BURBAN: Progress or Pigeonhole?


Burban: a fairly new term coined by UK Desi HipHop artist, Shizzio, neologising the two words ‘brown’ and ‘urban’ to create a way to describe the music made by those Hiphop artists of Desi descent residing right here in the UK… But the question that arises is whether those who are a part of this so-called movement actually believe in the things they preach? Is the term ‘Burban’ going to help or hinder these artists in the long run? And will becoming ‘Burban’ pigeonhole our Desi Hiphop artists and distance them further from the mainstream masses, when surely spreading their music to the world is their main goal?

Here at DesiHiphop we believe in good music, providing coverage and a platform for Desi artists making Hiphop music all around the world. We know that Desi people have it a bit harder in the mainstream music game for some reason, which is why our website concentrates solely on South Asians – we’re just playing our part in helping our people to achieve their musical aims. If Apache Indian did it and Jay Sean did it, then surely more of us can? Our belief in this is crucial and this is essentially why we are here.

Hiphop & ‘Burban’

Hiphop music is Hiphop music:  a form of spoken poetry blessing a beat, delivering a message to the audience via music; wham- bam- thank- you- mam, there you have it – it’s pretty simple. Now, if a black person makes hiphop music, it’s still hiphop right? If a white person makes hiphop music, it’s still hiphop, agreed? So, if a brown person makes hiphop music, where is the sense in rebranding it into a whole new category of music and renaming it ‘Burban’, when as a matter-of-fact it’s still actually hiphop music? Is ‘Burban’ actually needed?

We believe in our UK Desi rappers and the music they create; we just want to explore whether the idea of ‘Burban’ is feasible for those who are a part of it in the long run. We asked different names within the Asian music scene in the UK the same question, “Do you believe in Burban?”.  It’s time to get some truth out there and allow you to make your minds up for yourselves. These are the responses we got from those eight people that were willing to contribute their honest views…

DesiHipHop Asks, “Do You Believe In Burban?”


RAXSTAR (Rapper): I believe in Burban, it’s something we can claim as our own.





Swami Baracus

SWAMI BARACUS (Rapper):  Regardless of anyone’s interpretation, Burban for me is a real support network for all the artists involved, providing a greater push and support in everyone’s individual projects to a larger audience. It defines the unity that’s evident and provides an impetus for future generations of artists to feel involved.







AC (Rapper): I think it is a new name for ‘Urban Desi’. I don’t think it is just for ‘brown’ people as anyone can make the music, for example Mark from Panjabi Hit Squad would be called a ‘burban’ artist. I think that the industry took the mickey when they called what used to be called ‘black music’ and renamed it ‘urban’, because it doesn’t pay respect to who invented it. So ‘brown urban’, shortened to ‘burban’ just means it was a thing started off by brown people but that don’t mean other people can’t make it. I am mixed race for example. I make hiphop and grime and do drum ‘n’ bass but also did stuff that had Indian sounds in it when I was with Mentor Kolektiv and in AC and Terra, and also now as a solo artist, so those tunes can be called burban .


Indy Beats

INDY BEATS (Music Producer): Okay, so I see it like this. Hip-Hop is a Culture. Rap is the Music. It’s an industry where people from so many walks of life and ethnic backgrounds have made it big. FACT.

If you want to make Hip-Hop/Rap and be seen as a Hip-Hop artist you need to get real and understand that the Hip-Hop world doesn’t want to hear Hindi/Panjabi/Urdu/Arabic vocals and samples on EVERY track. Most of that market will appreciate the odd song here and there but the primary language spoken by most of the UK is English. If you maintain such a heavy Asian sound, it’s not surprising that people will be confused and call it “Urban Desi/Asian”. You’re blending those styles and telling people to ignore that aspect. In my opinion it doesn’t make sense to break out of the “Urban Asian/Desi” box just to put yourself in a new “Burban” box when you really just want to be seen as a Hip-Hop artist.

If the Burban scene wants to promote the use of Asian sounds, samples and lyrics, then it’s a great thing for artists who want the same. It could be a genre. However Burban claims that it’s not a genre, instead that it’s a subculture of Hip-Hop. Confusing. If Burban intends to be a genre it “could” be a step in the right direction for a scene where Urban Asian Music could flourish.

Maybe I’m being sceptical but Burban seems to be looking more and more like an environment for artists to drop Urban Asian music and achieve some traction because some followers have “subscribed” to Burban as a movement as a direct result of already being fans of those artists anyway.

I have respect for talent and good music regardless of the “tag” applied to it. I always have and will continue to support many now “Burban” artists. I just feel that Burban isn’t a good move for many of them. I see it as a limitation more than an advantage to some.

In all honesty, I hope I’m wrong and Burban grows to become something we can all be proud of. However right now, I’m not convinced there’s anything for me or like minded folk in the Burban scene.

Lost Souljah

LOST SOULJAH (Female rapper): Burban is just another title to help distinguish the type of music, it helps to distinguish between Desi and Urban. Otherwise there’s no way to distinguish between Indian music and Urban music – Burban just means it’s Indian/Asian artists on Urban beats. Kinda like the twist on Bollywood and Hollywood.

I don’t think it’s something to believe in. If you mean do I believe Asian artists can make urban music? Then yes. I don’t think it is needed to help any of us achieve what we want though.

It does help people put a title to the music, so in that sense it can get more people talking about it more I guess.





SHIZZIO (Rapper and Founder of ‘Burban’): Of course I believe in it, that’s pretty obvious. It’s a platform for Urban Asian artists, one that hasn’t been there for them before. There’s a sense of unity and progression… Out with the old and in with the new.

In 6 months it’s taken us from stages such as  Brit Asian awards to coverage in the Guardian newspaper and now our own melas, that’s pretty good progress. It’s succeeded because it’s needed. Proof is in the pudding.

(We asked further to this, “Do you believe this is the platform you need to succeed then?”. Shizzio did not reply.)




PREMZ (Rapper): The “Burban” concept was never necessary for music as a whole. The artists involved are those who believe that the fact that they are Asian is the reason why they are not signed for £1 million deals.  The truth is there seems to be a lack of talent in the artists in general and not enough hunger and originality in the music. I also question if there a need to even call this an Asian “scene”? No other race has a scene… So why are we segregating ourselves and thus making it harder to break out into the mainstream?

Jay Sean didn’t have to call himself Burban or go against his own integrity to do well, and he is one of the most successful artists to come from the UK: the fact that he is Asian has nothing to do with his success.

The music business is a tough game to be in and to be successful in. But instead of working hard and progressing, people find it easier to make excuses, which is what I personally believe this “Burban” concept is.

I also saw that the point of the concept was apparently to be accepted into the mainstream.  Calling yourselves “BROWN URBAN” is not going to help you fit in – especially when your music is considerably weaker than the rest of the UK’s rap & grime scene.

Everybody should be proud of their race, but music is about talent and quality, not skin colour. I think the sooner people realise this, the sooner the artists who are deserving of a shot at the title will get it, God willing.


Terry Mardi

TERRY MARDI (Music, Fashion & Media Entrepreneur): To me, tags, titles or genre naming are all ways that humans choose to summarise a description. In the same way the words Hip and Hop were put together to create an appropriate way for black musicians and rappers to describe their sound, Burban as a term was created by the very individuals who were making a pseudo sound of their own.

It can be understood that the term Burban was born out of Shizzio’s frustration of not being accepted and embraced by the traditionally black and white music media majority that supported Rap, Hip-Hop, Grime or other ‘Urban Terms’ and also being misunderstood and often dismissed by the Asian media outlets since many of the owners of these platforms are over 40 years old.

The young artists decided to get together and create a genre that was invented by them and for them. This Burban term is often frowned upon by my peers but to me it’s expression. If Dub-step can be commonly used as a genre then why not Burban?

I personally witnessed Speed Garage and 2-Step Garage emerge as genres of their own and saw what happened there however these titles immediately describe a particular tempo range, sound and production style. The main difference is, Burban artists have a much wider variety of sounds across the spectrum, and essentially they are Brown Kids making non-Asian music for the most part: using rap, r&b, soul, dub-step, grime, hip-hop and other ‘urban’ forms as their muse.

This is my view. My name is Terry Mardi.


Progression or Segregation?

At DesiHiphop we are truly passionate about music, especially Hiphop and rap, which is why we think it is of utmost importance to investigate new concepts/genres/styles when they emerge; particularly when there are Desis creating them; even more so when they are Desis that make Hiphop music creating them.

Some people who were asked this question were unwilling to participate without reason; others were too afraid that their views would land them in other peoples bad books therefore hindering their progression within the music scene. Those that weren’t too afraid to speak up, we thank you as we believe that only with the truth and constructive criticism can the Asian music scene progress as a whole.

So let’s look generally at what was obtained from this and look towards further questions that arise…

  •  It is quite clear that there is still some general confusion around exactly what the term ‘Burban’ means. Is it a genre of music? Is it just a collective of people ‘being there’ for one another? Is it a movement, and if so, what exactly for?
  • Do Desi people making hiphop music really need to claim something for themselves i.e. Burban? Why is this needed when surely what we need is integration rather than segregation in attempting to break the mainstream?
  • Is becoming a part of the ‘Burban movement’ actually pushing artists’ music to more people, or is it in fact just being circulated and then recirculated between already existing fan bases?
  • What about people coming into the music scene who don’t want to be classed as Burban, but automatically may be because of the music they make?
  • And finally, is the true raw hiphop talent that is actually needed to succeed actually there? True talent always speaks for itself. This is something to think about.

DesiHiphop.com will continue to investigate, but this time with the views of those who are not directly involved in the ‘Burban movement’: watch this space.

Do YOU Believe?

Nevertheless, with whatever the people behind ‘Burban’ are expecting to achieve, we commend them for trying to do something when all other avenues seemed closed. Burban is bringing together more Desis and followers of the artists who are part of the ‘movement’ and it’s great to see unity and togetherness between our people. Although they already belonged to the Hiphop scene as they are making Hiphop music, seeing our UK Desi Hiphop artists feeling like they finally belong to something is good: maybe ‘Burban’ will provide the extra confidence some of them need to lose inhibitions and reach out further to a wider audience.

Either way, whether you believe in ‘Burban’ or not, at DesiHiphop we believe in raw, powerful Hiphop music where rap is an actual art form and not just a man in a tracksuit and sunglasses shouting and jumping around a stage. All we ask from those Desis around the world doing Hiphop music, whether a part of a movement or not, is to keep delivering to us your lyrical and spoken talent via music and let nothing hinder you in enjoying and perfecting your craft.

Quality speaks for itself and if the quality is high, the masses will listen, regardless of whether you’re a part of ‘Burban’, ‘Gurban’, ‘Murban’ or whatever else is fashionable at the time. So in the true words of rap and hiphop culture from DesiHiphop.com, be dope, keep it real and let the music do the talking.

Written by Sabah Ismail

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