In today’s modern day music business, labels have really gone down the Pyramid in terms of their influence. At one point of time, no one could get a single song or an album out if you weren’t signed and given money to record in big studios. Today, anyone with a laptop, a digital workstation and a few microphones can make albums and songs that hit the billboards and make it to the mainstream, without any label support. The narrative has certainly changed. But at the same time, a few labels have come up that have given artists platforms that they had never been able to reach before and at the same time, brought genres into the mainstream that were never there before. Enter Azadi Records. Founded by Mo Joshi and Uday Kapur only more than a year back, they have absolutely transformed the Hip-Hop culture in India.

Mo Joshi and Uday Kapur (Founders of Azadi Records)

IT’S ALL IN THE TITLE

Many Azadi Records artists have said continuously in their interviews, which seems to be the motto of the label – It’s all about the freedom. Artists are free to do what they want and the label supports them in their every single endeavour and pushes them to the highest extent possible. Be it from album releases, to press, organising shows, showcasing their artists. No one is doing it at the level at which Azadi is doing it. Bands and Artists work with labels around the world but it’s mostly either for booking tours or for PR, but it seems like the artists that work under Azadi Records have enough trust in the label to do everything in their interest. I don’t think these two things have been said together in a very long time. It’s simple. Azadi isn’t messing about. You want continuous, real, independent and truthful hip-hop? This is where it comes from.

Azadi Records Artists Prabh Deep and Sez on the Beat (Picture by Ronit Sarkar)

We are the label of the culturally conscious. The creators of stories. Explorers of new sounds, new visuals and new mediums that initiate dialogue between different communities around the world.

THE ARTIST ROSTER

Most world famous labels are known for their artist roster and the success of their artist roster. If 2017 wasn’t good for Azadi Records with Delhi boy Prabh Deep’s debut album ‘Class Sikh’ (which I think is right up there with the all time classic Hip-Hop records) amongst expanding their reach, 2018 was a nuclear bomb. With artists like Seedhe Maut, Tienas, Lit Happu, BFR Soundsystem, Siri Narayan, Swadesi amongst many others, the roster is nothing short of exemplary. But for me personally, a big part of this sheer level of musicianship is courtesy Sez on the Beat. For me, he is the reason why Hip-Hop is such a big phenomenon in India today. Right from his original ‘Gully Sound’ that you can hear in Divine’s hit ‘Meri Gully Mein’, to his production for various artists, he’s a music extraordinaire. I don’t know how he’s able to give a unique sound to every single artist he works with. This tells you more and more about the label. They don’t just choose to sign on anyone and everyone to make content and create revenues, they’re looking for the hidden gems that no one is picking out on. This reminds of the legendary A&R departments back in the day that picked out artists that become legends.

BEHIND THE ‘SCENE’

The work of the label obviously doesn’t stop at just its artists and their releases. Azadi Records is one of the few if not, the only label that does showcases around the country. I had experienced similar showcases by various Indie Labels in the UK that would just put up shows with just their artist roster playing. In a time where there is no real ‘scene’ in most independent genres, the label itself is building and making it’s own. Whilst this process was slowly taking place through 2017, 2018 saw the label do a large amount of shows around this concept in Chandigarh, Bombay and other cities. It’s like a live version of a sampler CD a label would put out through a magazine or something. And it’s only getting bigger. They even started collaborating with the BFR Soundsystem, helping them do shows in collaboration with their artists, creating another model for shows and events.

AN IMMENSELY SUCCESSFUL YEAR

Singles. Mixtapes. Albums. Festival spots. Talk about the expansion that Azadi has had this year and it is nothing short of insane. Gig after gig, performance after performance. All the artists on the roster have gotten a chance this year to put their music out there. But let’s be a specific, this is all the big activity that Azadi has done this year:

  1. Class-Sikh Maut Vol. II featured on Billboard
  2. Prabh Deep winning the Toto Music Award for his 2017 album ‘Class-Sikh’
  3. Prabh Deep featured on Bobby Jindal’s ‘Asian Network’ Radio show on BBC.
  4. Collaboration with Homegrown for the first Indian Sneaker Con
  5. Artists playing festivals around the country including Ragasthan, Bira April Fools Fest, The Grub Fest, Ziro Festival, Echoes of the Earth Festival, The Big Bang Festival of Love, IndiEarth XChange
  6. Artists featured on the Apple Music A-List: Hip Hop Playlist, Spotify, Saavn, Hit 95FM, NTS Radio, Buzzfeed etc.
  7. Title track for the first Audible release in India “Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ by Tienaz and Sez on the Beat
  8. Mo Joshi and Uday Kapur featured on the GQ’s list of ’50 Most Influential Young Indian’s of 2018′

If that isn’t an insane amount of exposure in the mainstream, I don’t know what is.

AN EXAMPLE TO LOOK UPTO

Labels created the music business a lot of people lived by for a very long time. With the revolution of technology, the labels sort of lost their place and their exploitative practices also continued to poison the music business. Azadi Records seems like a label born out of counter culture rather than being part of the existing norm. They were one of the few people that decided to completely drop out from the Bacardi NH7 Weekender Pune amidst the sexual assault allegations of the higher ups in OML. Not many labels or even artist took such a bold step. I keep going back to their name and what it signifies, and it seems that not only is it that they provide freedom to artists or anyone that works with them, they also fight for it on a daily level with all they do. Uday Kapur perfectly put in a recent interview with Live Mint stating, “I want to burn this scene down and rebuild it from scratch”. And it seems like they’re doing that perfectly. It’ll be exciting to see what they are able to accomplish in 2019. Seedhe Maut is about to drop their album ‘Bayaan’ tomorrow and if we go by the two singles, it’ll be haaaaaaard! With Artists already on the VH1 Supersonic roster, it seems like there is no way Azadi Records is slowing down anytime soon. That is why they are our ‘Indie Label of the Year’.

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