While India grooved to the beats of hip-hop music, widely popularised by the movie ‘Gully Boy’, this genre of music reached the cultural corners of the globe and has been absorbed and reinvented around the world. Encompassing forms of break dancing, rap music, graffiti art, and fashion, it became one of the dominant cultural movement of the African, American, and Hispanic communities in the 1980s. It has inspired many artists who have aspired to bring out social change through their music and have seen pioneers both globally and in India. However, not everybody knows how it all started.
The emergence of hip hop from a culture and art movement to a music genre was created by African Americans, Latino Americans, and Caribbean Americans in the Bronx Region of New York City. One of the first hip hop trios of America was ‘The Sugarhill Gang’ whose 1979 hit ‘Rapper Delight’, was the first rap single to become a Top 40 hit in the Billboard Hot 100. They influenced artists such as Dr. Dre, who popularised the use of explicit lyrics to highlight the violence and struggles of street life and Queen Latifah who, in her raps, wrote about women and their struggles. The 90s saw artists like JayZ and Eminem, who were widely recognized for breaking racial barriers in popular music and whose raps reflected the angst of millennials. The year 2000 saw the rise of a new artist, Kanye West, who eventually became one of the world’s best-selling music artists. He was eventually followed by Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, and finally the Canadian rapper and singer, Drake, who was credited for widely popularising the ‘Toronto sound’ to the music industry.
In India, hip-hop was introduced in 1990 by Punjabi rapper Harjeet Singh Sehgal, popularly known as Baba Sehgal. He started the trend with hit songs like ‘Thanda Paani’ and ‘Dil Dhadke’. The early 2000s saw the true birth of Indian hip hop or ‘desi hip hop’ when Roger David, known as Bohemia, a rapper living in California, along with his producer Sha One, released his debut album ‘Vich Pardesan De’. This album provided Indian hip hop with the spark it so badly needed.
Influenced by Bohemia, a group of five individuals, Yo Yo Honey Singh, Lil Golu, Badshah, Raftaar, and Ikka, together known as ‘Mafia Mundeer’, came crashing into the Punjabi rap scene. After some time, two more artists Alfaaz and J Star joined the group. Unfortunately, the glory of this group was short-lived as several members of the group parted ways to work independently.
The Indian hip hop scene then saw the birth of gully rap or street rap. Inspired by legends like JayZ and Nas, Naved Shaikh aka Naezy, a young boy, emerged from the streets of Mumbai. Naezy dropped his first track ‘Aafat!’ on YouTube with a raw music video in January 2014. The track went viral because of Naezy’s versatility, impressive skills, and constructive storytelling. For the first time, Indians got a taste of real street rap. Naezy was not the only rapper to rise from the underground slums of Mumbai. Vivian Fernandes, better known by his stage name Divine, made his presence felt with his rapping skills. Divine’s popularity allowed him to be signed as an artist by Sony Music Entertainment. In 2015, Divine and Naezy collaborated for a song called ‘Mere Gully Mein’, which went viral instantly.
Soon, underground rappers from Mumbai like Sharukh Shaikh, also known as Emiway Bantai and Kunal Pandagale, also known as Kaambhari grew to fame.
The success of ‘Gully Boy’ proved to be beneficial for all the young underground rappers who possess exceptional talent and skills, each of them hustling to become one of the best rappers in India. The underground rappers from Mumbai have gained a considerable amount of exposure and look forward to the growth of the hip hop culture in India, which is constantly evolving and changing as the older generation fades and the newer generation carries on the legacy, along with incorporating its new style.