Rapper Shah Rule on the global sound of Indian hip hop

Gully Boy’s Shah Rule, part of Divine’s upcoming label Gully Gang, chats with MetroPlus about the Indian rapping scene

In professional wrestling, the heel is a quintessential anti-hero: the bad guy who makes the hero — the face — look good. In the 2019 hit Gully Boy, Mumbai rapper-producer Shah Rule was the ‘heel’ to actor Ranveer Singh’s ‘face’. Sporting expensive kicks, and a black cap with ‘RULE’ emblazoned in gold, Shah Rule’s raps throw gut punch after punch at Ranveer’s working-class character in the penultimate battle sequence. Mean, snarky, arrogant, cruel — On phone from Mumbai, ahead of a performance at The Park’s 17th anniversary celebrations in Chennai, he sounds anything but that.

Rahul Shahani, as his parents named him, moved from London three years ago to Mumbai, when “things were bubbling in the Indian hip hop scene.” He says, “I actually came to Mumbai because my father encouraged me to become a Bollywood singer.” Though things didn’t work out, he simultaneously noticed the burgeoning hip hop industry. “People like Badshah, Raftaar and Hard Kaur opened the gate for young people to get in,” he says.

Back in London too, Shah Rule tried breaking into the London underground hip hop scene as well, but found that his race identity played a crucial factor. “There was not much space for South Asian artistes, we had to restrict ourselves to clubs that desis generally frequented,” he says.

However, after three years in Mumbai, things are looking up for him. He is a part of an upcoming label, Gully Gang, set up by rapper Divine — the inspiration behind Ranveer’s character Murad in Gully Boy. Though he says the movie did not influence his career, it did bring in more recognition and opportunities for corporate gigs. “We have a very strong community in Mumbai. If you take part in hip hop nights every week, you get to meet all the rappers, producers, and DJs… Everyone is welcoming,” he says.

Rapper Shah Rule on the global sound of Indian hip hop

The community is not limited to Mumbai, but growing throughout India: “Pune and Kolkata are very hip-hop friendly,” he says, adding that it is catching on in non-metro cities like Indore, where he recently had a gig. “The club was open until 5 to 6 am during election time, which was quite surprising.” Before coming to Bengaluru and Chennai, he opened for Divine in Kathmandu.

“The desi hip hop sound is global, it is influenced by Punjabi music. But gully hip hop is distinctly Bombay,” he says. “The structure of the rap stanzas may be based on music theory in US hip hop, but the content, the sounds, the lingo, even the videos are Indian,” he adds.

Shah Rule’s recently released song Smoke, recently garnered over 198,000 views. “I generally write party songs, and about two main things: positivity and love. One of my biggest songs, ‘Lakhs’, was about money and hustling.”

‘Hustling’ has been an integral part of rapping and hip hop since they originated in the 70s and 80s in the US as a movement, against class divide. Coming from relatively privileged musicians today, how genuine is it? “Yeah, I come from a privileged background, but someone like my father still hustles to get a comfortable life. I don't think only someone from a poor neighbourhood hustles. It’s just another word for working hard and going for your goals. Nobody connected me to anyone, I hustled to get to where I am today,” he says.

Shah Rule will be performing with DJ Proof at Pasha, The Park, Anna Salai, on May 18 from 10 pm. Call 42676000.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 10:43:18 AM |

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