Dive into the complex system of underground rap in Mumbai, with two of its most prominent figures RAK and Bandish Projekt.
Nathan Fulgado, Writer
Artwork by Prishi Jain
Every musician or artist out there has been faced with the dilemma of doing things their own way or following the mainstream norms of the music industry. Sell-out to the temptations that litter a life of success. Whether its money, fame, alcohol, sex or drugs, giving into the mainstream present’s artists with a plethora of vices. Some may argue that these vices are meant to ensure the artist delivers quality performances, but in most cases, it has led to their downfall.
The most recent victims of the mainstream are two Mumbai-based rappers who gained popularity after the release of Gully Boy. Naved Shaikh, popularly known as Naezy started his rap career after he was busted in a string of petty crimes. In the movie based on his life, Ranveer Singh played the character to perfection, but Naved himself has agreed that the film was more fiction than facts. “I would have portrayed the original story, which is very different from the fictionalised story. I would have portrayed the things that I faced in my life,” said Naezy.
To understand the truth behind the underground/non-mainstream rap in the city, we spoke to artists who have evolved and come of age in the underground rap scene in Mumbai.
Mayur Narvekar, aka Bandish Projekt, started his career in music in 1997. Born and raised at Charni Road, he was heavily influenced by traditional gondhal music of Maharashtra. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj himself performed to gondhal to appease Amba Bhavani of Pratapgarh. The heavy influence of gondhal is often seen in Mayur’s music. He even put out a song titled Gondhal, featuring MC Mawali (Aklesh Sutar). The song is a tribute to the god Ganesh and has a fusion of gondhal with modern hip-hop beats.
“My approach to rap is with respect to culture, rap music is not just lyrics and content it is about language expression”
“My approach to rap is with respect to culture, rap music is not just lyrics and content it is about language expression”, said Narvekar. His perspective of rap as a means of storytelling and not just music is what makes his music a special kind of art form. Narvekar is one of the icons of the underground rap scene in the city, as well as the country. “I do not look at music as something that will become mainstream. While I do not deny the fact that becoming mainstream is a thing, it is all about changing the dynamics to avoid the mainstream. All pop music has an underground beginning and then becomes mainstream. However, I like to be the root from where it all started. It is very important to not forget your roots.”
Something that would never qualify as mainstream would be a rapper rapping in a language that is the least spoken regional language in the city. RAK, (Rajkumar Udaiyar) is a first-generation Mumbaikar, residing in Andheri West. He grew up in Andheri when it was still covered in marshy land and swamps. “It was so dark here when I was small and I understood why this place was named Andheri”, said Rajkumar. The hardships of life were quick to strike his family who had to deal with pesky surroundings as well as the cops of Mumbai. He attended Cosmopolitan school in DN Nagar and went to Oriental College in Adarsh Nagar. He set the foundation for a rap career in school when he would engage in rap battles with his friends. “Whenever we used to fight, we would not get physical or even abuse each other. We would come up with insults that fit into a rhyme scheme. I guess it is called a rap battle now.”
“I could rap in Hindi, which would give me more fame, but why should I let go of the ability to rap in Tamil. It is my mother tongue, and I speak it proudly”, says Rajkumar. RAK is signed to Azadi Records which represents many faces of the underground rap scene. Another face on the Azadi Records roster in TIENAS. Another Mumbaikar, Tanmay Saxena became TIENAS in 2010, when he discovered his passion for rap. “This city has influenced me greatly; I have seen some beautiful and some haunting things in this city. Growing up in Kotwadi was not easy and that helps me with my music.” To him, the entire rap scene in Mumbai should avoid what happened to rock and roll in the 80s. The mainstream success of rock in the 70s faded in the 80s once discotheques opened up across the globe.
“I’m a member of society first and then a rapper. I lived in an area where I saw betrayal, people crumbling under the system and the tyranny of the police. My rap comes out of my aggression. The aggression that I have against the system and the hypocrisy of people.”
RAK’s music is a commentary on the state of Indian polity and the people who have mastered the concept of politics. “I’m a member of society first and then a rapper. I lived in an area where I saw betrayal, people crumbling under the system and the tyranny of the police. My rap comes out of my aggression. The aggression that I have against the system and the hypocrisy of people.”
According to Rajkumar, the concept of underground rap is a confusing one. “I believe that you don’t make music for a particular audience. You perform what is in your heart. Whether the listener relates to it or not is up to the listener. I rap about my struggles, but I do not expect a man who struggles to make ends meet by working a nine to five job to listen to my music which is about struggles only.” To him, a song requires a certain element that takes it beyond the line between underground and mainstream. “I am happy where I am, and I make music for myself and with whatever few listeners I have, I am satisfied.”