Kerala hip hop artiste Abhijith Gopinadh, who goes by the initials A.B.I, uses his music to speak as much about the personal as he does about issues which afflict society. He channelises his struggles — with mental health and addiction — to create songs that resonate with listeners. His recent single ‘RISE’, uploaded on his YouTube channel, is about rising above the challenges life throws at a person. “With this song, I wanted to speak about our fears and anxieties due to what is happening right now. We are all afraid and anxious... we need to rise above these fears,” says the 26 year-old.
Rapping for relief
2020 has seen a surge of Malayalam rap music in Kerala; rapper Vedan released ‘Voice of Voiceless’ in June, a powerful statement calling out injustice in society; actor Mamta Mohandas launched her production company with ‘Lokame’ by Ekalavyan. Kochi Music Foundation will stream ‘Para’, Kerala’s first hip-hop festival where influential Malyalam rappers perform. The pandemic has caused many cancelled gigs but there have been pluses. Like being part of ‘Para’, which will be streamed on December 31.
A.B.I turned to rapping when he was 13 years old as a means of coping with the bullying he encountered in school. Rapping, in particular, was a way of venting his feelings. “[Rapping] helped me deal with the stress of life. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and music helps me cope; it is release and relief. There are times when one feels there is no one to communicate with. This is when music helps,” he says.
None of his early experiments are available on his channel although he did upload them at the time. “I wasn’t comfortable with how they were,” he remarks, referring to what he feels are its imperfections. Until 2015, A.B.I was rapping solely in English, but later he started writing in Malayalam as well; some of his compositions are a combination of both. “I started rapping in Malayalam in 2015, and since I had been rapping before, I could do it with ease. The practice during the previous years were helpful. Rhymes are an important aspect in rap verse, so I try to keep words as poetic as possible,” he says.
The stylish videos are edgy and offbeat. A.B.I is unapologetic about the subjects he sings about. “I talk about self and society. For instance, I rap about mental health issues because by talking about it we remove the stigma attached to it. It helps mainstream issues that are being swept under the carpet,” he says.
When A.B.I started rapping, there weren’t many Malayalam rappers. The scene is very different now with a number of them. “Hip hop evolved as counter culture, as a reaction to the inequities in society... and we are reacting to what we see around us; it is a reaction to the suppression and taboos,” he adds.
One of his most popular songs is K.O.C.H.I ., the others are Thelu , Mathruka and Pravasi . He routinely collaborates with other artists, some of them are playback singers Ranjini Jose ( Bhagavathi ) and Jyotsna Radhakrishnan ( Pakal ), which reach a wider audience. Pravasi is also a collaboration with rapper Nomadic Voice, “He featured me in this song about immigrant life. He wrote his rap verse and I mine.”
Of creating rap verse using two languages, he says, “I started rapping Malayalam in 2015, since I had been rapping before I could do it with ease. The practise of the previous years were helpful. Rhymes are an important aspect in rap verse, so I try to keep words as poetic as possible.”