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Naezy: ‘I won’t ever stop’

Shriya Mohan | Updated on January 16, 2020 Published on January 16, 2020

Rapping up a storm: “Some of us are waiting for the right occasion to drop bombs”   -  COURTESY: CORONA RANTHAMBHORE MUSIC AND WILDLIFE FESTIVAL

The Mumbai based rapper on his debut album, on living in Bandra, and how he can’t make his parents understand his art

Cold fog hangs in the air but when the woofers drop hip-hop beats, Naezy the Baa, aka Naved Shaikh, India’s best-known rapper, is on fire. The 26-year-old Mumbaikar has the audience at the recent Corona Ranthambhore Music and Wildlife Festival swinging to his popular single Haq Hai — where he asks listeners to exercise their right to life, freedom and free voice. “Mera kaam hai logon ko sachchai mein nachane ka (My job is to make people sway to the truth),” he tells the audience as the crowd cheers wildly. Naezy and his fellow Mumbai rapper DIVINE were the inspiration behind Gully Boy, India’s Oscar entry in 2019.

In an interview to BLink he talks about his debut album Maghreb (which means West), a set of six tracks in which he raps about Mumbai life, the role and rise of hip-hop, middle class ignorance and how he is living his dream.

Excerpts:

Everybody said hip-hop was a passing phase. Today people rap in regional languages in the small towns of India…

It’s been a long journey and now I see a road filled with possibilities. I’ve always dreamt of seeing hip-hop in regional languages in India. People are not ashamed of it; they are now proud of rapping in their own mother tongues. This is a great thing to watch because India is such a diverse country. We are proud and thankful that this is happening. We want to double our efforts, work hard on our skills, fabrication and art, and raise the bar for Indian hip-hop.

When you and DIVINE started out, your songs were personal, about the strife you’ve seen in your life. Today, the content is diverse. Hip-hop in Assam and Meghalaya is being used as protest music. What does the Indian hip-hop trajectory look like?

I think it’s all scattered right now, to be honest. But slowly, it’ll find a direction. There are different kinds of listeners and audiences, different mentalities and different thoughts. Everyone drives hip-hop in their own way. Our country is dramatic. As you mentioned, people are using it as a medium of protest. Hip-hop has always been the medium to educate audiences, spread the truth and raise a voice against whatever is wrong around us in society. So this is the best time in India for hip-hop. In Assam and Delhi, some rappers have already taken that pen and started throwing their feelings into their writing. But some of us (such as DIVINE and I) are slowly looking for the right time to talk about things. Some of us are waiting for the right time and right occasion to drop bombs!

If now is not the right time then when is? What are you waiting for?

I’ve said some things in my just released album. I don't want to be too specific with a certain issue. But there are several issues I am pointing to in a different way. I don't want to get into trouble. My career has just started. I’m waiting for the right time when I’ve set things up for myself.

Tell us more about your album.

I’ve spoken about failed governance. This isn’t about just this government. It’s about tolerating decades of a corrupt system. Now I see and experience things from close quarters. I’ve talked about riots, about Mumbai city and how much we’re suffering as a country. I’m pointing out to the ignorant people in our community. I’ve seen people ignoring everything who don’t want to be a part of it. They just want their good lives. They are enjoying Majjani life Kurbani side (fun life minus sacrifices). This is my line. Majjani life is a phrase from Munna bhai MBBS. Everyone today wants the Majjani life, they want their comfortable lives and just want to be there for their family but not get involved in other things. So I’m pointing fingers at them and asking them questions. What is our responsibility? Can we do more than just enjoy life? Can we learn to care for our society? We don’t make the effort to find correct news. We are all on Whatsapp, listening and believing in the content being circulated. We are spreading hatred. We are not properly informed. That’s what I’m talking about in the album.

Hip-hop has always been seen as having emerged from the gully. But now that is changing. There’s such a thing as privileged hip-hop, too. Your comments.

There’s a song in my album where I’m talking about social differences and how hip-hop took birth in the gully of India. We are coming to you from the gully. We are bringing hip-hop from the streets. Whether the US or UK or India, or anywhere in Japan or Nepal, hip-hop was always from the streets. It doesn’t mean it’s not for those who are privileged. But traditionally the privileged guys were not hip-hop doers, artistes or rappers. They were the promoters who invested money in hip-hop. Now we are merging the social classes. Look at how Ranveer Singh and Zoya Ma’am (Gully Boy’s lead and director respectively) and other Bollywood biggies got interested in hip-hop. We are coming together for a cause, for a new movement, which is hip-hop, and I’m excited about it.

Earlier you were all solo performers but now we're seeing exciting regional and international collaborations. Will there be day when the rest of the world will tune into Indian hip hop?

Absolutely, that’s what our aim is. Take Spanish songs. People across the world love them, even though they don’t understand the language. We are aiming at making Hindi hip-hop an art form beyond language. For that we are collaborating with talented rappers from different corners of the country. People are turning ghazals into rap songs. What I want is for us to not forget our roots. We are influenced by African America culture but we are using shayari or words and poetry from traditional culture and merging everything with hip-hop seamlessly. Now we’re planning collaborations with international artistes. We are planning to collaborate with some big names in the mainstream American hip hop scene. Our tracks are being mixed and remastered in New York. We’re collaborating with the the sound engineers of (American rappers) Nas and Jay-Z. We are helping each other grow.

How has life changed since Gully Boy?

Life has changed a bit. Now I’m living in west coast Bandra, which was my dream. I used to write lyrics about this.

(Raps) West coast pe rehwe apna bhi ghar

ghar waalon ko khabr nahin

armaanon ko sabar nahin

I wrote that my desires had no patience,that my family had no inkling of my ambitions. Now I have a rented house in Bandra. I own a Mercedes car. I have tens of thousands of branded clothes. I’m living my dream. My whole life has changed. When I go to the airport the paparazzi shoot pictures. I go to the mosque to pray and people want to take selfies and come to ask me when my next song is out. I can’t eat or roam freely in Mumbai (laughs).

I’m doing shows. I’m touring. I’m partially happy. But sometimes I stop and think whether this is what I wanted to do with my life. Being an artiste you have to do stuff like this. You are an entertainer. But I stop and think whether my parents would ever be able to understand what I’m doing. They don’t want me to be an entertainer. They think I dance to get paid. It’s hard for me to make them understand that what I’m doing is legit. I’m having a hard time but I’m enjoying it all nevertheless.

What makes it all worthwhile?

The love from the audience when I see them smiling, when I see them crying. The emotions that pass in front of my eyes bind me to what I do. That’s what makes me stick. For young minds to spark, for my albums to be impactful… I am a key part of the hip-hop revolution in India and I can’t be sitting there doing a 9 to 5 job. It’s so important for me to be a part of the scene and do what I do. I won’t ever stop.

Shriya Mohan

Published on January 16, 2020
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