The guardian of Mumbai rap on how it started and rap going mainstream.
From the conflicted valleys of Kashmir to the dingy alleys of Mumbai, from the urban subways of Delhi to the minority pockets of Kerala, a sub-cultural hip hop movement has slowly been gaining momentum. I’m not talking about the commercialized “YoYo” music of Honey Singh or the progenitor of desi rap Baba Sehgal, here.
This is about a maturing breed of underground crews, alter egos and bynames flaunting their suburban-ghetto swag to a growing cult of ideology based institution.
Let’s begin with one of the pioneers, Abhishek aka Ace, founding member of one of the very first city crews, Mumbai’s Finest, as the first installation of our 12 part series HipHopHomeland.
In their decade long existence, they’ve had their share of break ups and line-up changes.
Says Ace, “I’ve been there since its inception and members have changed since then. Two former members have been signed to Sony group and that includes Vivian Fernandez aka Divine.”
The crew currently consists of the multi-talented Ninja, rapper-producer Kinga Rhymes, producer called Einstien, beat boxer D Hood and a Hindi Emcee Adro.
“This is definitely a growing underground culture. There are a set of rappers and crews in every area now, unlike the scene when we started,” Ace says.
And get this; according to him there are around a thousand Emcees rapping about their problems and talking about issues. But quality is still lacking in numbers.
“Many are trying to imitate western rappers. Only few have actually found their distinct style and sound,” Ace deems, indicating Mumbai Cypher (an improvisational rap routine known to make or break a rapper’s reputation) contributors to be dope and solemnly stirring up a revolution in the crumbling bylanes of the subaltern quarters of Mumbai.
The rapper gang, Dopedelics, for instance, makes no qualms about their revered stance on legalizing marijuana. Their Snoop Dogg influenced style synching with their own beliefs makes legalizing weed their hottest subject and lighting up a joint, a major part of their video content.
“It’s good that they’ve found their style, some people don’t even understand what they talk about,” Ace says.
With a decade’s experience, Ace, now 27, juggles his music with his day job. He’s got a wife and kid as well. Add to that an MBA he hopes to get soon.
Hinting at his life and the general habit of rap flourishing in the suburban motif, Ace says, “Hip hop has always been a form of rebellion. Only if you’re living under those circumstances, things you’re facing on a day to day basis, you feel like talking about it.”
“Our music is more to enlighten and also to entertain as we pick on issues of day to day life or the lives of our listeners,” Ace says.
Now the mainstream arena is closing the gap, with MF being signed by artist management and record label company ennui.BOMB. Following the deal the band played at the Vans New Wave Music fest in Bengaluru where they “nailed a live set for the first time. The band will drop an album soon called Mumbai Till I Die. “We’re working on the tour dates to support the album”.
Ace had his opportunities earlier as well with some record labels but had wantonly declined.
“I have been offered many record deals but I’ve been blessed enough not to accept it because It’s a business for lot of people who will tell you what to do,” he says.
Their YouTube channel now is via Qyuki while Hungama handles distribution along with their newest addition of a booking agency.
Ace, who resides in Malad, prefers to rap in Hindi as well as as English becauses it feels more expressive and is more easily accepted among the masses - from Bhayander and Nallasopara to the city’s suburban sprawls.
Ace makes it clear that this movement is “on a national scale and we are all well connected and Mumbai is the Mecca of hip hop. We set trend and the others follow.”
And no, Ace is no fan of Honey Singh, Badshah or Raftaar.
Ace is featured in Hip Hop Homeland, a series about India's underground hip hop scene.
By Mohan KK