When Mumbai-based artiste Vivian Fernandes, better known by his stage name Divine, broke into the independent music scene in 2011 and rapped about life in the slums of his city, not many were aware of the underground hip hop community that was burgeoning in the country.
Seven years later today, the community is taking giant strides, with even Bollywood director Zoya Akhtar making a film, Gully, on the lives of Mumbai’s street artistes. But perhaps the best example of its success could be 24-year-old Prabh Deep Sagar, a New Delhi-based gully hip hop artiste, who is touted as the next big thing in the genre today. Sagar, who grew up in Tilak Nagar, one of west Delhi’s ghetto areas notorious for drug abuse, ventured into music in 2013. “I started making music after I met this guy, Jaspal Singh, at a Snoop Dogg concert,” he says. Apart from a brief tryst with b-boying (break dancing), it was this chance encounter with Singh, a PhD scholar studying the evolution of hip hop in Indian communities, that got Sagar closer to his calling. Singh was the one who got him to start rapping by inviting him to his house to record a track.
While leaving for Germany to finish his PhD, Singh also left Sagar his microphone. This encounter inspired Sagar to delve into the roots of hip-hop and learn the ropes of music production and recording. The artiste, who released a 12-track debut album Class-Sikh in October last year, reveals the trigger behind his music: “My emotions are about the situations that people are experiencing around me—family, friends or strangers. I’m always writing about what I see around me (such as drug addiction, poverty, gang wars, etc),” he says.
The album, which won the Toto Funds the Arts (a non-profit trust, which encourages young artistes in India through awards, workshops, etc) award last month, features songs majorly in colloquial Punjabi, interspersed with English and Hindi. The songs, which are angry, as well as altruistic, tackle the rampant drug addiction in the community head-on, as the artiste sings about his childhood and how he lost people around him to drug abuse and street fighting. Sagar says children in his community have been coming up to him to say how inspired they are. The album was released in collaboration with Azadi Records, an independent label launched by music journalist Uday Kapur and UK-returned music producer Manan Joshi aka Mo. “Prabh is like a brother. We have a great working relationship, so even if Azadi had not signed him, we would still be helping him,” says Joshi. Kapur and Joshi back Sagar, as they believe that the record has the potential to be the first Indian hip hop album that breaks out internationally through collaborations with other artistes and music labels.
By: Ananaya Banerjee