Has The Desi Hip Hop Scene Already Gone Awry?

A lot has been said about the Indian Hip Hop Movement in the last few months. 2017 was deemed the most phenomenal year for the scene so far. Critics and followers believe desi hip-hop has finally broken into the mainstream after quelled existence in the underground for years. Many are even drawing parallels of the desi scene with the American Hip Hop movement of the 70s. Undoubtedly, the scene bears an uncanny resemblance with its American counterpart. But, while the moguls of American Hip Hop successfully transformed a local music movement into a juggernaut phenomenon, forerunners of the Desi Hip Hop movement are already being accused of disingenuousness and unoriginality. Even as the homegrown hip-hop scene gets more organised, many emcees in the scene are cloaking their amateurish abilities under the garb of an underdog imagery. This subterfuge is preventing the scene to grow at a faster pace than it is currently growing.

The contribution of early hip-hop pioneers like Grandmaster Clash, Russel Simmons, Marley Marl and others were seminal in shaping the sound of their genre. Their astute vision was indispensable to the growth and popularity of hip-hop. But, the flagbearers of Indian hip-hop have lacked the ingenuity of their western counterparts so far. Adapting local parlance and vernacular expression in their rhymes has been their only contribution to the genre. Yet, this alone has empowered young emcees with a unique expression and given hip-hop a cutting edge over other genres in the country.

Albeit the local hip-hop scene is growing profusely, it is not nearly commensurate with the growth of American Hip-Hop in the 70s and 80s. If the scene has to be compared with the west in any degree of measure, it will have to gain commercial success at a much faster pace without losing its rawness and grittiness. It is also imperative that big commercial brands realise the power of branding in hip-hop and actively invest their resources in the scene. These changes have already begun to take place. Last year, not only did big brands like Puma and Bira 91 expressed their commercial interest in the movement, but the scene also inspired a mainstream Bollywood film. This hopefully will educate the masses about desi hip hop and garner more support for the genre outside its usual fan base.

This brings us back to the main critique of the scene. Are the artists virtuosic enough to constantly push the boundaries of the genre and deliver an inspiring, inventive, and unapologetic hip-hop music without sounding wacky? The answer to the question is an inextricable yes and no. In the last three years, homegrown MCs have been able to produce some phenomenal records. Each artist in the scene, from MC Kash in Kashmir to Madurai Souljours in Tamil Nadu & Divine in Mumbai to Khaasi Bloodz in Shillong, has added versatility to the scene by staying true to their cultural identity and artistic consciousness. Yet, most of the artists have only relied on periodic single hits for their success. Barring MC Kash, Prabh Deep and Bombay Bassment none of the over 40 artists in the scene have released even a single album even though many of them claims to have been in the scene for over a decade.

It is high time that braggadocios Indian rappers realise that single hits bring Coruscant flashes of popularity but a respectable body of work brings long careers. Hip Hop in India needs artists with careers because we’ve had flashes of glittering fame before as well. If India wants to establish itself as the homeland of hip-hop music, it needs to make some institutional changes to its approach towards the genre.