Gully Boy and desi hip-hop

Published - February 20, 2020 08:57 pm IST

New taste: Gully Boy succeeded in increasing the audience for Indian hip-hop

New taste: Gully Boy succeeded in increasing the audience for Indian hip-hop

About a year ago, the music world was agog with talk of how Indian hip-hop would rise from being an underground genre to a mainstream one. On February 15 2019, Zoya Akhtar’s film Gully Boy was released, and the songs ‘Apna Time Aayega’, ‘Mere Gully Mein’ and ‘Asli Hip-Hop’ stormed the charts. Based on the lives of Mumbai rappers Divine and Naezy, the film clicked, and the mass audience became aware of the intricacies of the hip-hop sub-culture. The buzz lasted a couple of months, but did it sustain itself? Today, a year later, is the genre actually a mainstream movement as one predicted?

Genre on the rise

To begin with, the film did succeed in increasing the audience for Indian hip-hop, especially gully rap, which evolved from slums or small neighbourhoods. People became familiar with the street language, the concept of dissing rivals, brawls and emotions associated with this style. T-shirts with the dictum ‘ Apna Time Aayega ’ are a still a common sight. Listeners took to YouTube and streaming platforms to check out Divine, Naezy, Badshah, Honey Singh, Raftaar and Emiway Bantai. Badshah claims his 2018 song ‘She Move It Like’ attracted 285 million YouTube views and ‘ Paagal ’ had 220 million. Detractors will insist that a large chunk of these are ‘paid’ views.

Promoters pushed the genre, either through recordings or live shows. VYRL Originals, the non-film division of Universal Music India, hyped up Divine's album Kohinoor. Big Bang Records, a joint venture between Sony Music and entertainment agency Kwan, released Naezy’s Maghreb. Azadi Records put out albums by Kashmiri rapper Ahmer and Mumbai’s urban hip-hop act Tienas. Newer artistes came out with singles, and got noticed. The genre was analysed in seminars like ‘All About Music’ and ‘Music Inc’. The Dharavi Dream Project has continued its quest in finding rappers, beatboxers and emcees. Rolling Stone India and Qyuki teamed up to create Haq Se Hindustan live shows and Haq Se Bolo podcasts. Basically, there was an increase in action.

A long journey

Still, a year later, the genre faces a few challenges. With public memory being short and new releases coming in, the impact created by the Gully Boy music was temporary. Secondly, though there were rappers in India since the early 1990s, the actual movement began only recently, two decades after it became a craze in the US. Naturally, there were comparisons with international stars.

Industry observers say a major problem is that the target age comprises those below 25. This restricts the audience, unlike Indipop or folk-fusion, which attract wider age segments. Many youngsters also prefer electronic dance music or independent artistes, and their tastes evolve with time. Divine, Badshah and producer Sez On The Beat may be celebrities within the genre, but it will be difficult for them to get the mass attention of Daler Mehndi, Lucky Ali or Indian Ocean.

Finally, barring Badshah’s claims, there have hardly been any megahits in 2019. The albums by Divine and Naezy fared moderately. Some great tracks - like Ahmer’s ‘Little Kid, Big Dreams’ and Bengaluru rapper Brodha V’s ‘Vaishnava Jan To’ - had less than two million YouTube views. Many wannabes entered too, but that’s natural when a genre suddenly gets mileage.

A few developments took place last week. Divine released the video of ‘Gandhi Money’, from his album Kohinoor . The initial response has been positive. Secondly, Gully Boy shared the Filmfare best music award with Kabir Singh , and Divine and Ankur Tiwari got best lyrics awards for ‘ Apna Time Aayega ’. Though the latter award seemed shocking for many, this should lead to a short-term revival of the Gully Boy soundtrack, that is if, Zee Music Company uses the opportunity.

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