Hip hop artists from Shillong using music and graffiti to speak up

Tales of discontentment and disillusion

Culture

October 12, 2018

/ By / Kolkata



Vocalising the vox populi

Vocalising the vox populi

Conceived in the US as the voice of black rebellion, hip hop has disintegrated into something violent and misogynistic. However, in Northeast India, artists are going back to the roots of the genre to voice the vox populi.

The term, “hip hop” has its origins in the New York and its surrounding region of the 1970’s. Known as an emerging urban culture involving fast paced rap music, intricate body bending break dance moves and a shower of colourful graffiti art, hip hop was produced by the young people of some of New York’s most neglected parts. Locales like Hell’s Kitchen and Bronx with their enormous African American population gained the reputation of using hip hop as a political tool to air their grievances. The likes of Tupac Shakur and Calvin Broadus became cultural icons in the face of anti-racism.

Four decades later, hip hop in the US is associated now with misogyny and violence. Yet, it is now that the hip hop movement which has been steadily gaining popularity in the Northeast region of India since the late ‘90s has gone back to being to its roots. Topping the charts in 2017, with rappers like Prabh Deep, Divine and Hard Kaur, hip hop has consolidated its place as the king of the musical food chain in the region.

Rapping to express

Rapping in Khasi in a bid to remember the culture identity

Rapping in Khasi in a bid to remember the culture identity

Khasi Bloodz’, a rapper from Shillong released the song, “This is My Life” which became one of the most popular songs in the region. The song makes one of the subtlest yet strongest political statements in the industry. Focusing on issues such as poverty and unemployment, Khasi Bloodz’s songs are a plea to his audience to bring about a change. Bloodz’s work has inspired a multitude of up and coming artists the likes of whom consist of artists like the gospel inspired rapper crew Kingdom Culture. Shanboklang Lamin, the youngest of the four-man crew said in an interview to an Indian media, “We’re like the ‘third generation’ of rappers (Khasi Bloodz) and for us, they’re the pioneers – they started it all. For us, rap is a medium to express ourselves. We don’t even want to label ourselves as Christian artists. We’re just artists.”

A local collective movement known as, “Movement of Expression” led by Mrinal Paul known in the music circles as Moksh was formed with the idea of curating hip hop events in and around Shillong and Meghalaya. The crew started off as a four-man team featuring Meghalaya’s most diverse group of rappers from Bengali, Assamese, Nepali and Khasi descent. Moksh’s song, “Poro Ninda Poro Chorcha” delves deeper into the Bengali phrase which means, “people love talking about other people” and is a cultural critique of the reverse racism that he faces in the Northeast.

Khasi speaking groups on the other hand, use their language to make a statement. In an interview Khasi Bloodz had said, “The situation up here is messed up. More and more kids are going over to drugs these days. Unemployment is rampant and people have to migrate over to the metropolises. They are now giving up on their mother tongue for English. If we give up on our language, what else have we got left? When I rap in Khasi, it’s because I want to make a statement.”

Rebelling through graffiti

The art of resentment

The art of resentment

Hip hop graffiti art, on the other hand, is an immensely powerful political tool in the right hands. It started in 2010, when an unknown artist drew provocative graffiti targeting Christian hypocrisy on the walls of Don Bosco Technical Institute in Shillong. The image featured Pope Benedict XVI with the message, “Arrest this man.” This was followed by the caricature of the then governor with the message, “Uranium sold here” appearing on the walls of Raj Bhavan.

Small axe, as the unknown artist calls himself on the web, said over social media, “You can’t get to these government stooges without humiliating them.”

With discontent and disillusion brewing across Shillong, the rebel spirit of hip hop continues to fester in the youth.

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