Monday, May 27, 2024

In Focus : TUNING IN CHANGE

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Be it a good day or a bad one, most of us enjoy listening to music that strikes a chord with us depending upon our nature and sensibilities. Just as tastes differ, there are different genres of music, some more popular and appealing than others. Hip-hop is one genre that stands out when it comes to allowing artistes to express themselves in a telling manner.

From questioning authorities to highlighting aberrations in society, hip-hop has been at the forefront of efforts to bring positive changes in society throughout the world.

The Pioneer’s AMARTYA SMARAN looks at why hip-hop is attracting ever-growing audience in the Telugu states, despite its late entry.

Hip-hop, at its core, is a style of popular music of US black and Hispanic origin, featuring rap with an electronic backing. Rap music, a musical style in which rhythmic and/or rhyming speech is rapped (chanted) to musical accompaniment, began taking the centre-stage in the early Seventies.This relatively new genre has just become a
phenomenon in Telugu states. Up North, the genre has already been popularised by artistes like Baba Sehgal, Bohemia, Naezy, Divine, YoYo Honey Singh, Badshah, Emiway Bantai, et al. Through rap, artistes draw attention to burning issues in society.

Rapping entails the usage of poetically rhyming verses generally accompanied by a beat. A rapper is judged mostly by his/her lyrical ability. In the United States, the rapping scene hit an all-time high when the album: Niggaz4life by N.W.A reached the top spot on Billboard 200. N.W.A was the first rap group in the country to reach the top spot. Since then, the trajectory of the rap industry has been moving upward with all-time greatest rappers such as Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, 50 cent, and Eminem raising the bar with their work. Most of these artistes are responsible for inspiring our Indian rappers today. Thankfully, Indian rappers managed to evolve and improvise their own style, pacing, and rhythm.

Barring a rare few, it is fair to say that people from Telugu states never really had significant exposure to rap music as the culture simply wasnot prevalent. It was only after platforms like YouTube came into existence that the masses started exploring different kinds of music. For quite a long time, rap music was not as popular as other genres of music. For example, Baba Sehgal is widely regarded as one of the first rappers to have emerged in India. People took a keen interest in rap music post the release of his 1992 album Thanda Thanda Pani, which sold like hotcakes.

To turn the spotlight on rap music scene in Telugu states, The Pioneer interviewed some prominent hip-hop artistes like Pranav Chaganty, AsurA, Feroz Israel, and Rowdraa. All the rappers were extremely cooperative and did not shy away from being brutally honest throughout the interview process.

Pranav Chaganty, who has been in the industry for a long time, is one of the few rappers from the city to lay emphasis on the power and beauty of the Telugu language. He is the creator of songs such as Telugu Veera, Needhi ye kulam? and Thalli Bharama?

In a conversation with us, Pranav wonderfully underscores what makes the art form incredibly special. “In a movie called Sri Krishnarjuna Yuddham(1963), right before the battle between Krishna and Arjuna, they verbally counter each other with poems.This verbal tension is what rap battles are all about. Culturally, we have always had these kinds of poetic battles happening between people. I just feel Telugu is such a unique language in hip-hop and we need to address that. Pick a random village in the world, I am sure people know about the art form. This proves how influential the art form is. MCing and Graffiti have played a crucial role in hip-hop. This means the aspects of speech and visually representing a point to an audience is what make the art form so powerful.”

“In 2012, at the World Alphabet Olympics, Telugu script was ranked second in the world and Korean script was at the top spot. When I was a kid, we often used the letter “bandira” for various words. Gradually over time, that letter has been substituted with “ra”. This bothered me, and I thought to myself why cut off future generations from the beauty of the language? This ignorance is why we stopped in second place and fell short of the Korean language. In our states, people are obsessed with ranks. Be it IITs or the EAMCETs, whatever it might be, it is ironic that the land which is obsessed with ranks is bragging about coming second. My question is: ‘Why are you satisfied with the second rank?’”

The Needhi ye Kulam? creator is now on a mission to take the art form to new heights with the ‘Hip-hop in Telugu’ campaign. Talking further about the unique campaign, the artist explained, “Through ‘Hip-hop in Telugu campaign’, I wanted to point out: “What better language than Telugu to fit these key elements of the genre?” Our language is visually grand and musically sound. The legendary Tamil poet Subramania Bharati had the highest regard for the Telugu language. Looking at two Telugus converse, the great Rabindranath Tagore wondered whether they were speaking to each other or singing with ease. These anecdotes just prove time and again how beautiful the Telugu language is. When the whole world is recognizing the treasure that we have, we are not realising it.”

Indians have mastered the English language to an extent where the natives are often perplexed at how good we’ve gotten at it. We are taught at schools to perfect the English language so that we get good jobs. Now that English is a widely spoken language, it makes sense to put in the effort to be comfortable with it, but does it mean that we should completely ignore our mother tongue? The Abhinava Kavi reminds us of the power of owning one’s mother tongue. “Mother tongue enables us to emote with great energy and efficiency. It is just not about Telugu, but don’t ignore your mother tongue. One must realise that when the whole world turns against you, your mother tongue will always be your most treasured weapon to express your views clearly. And I am happy that quite a few rappers are emerging in the Telugu hip-hop scene, and I am sure we will be in a good place soon. I don’t want the world to miss out on a language like Telugu. There’s such magnificent energy in the language that the world doesn’t deserve to miss out on it…

The whole point of the ‘Hip-hop in Telugu’ campaign is to introduce Telugus to hip-hop culture and at the same time, the effort is to let the wider hip-hop audience know the beauty of the Telugu language. In the series, I also demonstrate how perfectly rap sounds in Telugu, and alongside that, I will be launching the Abhinava Kavi logo, which is a beautiful play on the script of Telugu, giving a modern hip-hop form to it. Just by looking at the logo, people would be able to capture the beauty of the language. I have some great tracks lined up for next year and I am looking forward to taking the Telugu hip-hop scene international.”

Rowdraa, a young hip-hop artist who gained popularity with songs like Maarava and Ninnu Valacha discusses the art form with great enthusiasm. “I started rapping to express my disapproval of certain things that take place in our society. Now, I want to make commercial music to bring more audience to my hardcore rhythmic poetic tracks. I feel like we must first cater to what the audience wants and then deliver what we really want to as our responsibility. If we really wish for the hip-hop industry to grow, we need to up our marketing game. The moment our own people start recognizing the potential of Telugu rap, we will soon reach many people nationally and internationally.”

Speaking of his inspiration and upcoming tracks, Rowdraa enthused, “Pranav Chaganty’s Telugu Veera inspired me a lot and made me realise that I could properly rap in Telugu as well. I remember writing a couple of Telugu verses taking Eminem’s rap songs as my inspiration, it was Pranav Chaganty, who gave me that additional boost that I can indeed sound better. Kakatiya Kalakari, Padham music video, Aashalu, Kroadh, Yetakaram are some of the tracks that are going to be released in the near future.”

Nawab Gang is one of the first hip-hop groups which gained a massive following for their ground-breaking tracks. AsurA, the founder of the group, took a trip down memory lane and commented, “The concept of having a crew started in 2015. We came up with a bunch of names like RDX Kaipu, Nizam unit, etc (haha). Later, we thought Nawab Gang would sound great as it translates to the ‘Gang of Kings’. After my graduation in 2018, we started working at full capacity. That’s when we began searching for people who were good at the craft. I was pissed at how silent the Hyderabad hip-hop scene was at the time.

Initially, we wanted to put Hyderabad on the map with our music. With time, our vision transformed as well. We started touching on themes pertaining to the issues in society like inequality and corruption. The vision is to keep doing what we are doing and push kids to the positive side of the spectrum.”

Giving his take on the current hip-hop industry, the EmSwatantram rapper said, “Our audience has been listening to commercial film music for over many decades now. Therefore, we’ve gotten accustomed to a certain kind of music and pattern. It is deeply ingrained in us and to penetrate that market, we need another great source and I truly believe hip-hop is a great source. If there is one thing that hip-hop doesn’t have, it is the backing to reach most audiences.

In the current scenario, marketing plays an important role. In our states, a minority of artistes are involved in creating independent music and within that, I reckon the hip-hop genre considerably has a good number of creators when compared to the rest. I mean artists are putting all their energy into making the songs, but they are not able to bring in the backing that commercial music generally has. However, we are slowly making progress and I am sure the masses will appreciate the art form.”

Another top rapper from the city, Feroz Israel looks at some of the misconceptions that people have regarding the art form, “In recent times, people are taking rap very sarcastically. They feel it’s like a wannabe thing. One of the main issues is that people still think we are ‘aping the west’. All they see is someone saying, “Yo! Yo! What’s up and they immediately create an impression of it. You will realise that it is not the case at all once you start respecting the form. Whatever songs we’ve been creating, most of them are centered around societal issues and one will understand that only when one respects the art form. One must utilise the rap form to its complete potential in whatever way possible and I don’t think that’s happening here.”

When we asked the city-based rapper if he’s got any advice to give to the young aspiring rappers, he mused, “Young rappers should always try to bring something different to the table. Everybody is trying to be the same and that’s not going to work out. One must strive to be different in this game and that’s when one will realise their true potential. I’d say, stick to your roots and sound like you.”

Most of the Telugu audience has been subsumed under the grandeur of commercial film music for more than 50 years and its impact on their minds can’t be overstated. Who’s to take the blame for the dearth of other genres of music? Honestly, there is no one answer to it. Human beings are great at adapting themselves under different circumstances. We are known for acquiring new tastes and our preferences change accordingly.

Music keeps changing with each passing year and it is a great way to reflect upon our culture. No amount of money can buy the genuine recognition that an artiste receives for his/her work. If we all can be honest with ourselves for a moment, at some point of time in our lives, we have all heavily relied on a particular artiste to comfort ourselves. To test how pliable we are as human beings, we need to constantly put our beliefs and tastes on the line. The next time you want to ponder over life or groove to some beats, “Why not try out some Telugu hip-hop?”

Considering the enthusiasm with which so many artistes have taken to hip-hop in Telugu states, the genre that tunes in change has a bright future.

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4 COMMENTS

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