Hip Hop originated in America as a product of the oppression and racism towards the African-American community, which generated dialogue that can easily be mis-understood by other cultures. This has been observed in poetry across the world, across history, where Persian sufi poets like Omar Khayam were misunderstood by westerners.
Apart from many other factors, the geography of a certain area and personal experience of a poet influences the type of music that emerges out of his/her area. Hip Hop is no different, a rapper from Atlanta does not sound like a New York or a UK rapper.
Hip Hop was never a genre of music, it was all about the culture and what people felt about that culture. Sometimes that representation was so strong that it influenced other cultures. When 8 Mile came out, Eminem influenced a lot of Indian rappers to start rapping, including myself. The inspirational/fictional story of the white man was so influential that we wanted to imitate and replicate what Eminem had done.
Of course, maybe all art starts with imitating and evolves into a personal interpretation of that imitation. However, in an extremist way of thinking, art should not become only imitation. It’s like saying, “we want to make music so we will make a cover band using the chords that another musician invented and we use that to get fame and money and girls”. Guns, money and girls that the hip hop culture from the US depicted, was due to their struggles and oppression is not the same or equivalent to what the Indians had to face.
The lowest common denominated for Indians was different. People in America get shot on the daily; some parts of India have never heard gun shots. The sort of problems we have in India are different, and they have different consequences. For example, corruption is a huge issue in India and we get affected by its effects even without being involved with it. In America, Donald Trump is the new president. Therefore, the content that rappers speak about can be easily misguided by the influences we had, which were not culturally relevant to us.
This is a case of responsibility with the art we display, because a piece of music that we produce is a documentation of us, and is what we will be remembered for in the future. The modern day rapper is a poet, and poets have been visualised as messengers of reality from all throughout history.
If a rapper who never held a gun speaks about the same, he does not sound convincing. Reminds me of Lupe fiasco when he made his skateboarding anthem called “Kick Push”, and got bullied because he could not skateboard in reality.
If Eminem used the word “ni**a”, he would not be where he is today, would he…? What many Indian rappers fail to realise is that it’s not about what is cool, but about what you have to say “responsibly”.
Even in a business minded perspective, we will never sell for being black or white but by being Indian (This does not mean we should not rap in English, Hip Hop is expression and language or medium does not matter, Example: PSY, Daddy Yankee).
Hip Hop is serious business for most of us, and unless we set aside our insecurities to speak truthfully about who we are, our music will not be “relatable” to people. Reliability sells. In the coming years, as more rappers like Naezy, Divine, Brodha V start metamorphosing the scene, we will see the emergence of real Indian Hip Hop and wash the mistakes of our past imitations.
With more and more rappers realising this dream, we are all set to see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. As we start explaining our culture and displaying it in our songs; one day, we will not be known as rappers, but DESI rappers doing DESI Hip Hop.
Power to Hip Hop!