Business Interviews Music Inc.

In Conversation With The King Of Hip-Hop – Raftaar

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Music Inc. 2.0 Day 2 began with lightning speed with the King of Hip Hop, Rap, Hard-hitting lyrics just one name comes to mind, and that is Raftaar. He’s someone who’s actually speed personified as the name suggests in conversation with the film critic Rajeev Masand in the fireside chat –  ‘The Relentless Story of Raftaar.’

Talking about his journey from Dilin Nair, a boy born in the South India, and his relentless journey down the memory lane from his dreams, his mission, to the position he is in today, Raftaar says, “When I wake up I always feel that this is something I wouldn’t have achieved had it gone off, and I still wonder how did it all happen? Everything fell in place at the right time. From the time when I got eliminated out of top 9 from DID doubles with my partner Manic as a contestant, The year after that I took a student of mine to DID – his name is Uday Sachdeva, then next year I went with another student of mine, and he reached the finals – his name is Manan Sachdeva. After that, I came out the very next year and did ‘Jhalak Dikhla Ja’. Then I did Roadies, and then I did Swag on with Raftar with MTV. I came back to DID to judge it, and it was a complete circle. So in those 8 years of my journey, I could calculate my steps, as it all went very smoothly.”

While destiny played its part, I was very well equipped with what was happening in society and was in sync with technology and social media. At that time of Orkut and Hi5, when SoundCloud wasn’t there, and I was active on SoundLink – we had a community called Indian rappers, and, Brodha V was also a part of it. When people were posting their songs with only lyrics, we recorded our song and put it on Reverb Nation and made them stay in sight in the chat-box so nobody could miss it. We kept with the pace of the market, understood what was happening, and my journey has been a learning experience about particular ways of mixing and producing music to be more self-sufficient, and putting it out.

Talking about his inspirations and what kind of music he wanted to pursue, “That has totally changed now, it was the time when I was looking at 50 Cent, Eminem, 2Pac, Biggie Smalls and liked looking at their stories feeling oh what’s happening wrong with them – dope, gun-slinging, drive-bys, the hood and felt their pain and wanted to stand up for them and speak about their issues. At that tender age, we were wannabes who went to Gaffar Market, Palika Bazaar and buy their T-shirts, Baggy Jeans, Fake FUBU shoes and we wearing big chains with 50 Cent on it trying to relate to them and be like them. I was inspired by rapping because it was in popular culture, I started liking rap music through Linkin Park when Mike Shinoda rapped on it. That was a part I related to. So I looked at him and said to myself that this guy is just rhyming and I can do that too. The first rap I remember was a Romantic one that I did on a Lil Wayne-Wyclef Jean Beat – Sweet Girl.

The first generation of rappers were the ones who didn’t get the credit, with the likes of Baba Sehgal, Hard Kaur, Javed Jafferi, Style Bhai, and so many more. I remember Hard Kaur coming out with a track with Chennai artists. They were doing a lot of stuff, but we still somehow related more to western artists. When I started becoming more regional music, we started realising that a lot of people outside would not understand it and it would take some time. And that is where the maturity began trickling in.

Coming from a Malayali family in Delhi, did he get the support from his family? Raftaar responds laughing, “When I started listening to music, I was listening to a lot of Eminem and 50 Cent, it begins with a lot of swearing, and that’s all that would play on the speakers, and my mom would come in and question me what I was listening to! Then I would sit her down and explain to her that the artist isn’t calling anyone out but just expressing his frustration by swearing and my mom would agree and find it very motivating! Thankfully we didn’t try doing the same thing, because we have the Censor board here. It’s strange how people react to swearing-in Hindi though, and that’s what I addressed in one of my songs as well.

Speaking about rap and hip-hop addressing the issues of the society and purpose-driven, Raftaar said, “A lot of people in India are now rapping about prevalent issues. Unfortunately, that’s not how it started for a lot of them. And that’s what happened to me as well because people are not really perturbed by it. I also did my rounds in the commercial sector and made sure to keep one leg in the underground and one leg in the commercial. I was sailing both the boats. People come out now praising DIVINE and Naezy and their stories, and we all wondered that we too had similar stories! Not to diss anyone, but we didn’t mediums like Saavn, Gaana and Spotify. Even YouTube wasn’t that popular back then. We used to get 5 lakh views and used to be on cloud nine, and reaching 20 million views would be the epitome of success, but now 100-200million is very common. The reach has expanded, and now people have started understanding what our music talks about. On the western side, the culture grew very differently. This was a form of expression that they related to with one another and grew at its own pace with DJs mixing beats and MCs getting on board and rapping/hyping up the crowd. It was absolutely different and mesmerising the way it outgrew the block party mentality to a genre that is respected all over the world! Rap entered rock, created Rap-core with artists like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit and came back, went to R&B – did its part came back, went to Bollywood – did its part came back, but Hip-Hop always stayed true to itself. It is the longest surviving genre. It is flexible that way and fuses with the culture of any region it might spread out to.

Speaking about his generosity, lack of insecurity and willingness to share the spotlight due to his experiences, Raftaar said, “I’m a secure artist because of one thing – that I’m not the one who is being insecure, but it’s the other people. I have my talents, and I do most of the creative stuff myself – producing, writing, arranging, mixing and such. I do not go after the charts and like to explore instead. I like collaborating in the idea of what I could learn from the other artist. Coming from different backgrounds, with different stories, likes, dislikes, we can create something entirely new, and that’s the whole pointTO CREATE SOMETHING NEW! That can happen only if two fresh minds get together and that doesn’t really leave any scope for insecurities.

Talking about the ignorant impression of Bollywood being the end-all and whether it’s true or is changing, he said, “I think it’s important to understand that we should not blame Bollywood or consider it as a mark for ourselves. Bollywood is not a genre or a style of music. It is an industry. The way an industry works is that you put something into it and you will reap something from it. If Bollywood feels that Hip-Hop is BIG right now, they will get an artist on board for a track and the actor will sing along to it. Fans of both the artist and the actor are going to engage with it, and it ends up being a holistic thing for everyone involved. Bollywood is merely commercialising what you want the people to know. If you are going to consider it as a platform, then it’s not Bollywood’s but your own fault to do so. Stop blaming nepotism. If they have created an empire, they would want their children to take it forward. The idea is to make the independent music scene so big that Bollywood comes out and sources you!

Asking him about he maintains a balance between being seduced by Bollywood’s glamour and the joyful feeling of making independent music,  he said, “It depends on the kind of projects you pick. I get a lot of projects where I am told to follow certain things, and with a heavy heart I have to refuse, but that is how I get to do projects that are relevant to me like Manto and Andhadhun. As long as we get to have creative control and we’re given space, we can provide you with the best of our style. That is the only balance.

Speaking about his upcoming album and how it allows him to do things that probably commercial projects don’t, Raftaar said, “It is the day and age of singers. But most importantly, it is also the content that matters. Maybe the content you have created today is not relevant right now. But maybe after a movie or other pop culture reference, when that issue becomes more known, that is when people are going to remember that track you made and will find it fitting in that situation. That is the idea behind the album. Not to create one song, but sixteen songs – choose what you like!

Speaking about being authentic or whether he approaches it as a business and his personality is a facade, Raftaar said, “I have a simple answer to that – If I were so enamoured by the glitz and glamour of this industry, I would have shifted to Mumbai by now. I have a house in Mumbai near Juhu Circle, and another near Vera Desai, but I live in Delhi because of my family. I live with my family.”

Asking about the future, the mentoring and his grand plan, he said, “Ankit and I have just started our label called Kalamkaar Music, and we are signing in people who are good lyricists. Because if you’re a poet, you’re a real rapper – your lyrics cannot be written by somebody else because that is your expression. We have started this to create a hierarchy in the system and give back to our society.

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