Indian Hip Hop should also be in the same league of other mainstream music
Many might not know but pure rap music talent has existed in India for a long time. Perhaps hidden away in the slums and ghettos away from mainstream Bollywood or Hindustani or Karnatic classical music but it has existed and been waiting to explode into mainstream. One started following Mumbai Cypher boys since they first showed up on Youtube over seven or eight years ago and it was overwhelming to see their rapping and beat-boxing talent coming from the most humble beginnings. It’s taken that long for director Zoya Akhtar to take notice of them and has now taken on herself to bring it to the forefront with ‘Gully Boy’ set to release next month. Starring the versatile duo Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in the lead roles, this film pretty much brings out the story of the Mumbai Cypher boy Divine who has been a sensation in the underground Mumbai rap scene.
With music being the central theme of this film, no doubt that would be the top thing on the directors mind too but also the project’s biggest challenge. No music director or singers in Bollywood have the quite the capability to deliver pure rap (this is not Badshah or Raftaar style rap to be honest). She thus goes all out to this talent living in the streets of India and puts them centrestage in the heart of this album while Singh takes on the rapper’s role fully and shows that he can sing too. The promos are doing the rounds so this will be a really interesting album to listen to.
The album opens with a song true to the purpose of this movie introducing India to true Hip Hop. Spitfire, a rapper from Madhya Pradesh writes & beat boxes this one to perfection making Asli Hip Hop an iconic song. The lyrics have immense style and define the sound of the movie while summing up Singh’s character in the story. The rap battle setting with background shouts is perfect putting Singh right in the middle of an epic number as a rapper. He deserves top appreciation as his delivery is really good. The gaping, flow, breathing and focus on each word is what makes a good rapper and he has mastered it well here. This is a top number and definitely “bahut hot”.
Mere Gully Mein is a recreation of Divine and Naezy’s original that released over three years ago. Singh joins on the leading vocals along with Divine and Naezy giving him ample room to shine. The three of them blend in well together making this version as good as the original. The writing is typical Mumbai slang and talk about everything one would see on the streets of Mumbai in an easy and fun way. This is an entertaining song and is extremely catchy!
UK talent Rishi Rich takes over for a couple of songs composing Doori Poem and Doori. Written by Javed Akhtar these two songs are taking the street rap to the next level of professional international sound and poetry. There is good amount of lyrical content here that is the focus of this song. Akhtar refines the writing making this less crude in language while still keeping the original rap flavours intact. Of course the depth that Akhtar brings to the poetry is something that only he can do. The music is simple but very melodious and has a grandeur that is not something new for Rishi Rich to deliver. Recording Singh’s vocals with precision is something that makes these two short numbers worth a listen.
A change from the hip hop scene the album comes to the Train Song next that seems a situational journey scene from the movie in the most obvious way. But the music collaboration and the songs arrangement are clearly not obvious. The legends of alternative and desi underground Midival Punditz, Karsh Kale and Raghu Dixit come together to collaborate on this one. The guys are the masters of global sounds with Indian-ness at its core and this song is just that in its execution and musicality. Written by Akhtar along with Karsh Kale, Tapan Raj and Gaurav Raina this song sums life as a journey with its ups and downs, wins and losses, love and heartbreak and all of that together. This is clearly not a mainstream Bollywood piece of music but it is unique in many ways.
Talk about Dub mashups and no one does it better than Dub Sharma in India. This underground artist sure knows how to create deep beats and impactful lyrics. All his work is about issues bubbling deep inside India’s subconscious. Jingostan and Jingostan Beatbox are simply super addictive as a melody and as a concept. The lyrics renounce jingoism across the country supressing the voice of those who want to be heard. Sharma even delivers the song well vocally using some cool vocal filter effects on it for heightened result. The beatbox version is almost like an acapella version of the original with some crazy deep bass lines. The electro beats pretty much ring in the ear drilling the words through the bass frequency tunnel. Sharma can sure teach other music producers a thing or two about bass beats and vocal sampling.
One of Divine’s original Sher Aaya Sher rocks the speakers next. This is a big tune that has some next level class and perhaps the best song so far on the album. The programming and styling of the music by Chandrashekar Kunder is pure American Hip Hop standard. It also has an engaging pace that can easily get one bobbing along to even if one is not into Hip Hop. Divine proves his amazing writing talent with some tremendous word flow in this song as he educates one to be humble and see truth in its face to keep it real. His rap delivery is effortless and very characteristic to his style making this song a clear favourite.
A pleasant break to the album is the voice of Jasleen Royal delivering Jahaan Tu Chala with the romantic lyrics of Aditya Sharma. The composition is all acoustic with a simple guitar played to pluck style with Spanish influence giving this song a very relaxing vibe. Royal’s voice itself is very refreshing considering the lovey nature of the song. The lyrics are nicely written but not that spectacular considering the calibre that goes in Bollywood for romantic songs. This is a nice song as such but only to add some variety to the album.
Talk about creating a movement with Hip Hop music and Azadi is the perfect number for that. This song takes what Dub Sharma’s beats and topical concept, mixing it up with Divine’s writing and vocals. This is yet another masterpiece with lyrics worth listening to again and again. This is one song that will make one want to learn the lyrics word by word and sing along as it challenges everything wrong in the society going head on against it all. The arrangement is terrific with a super groovy beat making Azadi thoroughly addictive.
Ankur Tewari collaborates with Karsh Kale to deliver the music of Kab Se Kab Tak with lyrics of Tewari and Kaam Bhaari. A slow rap this song is a different take to Hip Hop with a soft romantic flavour proving it does not have to be harsh topics. Singh’s vocals are rather average here and they sound processed quite clearly. He maintains a good rap standing but the emotion or effect doesn’t come through. Vibha Saraf’s backing vocals are well laid out but fail to save the song to be honest.
Kaam Bhaari is one sick rapper from the streets of Mumbai. Having followed him online for some time, one can identify his voice being super unique. His style is super awesome and he surely deserves a song in his own name with his crazy lyrics. The music by Tewari perhaps doesn’t suit too well here and perhaps this would sound better keeping in crude Hip Hop beats instead. Nonetheless one has to hear this talented dude and his music.
Another great opportunity to hear some terrific Javed Akhtar poetry comes with Ek Hee Raasta with Singh reciting the poetry to Rishi Rich’s arrangement which is quite negligible really. The poetry is beautiful and forces one to think if one should have taken that odd turn in life in search of something new.
Clearly the biggest song on the album, Apna Time Aayega truly deserves to be a superhit! This number is truly the sound of the streets! Singh and Divine’s vocals are just simply amazing. Divine’s amazing writing combined with some terrific Dub beats of Dub Sharma give this song a personality like none other. It has attitude, ambition, depth, style and a crazy arrangement that is hard to keep up with. But the catchy chorus with some epic beats and amazing vocal styling makes this song worth listening on repeat. Kudos to Singh for delivering a perfect rap vocal here.
Tewari writes, composes and sings Jeene Mein Aaye Maza with some help from Mikey McCleary on the music. A soft romantic number this song has a strong retro Bengali music influence. It sounds like a 90s classic love song which is soothing to listen to with its cute instrumentation making it a great background number for a romantic scene in the film. The lyrics are quite well written but his vocals are not too impactful making this an average number.
The album features another Mumbai rapper – Ace next with his original song Har Gham Mein Khushi Hai. This guy has some terrific style to his writing and is inspirational in ways. He has a strong TuPac vibe in how he composes his music and style. Ace truly inspires and uplifts the listener with his story in this song. The music by Ishq Bector is a little dark in its sound but overall this song fits in well in the album.
This is still a Bollywood album so it would be odd for it to not have a Punjabi number. Goriye fills that gap with a collaboration between Kaka Bhaniawala, Arjun, Blitz and Desi Maa to the music of Prem & Hardeep. It is an interesting take on a wedding song of sorts as it does not have an ounce of Punjabi music to it. It is a refreshing Punjabi-English number with a strong urban vibe and a groovy Bruno Mars sound making this quite different than all the other Punjabi numbers in Bollywood. The Punjabi vocals are top as one would expect from Bhaniawala but equally impressive are the English vocals by Arjun, Blitz and Desi Maa.
India 91 is the final song on the album that features a big chunk of the Mumbai Cypher artists MC Altaf, MC TodFod, 100 RBH, Maharya, Noxious D, MC Mawali. As each one of them takes front position in front of the mic one gets to hear India rap in a number of languages making this a perfect summing up song for the album. Each one of them is amazing in their part as they get on the mic. Music by Viveick Rajagopalan has an interesting mix of instruments going from Karnatic drums to Hip Hop beats fusing all the singers together on a single string of melody rather than a rap beatbox. It truly is the sound of Indian Hip Hop representing the streets.
The music of ‘Gully Boy’ delivers every bit on what it promises to be. It represents Indian Hip Hop in a manner of utmost purity as the reigns of controlling the music are in the hands of artists from the streets around whom this film is based. No music producer has spiced them up or interfered in any way to commercialise it or make it mainstream Bollywood… and this is the biggest win of the album. Kudos to Zoya Akhtar for being brave enough to do that and present this in its true form while giving these hugely talented artists a platform to showcase that Hip Hop movement does exist in India. With a huge 18 song album there is a good amount of musical content here and it is not just all Hip Hop. Apna Time Aayega, Azadi, Sher Aaya Sher are the easy top favourites on the album with resounding beats and top lyrics that inspire and tell a story. Divine and Dub Sharma are just awesome! Ranveer Singh himself is quite impressive as a rapper. Spitfire, Neazy, Kaam Bhaari, Ace are some top other artists to listen to. Train Song, Goriye, Asli Hip Hop and India 91 are some of the other good songs on the album. A collaboration of all global sound giants including Raghu Dixit, Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz is a great addition to the album. The poetries by Javed Akhtar are worth a listen as well. Overall this soundtrack is a defining piece of work making street Hip Hip now mainstream. Whether listeners across India and all around the world warm up to this style of music or not is a different thing. American Hip Hop is commercial and mainstream but not everyone enjoys it. Indian Hip Hop should also be in the same league of other mainstream music and this film gives it that opportunity as it is a top effort!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.