Naved Shaikh, popularly known as Naezy, shot to fame when Ranveer Singh portrayed a character based on his life in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy . Before becoming part of popular discourse, he was already famous among the independent music lovers because of his rap songs such as ‘Aafat’ and ‘Meri Gully Mein’. His songs, mostly autobiographical, are known for expressing the aspirations and frustrations of people living in slums and streets. His debut album Maghreb has songs which talk about social issues including economic inequality, political instability and life of people living in the streets of slums. Here, he talks about how life changed after Gully Boy , what defines Gully Rap and why youth relates to his music.
What intrigued you to come up with Maghreb ?
I was in the UK for a while and only recently came back to India. The experience there made me realise that we are very much influenced by the western culture in every sense. I asked myself, what is my originality? Throughout my life, I belonged to India but what is that thing which is unique? The Hip Hop scene in India came from western countries. I wanted to translate that idea. West translated in Urdu is Maghreb, which became the album’s title. I started writing songs which represent the central idea. It’s a reflection of what I have seen in my life and whatever my thoughts are. They were piling up for a while and I put it outside in through this album.
Some feel Gully rap is losing its original meaning?
After seeing the success of Gully rap, some musicians are trying to imitate us. But it is not everyone's piece of cake. They are trying to make it a saleable item which it is not. The values that it represents are much deeper than how it is represented. I think the main idea is to become the voice of the unheard. Through this album, I am trying to put light on the issues on which the idea of Gully rap stands for. People are making Gully rap as a cool thing but they are not aware of the issues that concern people living in slums. I do not want it to become commercialised.
How has your journey from slum to stardom translated into your writings?
My main inspiration is my life itself. I wanted to prove myself and that is why I kept trying despite failures. I get support from my family and my neighbourhood which pushes me to do something. After becoming famous, I moved from my neighbourhood to Bandra. But now when I go back to Kurla, I realise that life hasn’t changed for the people living there. They inspire me to keep going. With this album, it was an opportunity for me to make a comeback as I was not releasing a lot of music. My fans were upset and I wanted to make them happy through meaningful music.
What do you mean by meaningful music and why do you think youngsters relate to the rap you make?
It is very important to make music which is meaningful instead of listening to the commercial song where they are only talking about girls, partying and having fun. Our music is deeper and it's about life. That’s why people relate to it.
In one of the songs, I say income cannot be the criterion for happiness. In my eyes, a rich person who is enjoying his life and partying is not a winner but the person who is giving back to his family and playing his role with responsibility is the winner. When you think about the surroundings and the social environment, it’s a kind of awakening which makes them conscious about their lives.
How do you think the success of Gully Boy has changed your life?
There are good points and there are some negative points as well. While I am enjoying the new fame, money and recognition, I am also receiving a lot of hatred from the independent rappers. People are looking at me as a commercial rapper as I am getting involved in things that I don't want to do. Also, my privacy has been snatched. I can't roam around freely. The good part is we are trying to find a way to make use of whatever recognition we have got to serve the whole Hip Hop scene in a better way.
How do you think that the idea of Hip Hop has been assimilated into the original regional voices?
We express more and better when we rap in our regional languages as it comes from heart. The whole scene started with the success of my ‘Aafat’ which changed the outlook of rap and then ‘Meri Gully Mein’ gave the idea of how uniqueness can be special. Now some people are rapping in Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Assamese and Bengali. We may have been inspired by the west but we are now creating a strong base of Indian sensibility in rap with our roots, culture and tradition. We are not completely following them. We are not talking about women in a bad way, we are not making explicit lyrics and we are moulding it in the Indian way.
What do you think about the youth of India?
I have a lot of faith in young India. As you can see around, young India is smart to think about the real issues and that is why they are fighting for justice. I think people like us have set the right examples for youngsters. We have to tell them that adapting to new ways of living does not mean forgetting the roots.
In my eyes, a rich person who is enjoying his life and partying is not a winner but the person who is giving back to his family and playing his role with responsibility is the winner