British-Asian singer Hard Kaur performs in Mumbai

Desi Rap: From underground to forefront of Bollywood. A special report by Durga Chakravarty

British-Asian singer Hard Kaur performs in Mumbai
British-Asian singer Hard Kaur performs in Mumbai

From romantic lyricals to item numbers, Bollywood filmmakers now have found another musical ingredient – rap – that has given them a formula to spice up their films. Rappers are happy with the fusion of the genre with desi beats.

The rap genre, which was once rebel music that told on the society, is said to have been brought into the Indian musical market in the early 1990s by “desi” rapper Baba Sehgal. He is credited as the first Indian rapper and gave many hits like “Thanda thanda paani”, a remake of “Ice ice baby” of international rapper Vanilla Ice.

The country soon saw a growth in the genre through rappers such as British-Indian Hard Kaur, Yo Yo Honey Singh, Bohemia, Raftaar, Badshah and more, who also think that the Hindi film industry is the best way to showcase their talent in a nation where people aged between 10 to 24 years are their potential listeners.

Songs like “4 baj gaye”, “Swag mera desi hai”, “Love dose”, “Paniwala song”, “DJ waley babu”, “Chull” or “Blue Eyes” are top raps which mostly focus on parties, alcohol and girls. These songs have broken through urban barriers and have given music lovers a sneak-peek into what is perceived as the glamorous lifestyle of the rich and the famous in the West.

Raptress Taran Kaur Dhillon, popularly known as Hard Kaur, insists that Bollywood has opened the door to a new genre of music.

British-Asian singer Hard Kaur at an award function in Mumbai
British-Asian singer Hard Kaur at an award function in Mumbai

The “Paisa phek (Move your body)” singer, whose “Ek Glassy” was also a hit, added that she hopes to educate all about the format “slowly through fusion music and Bollywood”.

“So many of us are doing the best we can to provide the good knowledge but there’s a lot of wack (crazy) emcees brainwashing the youth with b*lls**t lyrics and wrong culture,” said Kaur.

The fastest growth of Punjabi or ‘desi’ rap in the country has been witnessed over the past few years, with the entry of Honey Singh, whose tracks “Lak 28 kudi da”, “High heels”, “Break up party” and “Blue eyes” are a hot favourite in clubs.

Honey Singh, whose real name is Hirdesh Singh, has also worked with Bollywood biggies like Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in “Chennai Express” for the song “Lungi dance” and with megastar Amitabh Bachchan in the song “Party with the bhoothnath” for the film “Bhoothnath Returns”.

Aditya Singh is another rapper — and he’s popular as Badshah. He feels rap numbers have “replaced” formula item numbers in Bollywood.

“Rap has been able to find its footing in Bollywood. A lot of films are trying to get raps done in the songs or trying to get rap songs for their films as promotional songs,” Badshah, of “Proper patola” fame, told IANS.

“There was a time when there used to be item numbers (and) rap (has) replaced those item numbers now. It is still to be seen how far this genre will go in Bollywood,” added Badshah, whose peppy number “Chull” will be featured in an upcoming Karan Johar production.

The “Abhi toh party shuru hui hai” hitmaker also said that the emerging format will have holding power but only if performed “truthfully”.

“This genre has a lot of potential. Because down the line, rap and hip-hop songs are somewhere related to storytelling… It’s somehow, you know, the reflection of the society,” he added.

Ankit Singh Paryal, who goes by the stage name Ikka Singh or popularly known as Ikka, feels there’s still some time before B-Town accepts rap.

“A lot of stars nowadays are supporting rap with genuine enthusiasm, but it will take time to fully understand and accept this culture. With that goal in mind, a lot of artists are working hard at achieving it,” said the Punjabi singer, who has just about entered B-Town with the dance-cum-rap-song “Paani wala dance” in this year’s “Kuch Kuch Locha Hai”.

There’s also Dilin Nair, famously known as Raftaar, who stressed that “Bollywood is the decision-maker when it comes to the music industry” and acceptance of rap would depend if Bollywood supported it.

“When Bollywood decides to anchor a certain genre of music, then it is bound to get the reputation of being a trend-setter,” said Raftaar.

The “Dhup chik hori se” rapper said the genre is new in India, but he believes it’s here to “dominate in an influential way for the next 10 years, all thanks to the impetus provided by the Indian film music stake holders”.

“In fact, the rap scene always existed in India but it was very underground until recent times.”