Kenyan artist on home grown hip hop and finding his space in Mumbai.
While hip hop in its various forms are meandering and still charting their course, there’s one act that has been consistently blazing the scene for over five years now. Manned by two Goans, a South Indian and a Kenyan, the four piece act has been fecund in breeding drum and bass into rap and turntablism.
City bred act Bombay Bassment, needs no introduction and its Kenyan MC Bob Omulo instills a sense of familiarity into the audience with his brazen live energy. Omulo aka Bobkat is positive about the snowballing hip hop culture here and feels it’s not just another passing fad. Says Omulo, “I think it’s vibrant, it’s growing, and it’s authentic. It’s gonna (sic) be around for a long time and it’s not a fad.”
For any sub culture scene to be reckoned with, it needs to spread from its point of impact to a wider demographic. In the case of hip hop, the phenomena, albeit underground and confined to the slums and gullies, is still within the quarters of an urban sprawl. And Omulo believes this form of music and culture needs to spread out of urban areas into the smaller rural and mofussil parts of the country. Says Omulo, “It’s important for it to transcend the urban boundaries because that’s when you have a viable market since a major part of India is rural.”
“If we go out of urban area most people won’t be able to understand it since it hasn’t spread to smaller towns. Hip hop has got some kind of depth within the urban area but it needs to develop beyond it” Omulo adds and points out that even in the US it’s not big in the rural areas. Omulo moved to Mumbai as a student of Bombay University from Kenya over a decade ago and has pretty much stayed put here working with start-up jobs and eventually, finding a foothold within the music scene here.
But one factor that’s inspiring and reassuring about this new wave of Indian hip hop is the home grown aspect of the culture that does not dilly-dally in content or ape their western counterparts. “This time around its home grown and focused on building its own unique character. It’s not boring or imitating what’s coming from LA or New York,” Omulo says.
Besides Omulo, the band’s diverse line-up consists of Levin Mendes on drums, Ruell Barretto on bass and DJ Chandrashekhar Kunder aka Chandu revving up the samples and electronics.
Delving into their formative years Omulo says, “It was coincidental, not planned. I was always a hip hop artist and the band came into being through some common friends.” This creative syncretism of talents invariably translated to a club friendly sound that’s hip hop in nature but at the same time, dabbles with reggae, funk and drum and bass. “They (Levin and Ruell) had a drum and bass act trying to make it together. We decided to try and merge everything we have and see how it sounded and as time went by our music steered towards hip hop and reggae,” he adds.
So has there been an evolution in the global hip hop scene? “I’ve been following hip hop and it goes through an evolutionary process every 10-15 years in terms of style and dominant artists,” Omulo says.
Omulo believes that right now we still have a strong influence of southern US hip hop sound. He also feels that whatever coming out of New York to be the most authentic, and names rappers Kendrick Lamar and J Cole to be the two youngsters in the new school of hip hop.
Just like most hip hop acts Bombay Bassment too talks about common issues but so far has not titillated into any political commentary. “I talk about usual stuff that people encounter like poverty, traffic and issues which are more global,” Omulo says. The band now has enough material for their third album which they hope to release soon.
So does Omulo want to stick back in Mumbai? “I’ll take things as it comes. Right now we’re here,” Omulo says.
MC Bobkat is featured in Hip Hop Homeland, a series about India's underground hip hop scene.
By Mohan KK