Storytellers of a new generation
In America, Hip Hop Went Commercial. In India It's Going Street, And It's For The Best

In America, Hip Hop Went Commercial. In India It's Going Street, And It's For The Best

Suede Gully, a multilingual rap anthem, introduces India's furious new poets to the aam janta.

They say it all began with a party. On August 11, 1973, playing DJ at his sister’s back-to-school-party in the recreation room of his building at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx, 18-year old Clive Campbell (a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc) decided to try something new. He noticed that the dancers loved the percussive breaks in the funk and soul records he played, and so used two turntables to elongate and extend just that section of the record – the booty shaking beat – that the dancers liked best. Because he was Jamaican born and knew the common practice in Dub music to speak over a record, he used his mic to urge dancers on during the repeating beats. The party went wild and the seed for hip hop was sown. The extended beat became The Break, the boys and girls who danced to it became break dancers or b-boys and b-girls, and the rhythmic talking over the beat, became rap. These elements, along with those graffiti punks tagging their names on NYC subway trains would, over the next two decades, spawn a musical revolution and a cultural movement that in time would envelop the entire planet. Its proof if you’ve ever needed one – a great party can change the world.

In 2017, that party is finally here in India. How else does one explain Suede Gully, the largest collaboration of Indian street artists to date through a multilingual rap anthem, combining all the elements that together make hip hop – music, dance and graffiti. 

This music video features 8 rappers, 36 dancers from 4 well-known b-boying crews and 7 artists from the emerging street art scene across Mumbai, Delhi, Madurai and Shillong. It's out on Nov 5th, but here's a taste.

Notice the slick production? The homegrown swag? It feels like a coming out party for the Indian street. Desi Hip Hop staking a claim and exciting us with the promise of a new movement in our cultural midst. Such a thing would have been inconceivable even a few years ago. Now it seems Indian-made hip hop is the new cool. If you are hip, you are down to hop, with this sound from the street.

So how did we get here?

From the streets of South Bronx to the gullies of Dharavi and Aizwal, hip hop has taken its time coming. It's been a long, slow and sometimes comical journey. We first learnt of hip hop when MTV and Channel V started beaming it to our drawing rooms in the early 90s. Middle class kids watching Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur being gangsta on television screens, trying to figure out the slang, while keeping an eye out for mom who was keen on raising her kid 'sanskari'. There was Baba Sehgal going on about liking his water cold, Apache Indian giving us a shout out from the UK charts and Govinda being, well, inimitably Govinda in Stop That. It wasn’t hip hop. It was barely rap. But it was a kind of beginning. Fast forward to Bollywood taking Punjabi rap mainstream with the likes of Yo Yo Honey Singh and Badshah. Bad boy party anthems with some talk thrown over danceable beats. It wasn’t hip hop either but it did introduce the idea of rapping to a mass audience. A commercial foundation of sorts for a music genre but thin on originality and lacking vitality and edge. A diverse talent pool would change all this.

Divine, rapping about 'real' issuesDivine, rapping about 'real' issues

Hip Hop’s origins is a story about youth expression rising up from the streets in the inner-city ghettos of America to find commercial success on radio and television. Exported to India, its story has traversed the opposite arc – from the commercial to the streets, where Hip Hop music is gaining an authenticity that is making it our own. 

In India, hip hop has finally gone desi. 

Divine, Naezy, Swadesi, Dopeadelicz, Khasi Bloodz, Madurai Souljour, Borkung Hrangkhawl, Brodha V  — if you don’t know these names, learn ‘em, check ‘em out and get with the program. From Mumbai, to Aizawl, from Kashmir to Bangalore, an edgy underground rap scene is finally breaking ground, voicing the street and keepin’ it real. Turn to them not for Ishq Wala Love or Chaar Botal Vodka or any of that faux-gangsta swag. They drop furious rhymes about who they are, where they are from and what they are about. It’s about pride, identity and angst. Wanna know what it means to grow up in a Mumbai slum? Hear it from Divine and Naezy. What about growing up with guns in Kashmir? That would be MC Kash. How about ambition? Listen to those guys from the Northeast – Khaasi Bloodz and Borkung Hrangkhawl. Wanna hear clever braggadocio in Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, English, Malayalam and Tamil, listen to the crews Swadesi, Madurai Souljour and Dopeadelicz.

MC Kash took to hip hop to give a voice to his peopleMC Kash took to hip hop to give a voice to his people

Rap is word. Word over beat. A single rap album often has more words than whole discographies in other forms of music. If you don’t talk about what’s really on your mind, if you talk about things that are not really you, you run out of things to say and the beat plays empty. A rapper must draw from his own life in experience, thought and feeling, if he is not to run out of words. This is where rap (and hip hop) derives its emotional power from. Also, one can do clever things with words over a beat. You can use your words like a rhythm that can use the sounds of a language to play off the underlying beat. If those verses additionally have rhymes, jokes, metaphors, references and wit, it adds further layers of excitement. This is where rap derives its technical mastery from. Imagine these together – word as rhythm and word as meaning – playing over a sick beat that gets your head nodding, and you have some idea of the power of hip hop and its essence.

Khasi Bloodz rap in their native language KhasiKhasi Bloodz rap in their native language Khasi

These new rappers operate on this essential wavelength. They are talking about the things that matter to them, about things they’ve experienced and the streets and places they’ve known. They are doing this with clever word play that has humour, anger, pride, angst and rhythm. And best of all, they are doing it in the languages they think in. There is something very exciting about hearing clever rhymes that begin in English and end in Bambaiya slang via Tamil. This is what one means by making hip hop our own – to embrace the multilingual nature of our country, in clever verse rendered to an Indian rhythm that talks about our everyday reality. With desi hip hop, India is gaining a new form of cultural expression that is edgy, authentic, original and goes where commercial Bollywood seldom does. 

So, remember. Suede Gully. Nov 5. To an internet close to you. Sneha Khanwalkar has produced the track on which Divine spits rhymes with Prabhdeep, Khasi Bloodz and Madurai Souljour among others. If you want a slick glance at where desi hip hop is at, this is it. 

The party has begun.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of

By Ishan Roy