India imported rap like much else from American ‘pop’ culture during the initial phase of globalisation. In its earlier days hip-hop caught on with the country’s resourceful middle and upper classes. So there was a short stint from Baba Sehgal in the 90s with his Indi-pop rap, followed by Bohemia emerging out of the diaspora and popularising it among the Punjabi community. Punjabi rap, as we know it, has caught on since. The import, however, is not without its share of irony. These hiphop videos prove that the relatively prosperous Punjabi community has taken an art form from the streets and turned the ‘rags to riches’ hip-hop celebration among rappers in the US to an exhibition of ‘ancestral wealth’ in the region through the music. Take Honey Singh’s example. Primarily a music director, he claims to have ‘revolutionised’ the music industry by introducing a hip-hop sound aesthetic to Bollywood.
Two decades hence, hip-hop may be finally trickling down the social order and starting to hit the streets. In Mumbai, the hip-hop scene is catching up really well with the ‘Mumbaiya’ language. Search ‘Naezy’ on YouTube and check out the first video. Layered on a basic beat, the rhymes sound clear, relaxed and honest. Naved Sheikh aka Naezy, the rapper from Mumbai’s Kurla neighbourhood, is refreshingly original. He raps about his life, his locality, the kind of people that live there, the government, his responsibilities and the desire to just do what one wants. Interestingly, Naezy doesn’t seem to be imitating any rap style, self-expression seems to be the key in his act. It feels like he got inspired from hip-hop rather than getting ‘influenced’ by it.
Naezy is increasingly getting better known in the music circuit now. He was part of the recent NH 7 weekender team of artistes. Recently Naezy’s journey to becoming a rap artiste was covered in a short film titled Mumbai 70. He recounts his days as a teenager where he fell into bad company and was headed towards criminal activities. He even ended up in prison. It was in the midst of all this that Naezy decided to change things and it was hip-hop that made it possible for him.