact that the hip-hop scene in Mumbai, the country’s financial and entertainment capital, has been vibrant, though still nascent.
“Rap culture has been a part of (Delhi streets) for many years,” Aditya Tiwari, one of the founding members of Spit Dope, a hip-hop platform in India’s capital, told EFE.
“But it is (now becoming) a trend and everybody wants to become a rapper which is cool.”
Gully (slang for “street”) rap genre or underground hip-hop has grown in popularity after the Hindi movie “Gully Boy,” which tells the story of two struggling underdogs from a Mumbai ghetto with a passion for rapping.
The musical drama blockbuster is based on the real-life stories of Vivian Fernandez, known as Divine, and Naved Shaikh, who goes by the stage name Naezy, both considered the flag bearers of Mumbai hip-hop culture.
In Delhi, the overcrowded city of nearly 20 million people, ambassadors of the growing underground rap culture have been a handful of young artists and groups like Spit Dope, Azadi Records, Lehar – The Movement and Seedhe Maut.
Their activities have so far been limited to the overpopulated streets of east Delhi and the Khirki area south of the capital.
Most of the rising rap artists belong to these relatively poor Delhi neighborhoods.
The streets often buzz with musicians performing in groups known as “ciphers” following in the footsteps of their idols like Americans Eminem, J. Cole and Montana of 300.
“I was inspired by Eminem when I first saw his movie 8 Mile; after that, I started writing songs,” said Rahul Jaluthria, known as Smoke The Rapper, who recently logged nearly 12,000 views on his YouTube channel.
He said he is equally optimistic about the growth of the culture because it is attracting lots of artists as well as rappers.
Most of the young artists who spoke to EFE said social issues had driven them to hip-hop the same way it developed as a cultural movement in the United States in the 1970s, to raise awareness about problems like drug abuse and racism – concerns that predominantly affect the urban centers of India.
Prabh Deep, an artist from the west Delhi neighborhood Tilak Nagar, writes mostly about life on the streets and the young people caught in the net of drug abuse.
The 23-year-old, who goes by the stage name MC Kode, was one of the first street rappers in the capital.
He said it was time for rap culture to break out in Indian urban and rural centers because “nothing can stop (street) hip-hop from flourishing in our country.”
Kode complained that commercial rap in movies and albums is not serving its purpose because that is not what the real hip-hop movement is about.
“Popularizing concepts such as the use of alcohol and being sexist spreads a wrong message to the masses and kills the soul of real hip-hop,” he told EFE.
He claimed that commercial hip-hop had “destroyed generations” with negative influences and has created a bad image of rap.