Published: 09th September 2021
Rap Keli, Enjoy Madi: How Kannada rap stars are getting Gen Z to fall even more in love with the language
Kannadalli Rap Keli, Nodi, Enjoy Madi is what our Kannada rappers told us. We speak to some of these rap artists who have now set a benchmark for many upcoming rap or indie musicians and artists
Singers have fans. Rappers have cred.
When Karnataka's young and happening rappers saw a lot of rap songs in Hindi and Tamil trending on social media platforms and during concerts, they thought it was time to bring some of that attention to Kannada rap songs too.
While some of these rappers have used the tool to highlight social issues, others have used it to entertain and increase the use of Kannada among people. As a result, these first-generation rappers have inspired many young students to speak, sing or rap in Kannada. They say that times have changed for Kannada rappers too because a lot of foreign companies are signing Kannada artists to rap for their shows, web series and a lot more.
We caught up with a few of them to trace their career trajectories and ascertain the kind of impact they've been having:
Rapping to crush caste and oppression
For those who believe or say that untouchability doesn't exist anymore, you must listen to Kannada rapper and singer, Harish Kamble from Bidar. He says, "The reason behind my starting to rap in Kannada or write songs was to highlight my personal experiences with untouchability. There are a lot of places in Karnataka where this evil practice still exists. As we are termed to be the people belonging to a lower caste, we aren't allowed to enter temples or fetch water from rivers or water sources used by upper caste people. They still provide us tea to drink in coconut cups and food to eat on leaves. Such is the condition of Dalits."
Coming from a region in North Karnataka where Hindi is only spoken by a small group of people, Harish initially rapped in Hindi but he couldn't help but switch over to his mother tongue. He says, "In 2019, I wrote my first Kannada song, Jaati, which means religion or caste. I believe that this is the first anti-caste rap song in Kannada and I am one of the first anti-caste rappers in Kannada."
Harish Kamble's rap songs focus on caste discrimination among people in society (Pictures: Harish)
He continues, "Let people give up discrimination, we will give up the reservation. I uploaded this song on my YouTube channel. Though it didn't get many views in that particular year, I reshared it on Facebook in 2020 and got lots of likes and views."
Currently, Harish is writing a song on Rohit Vemula's suicide letter. He says, "I have summarised the message in the suicide letter to a song and it will be a rap song in Hindi titled Chand Se Sitaron Tak. I have also written a sequel to Jaati called Jaati 2 and hope to release these two rap songs soon."
Later, in 2020, Harish wrote a song called Rajneeti where he highlights how politicians focus only on their own benefits. He explains, "I got many threat calls for this song from many Hindutva groups. They told me that I will be murdered if I don't take that song down from my YouTube channel. Neither did I step down from writing songs nor did I unpublish it from my channel."
Harish is also a Science teacher in one of the government schools in Bidar
When asked the reason behind the threat calls, Harish says, "I wrote two lines that offended people who worshipped the cow.The lines are, Elli Goumata Safe, Aadre Aagli Bidu Rape. It means that cows are safe in India but it doesn't matter to the government if women or girls are raped. The same amount of safety and respect doesn't exist for women in India."
Harish also wrote a rap song called Mahamari Kathe which describes how COVID-19 does not differentiate on the basis of religion. "The song also criticises a section of the media for claiming that men went to the Tablighi Jamaat to spread the disease, but did not criticise people who attended the Kumbh Mela in Varanasi."
Putti-ng her rap where it belongs
Anushree Acharya, better known by her stage name putti_raps, was only 17 when she started rapping. She says, “I loved rap music and my friends encouraged me to participate in college fests.” And so, Putti began to rap covers and popular rap songs. One fine day, Rohith Saraswathi, a teacher-cum-hitchhiker visited Dayanand Sagar University for an event and during their conversation, he suggested that Putti write her own lyrics.
She recalls, “It was during the first lockdown that I wrote a rap song on my school crush. The song reached a lot of people through Instagram and got many likes and views. This not only made me feel happy but I realised that I was on the right track. Right after, I collaborated with other rap artists for various songs and performances.”
Putti AKA Anushree Acharya is currently studying journalism in Bengaluru (Picture: Anushree Acharya)
Anushree feels that Instagram has earned her more of a fan following than YouTube. She tells us how, “In the last lockdown, I realised that I can make one or two minutes videos that will capture the attention of people. Initially, I wasn’t consistent enough on Instagram, but these days, I have been trying to post videos regularly while juggling my studies.”
This 19-year-old has also written a song titled The Life of an Artist and she will be shooting the video soon. “I am excited to shoot my first song and post it on YouTube. Besides rapping and writing songs, I am also part of my college team, Spit Fire, which consists of five rappers and beatboxers. The rappers in this group perform in different languages and we are part of DSU's Centre for Performing Arts.”
Karnataka's rapid rapper
Everybody recognises M C Bijju as the fastest rapper in Kannada. You will be surprised to know that his record currently stands at 11 to 13 syllables in one second and around 120 words in a minute or so. Bijju, whose original name is Bijjala Nataraj, tells us, "Bijjala is the name of the most famous and powerful king of the Kalachuri dynasty. My parents, being Kannada poets, named me after him. If you ask how I developed an interest in rap in Kannada then it is all because of my parents. I have always been attracted towards Kannada literature. In fact, I wrote a poem called Male Banthu Male when I was in Class 2 and it was published in Taranga, a famous Kannada magazine."
Like many other youngsters, Bijju's attention slightly shifted to learning English in his college days. He says, "You know that we students, owing to a fear of being left behind, start learning English. But my love for Kannada has never decreased or changed. I started rapping in Kannada when I was studying for my degree but the serious goal of making a career out of it began six years ago. My first Kannada song was titled Aa Hudugi. Though I did not get much attention from the audience, I continued writing them, rapped and released them on different platforms. So far, I have released more than 45 rap songs and if I have to include the unreleased ones, I have more than 110 songs."
Bijju AKA Bijjala Nataraj is famous for fast rapping in Kannada (Pictures: Facebook)
As Bijju comes from a family of poets, he did face a lot of challenges when he started rapping in Kannada. He explains, "A lot of people criticised what I was trying to do. They said that I was destroying the language, words and its meaning by rapping in Kannada. Then I started focusing more on using the right words in my songs. I started reading and understanding more. Gradually, I became the fastest rapper around. Whenever other artists invited me during their concerts, I would go there and rap so fast that the whole crowd would go bonkers."
When asked if he has to maintain his vocal cords with different exercises to rap fast, he says, "Yes, my friends are always upset with me because I do not consume fried food, cold drinks or even spicy food. A little cut due to the consumption of these food items will lead to a lot of problems. I also do a lot of exercises, use salt water to gargle and a lot more."
Adding graphics and making it look more creative is one of the important facts in rap songs
Being a first-generation rapper, Bijju feels that many rappers from his generation have set a benchmark for upcoming artists. "The new artists who want to rap or have already started doing it have a lot of knowledge about the rap culture. They know the importance of rapping in regional languages and I feel that the rap culture is headed in the right direction," says Bijju whose YouTube channel, MC Bijju, has over 78,000 subscribers.
Because everything is All.OK
Alok Babu, who goes by his stage name All.OK, describes himself more as a multi-lingual artist than a rap artist. When Alok, who has been rapping for almost 14 years now, started his career there was no YouTube. He says, "Back then, there was no YouTube. Concerts and music shows were the only way to showcase our talent on stage. There were many times when we were given a token sum of money and sent off despite putting in a lot of effort to rap and write new songs in Kannada. We would release our songs on Orkut and Soundcloud."
In 2007, Alok and his hip-hop crew Urban Lads released their first album, Explosion 1, which featured Lucky Ali. Alok explains, "Sameer Kulkarni, who is one my friends, got Lucky Ali to sing for us. It is one of the earliest known Kannada rap albums to date. Rap is easy when you do it in your mother tongue rather than other languages."
All.OK's Happy song has got over 11 million views (Pictures: All.OK)
But when Alok and his team of artists started rapping in Kannada, their friends made fun of them and laughed at them saying it wouldn't work. "Back then, English rap songs were in vogue. That was a fact and a bigger challenge we had to deal with. This doesn't mean that we go on a protest to ban rap songs in different languages. What we did was we started supporting independent singers, rap artists and composers by giving them a platform. Our first Kannada rap song was Gari Gariyagi where we roped in different rap artists and released it on our YouTube channel, All.OK."
Alok says that surviving in the rap industry, with its many ups and downs, is an achievement for them now. "Over the last few years, I have released many songs both individually and through collaborative projects. Last year, I wrote and sang a song called Happy, which got over 11 million views. This was shot during the pandemic and it was a tough time for all to deal with. We were happy to motivate people." Indeed, this song is inspiring because you see only smiling faces throughout the song and it is paired with meaningful lyrics.
He is constantly experimenting with something new in terms of writing and rapping
Recently, Alok released another fantastic song called Good Morning. He says, "This song is meant to motivate youngsters to take only positive and good things over bad or negative things in their lives. The theme or idea behind writing this song is 'Humanity Over Religion'. Let's restart and rebuild with humanity."
Making a difference through art
When Madhura Gowda AKA EmmJee shot covers and posted them on her Facebook page and YouTube channel, she got a lot of attention. But it was Karthik Gubbi, the famous Kannada rapper, who invited EmJee to one of his stage performances. She recalls, “It was 2017 and while Gubbi performed, I would get to open for him and rap for a few seconds. The audience would go crazy and cheer loudly on seeing a female rapper on the stage. In 2017, I performed my first song, Sanna Sanna Mathu along with Gubbi. Then, I wrote the lyrics for a song called, Tamaso Ma Jyothirgamaya in 2019 which focuses on women dreaming of being independent.”
After this song reached a lot of people, EmmJee felt that there was no looking back. So far, she has released three rap songs from the 30 songs in her repository. “Recently, in the last week of August, I released a new rap song called Dooradalliyu which is an independent music song and has been received well. I have rapped one of the English songs for SHE, a Kannada feature film that was released on OTT recently. Then I also rapped a Kannada song called Nooru Nooru Aase for the Kannada film Malgudi Days.”
EmmJee AKA Madhura Gowda wants to rap more and more songs (Picture: Madhura Gowda)
EmmJee believes in grabbing all the opportunities that come her way and that’s what she has been doing so far. You will be surprised to know that besides being a singer, she is a dancer and painter too. “I studied in the Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology and then went on to study fine arts from Chitrakala Parishath College of Fine Arts in Bengaluru. Even during the lockdown, I kept doing research and learning about the history of hip hop music, listened to the lyrics of old Kannada songs and also conducted painting classes for aspiring artists. This is how I utilised my time apart from writing some beautiful rap songs.”
When asked about her future plans as a rap artist, this 29-year-old explains, “My aim is to use the mode of art to inspire and motivate many youngsters like me. I would love to write more and more songs, express myself to people and make a difference through art.”
The visual artist who went on to rap
Nobody laughs at Kannada rapping anymore. College-going students and working-class people enjoy it as much as they enjoy Hindi or Tamil rap, says Siddharth who is known by his stage name S.I.D. He says, "I started rapping in 2011 and was inspired by Urban Lads. Initially, I would rap in English because there was a perception among people that rapping in Kannada wouldn't work. Later, I understood it was my perception that was off and started rapping in Kannada. My first Kannada rap song, Gaanchali, was released in 2014."
In 2016, Siddharth released his second song called Rap Shishya, which he did using a lot of VFX. He says, "I added a lot of visual effects to this song and at that point in time, this was the first songs to have visual effects to a large extent. It got over one lakh views on my YouTube channel, S.I.D The Rapper."
S.I.D AKA Siddharth was a graphic artist and now he is a full-time rapper (Picture: Siddharth)
Gradually, Siddharth wrote, produced and released a lot of rap songs individually and by collaborating with other artists. "I was into the visual and graphic effect profession and music was just a part-time job for me. I thought a lot before I moved to pursue a career in music full time. I also started SID Bombs Production in 2015 and started earning a decent income through the same."
Besides writing rap songs and singing them, Siddharth also edits videos for other artists. So far, he has edited over 150 music videos. He says, "We struggled a lot when we released songs through different platforms. Now, it is no more the same scene. Rap artists or youngsters have different means to monetise their songs of rap music. For those, who want to take up rap in Kannada, it is a good career option and the future is bright for them."