Aakash - Article Image - 1

Malayalam rap rides the Reel wave, now set to go global

The final part of the 'Rap Gods of Kerala' series explains how the hip-hop scene in Kerala came alive banking on Reels and streaming platforms.
Part I: Kerala rappers spit bars, break into mainstream with a bang

Kochi: In the 2000s, music videos for Malayalis meant East Coast Vijayan or Franco. 'Ormakkayi Iniyoru Snehageetham' or 'Sundariye Vaa' ruled the playlists. By the 2010s, 'album music' faded from the mainstream. Independent artists became a rarity. Rappers are shaking up the mainstream now, but not before they had found a way to fill the vacuum. With streaming platforms like Spotify generating revenue and Instagram Reels ensuring massive reach, independent music is in its phase of resurgence, largely due to the hip-hop movement here. 

Rapper Fejo believes Reels have helped his earlier tracks like 'Koode Thullu', 'Dorothy', 'Nammal Onnalle' and 'Hey Nima' stay relevant. “Some of my songs are used in several car modification Reels and by several other content creators on Instagram. This way, the songs become an earworm and stay on in the circuit.”

While Hanumankind feels there needs to be a conscious effort to have an attention span longer than 15 seconds, he says it is positive that anybody can make and put out music these days. "You can make content in your room and there will be takers if it's good."

Imbachi says Spotify has positively turned music into a competitive game. “Earlier we had streaming platforms like Soundcloud here. But it wasn't monetised. When Spotify came into the picture, just like how streamers get an annual report of their favourite artist and songs, we too get a synopsis of our content on the platform, which pushes the artist to work harder." 

But he also says the primary reason for the interest of streaming platforms like Spotify in Malayalam music is because record labels have started looking at the South. "Labels like Mass Appeal, Universal and Sony Music have begun investing in videos featuring independent artists. So these labels push streaming platforms to promote our content.”

Agreeing with Imbachi, Ocha festival organiser Aashiq Bava says Spotify recently did an India Creators Event in Kerala because they consider it the next growing market in the south.

Music videos are back, but tread carefully
Fejo says that while releasing a single with the video would create the impression that the artist has faith in their content, people will only stay if the song is good. "The video of 'Koode Thullu' was done at Rs 30,000. Some of Dabzee's songs only have cover art, but it's hugely popular. His songs 'Malabari Banger' and 'Ballatha Jaathi' are examples of songs with cover art becoming chartbusters."

Aashiq Bava cites the song 'Oombalum Kanjiyum' by Malayali Monkeys as an example of a hit song that did not yield the desired results when it came out as a music video. "This is because the video showed only a single perspective of what that phrase meant. 'Oombalum Kanjiyum' meant different things to each listener depending on their experiences and that played a role in how the video was received." 

This is where relatability and connect come in. The relatability factor is correlated to the reach an artist possesses among the masses. Be it about politics or the mundanity of life, a listener's connect to the lyrical quality should ideally be the key to an independent artist's success. It need not be the case always, says Hanumankind and puts forth one name to prove his point: Tupac Shakur, one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time.

"Some of his most popular songs are him talking about the thug life, toting guns, sleeping around, making money, threatening anybody that steps on his toes and spitting at paparazzi. What do we know about that life? But it still is popular and we mouth the lyrics whenever it comes on."

Suhail Backer, who has directed several independent music videos, believes movies have started using rap music to promote their content as they have become aware of the hype the genre has been creating in the pop culture scene. “Manavalan Thug threw open the doors for Moplah rap. There is a growing market for Malabar hip-hop. There are even instances of artists not originally from Malabar making content in that dialect.”

A home-bred East Coast-West Coast rivalry?
In the 90s, the hip-hop genre witnessed one of the biggest pop culture feuds of the century when the rappers and fans of the East and West coasts of the USA broke into a dispute, the focal point of which was the rivalry between artists Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, one that ended with their murders.

Though nowhere that intense, there are rumours of some bad blood brewing behind the scenes here as well. Hanumankind feels though it'll be exciting times for the genre if that happens, it should be the music that wins at the end of the day. 

Imbachi hopes that won't be the case ever. “We as a community are just budding and it would be too early to have bad blood between talent. We are doing great now. The other day, Dabzee reached one million followers on Instagram. It's crazy when we think about it. Me and Dabzee are good friends. I still remember us sitting in a room and dreaming about making it big one day. Now is that time and I couldn't be happier for him." 
Pointing out that there exists a Delhi-Mumbai hip-hop rivalry, Fejo says once more artists come into the fold, the possibility cannot be ruled out.

More girl power
Like in every avenue, here too, the presence of female artists is disproportionate to male artists. Though we have talent powerhouses like TribeMama MaryKali, Indulekha Warrier and Irfana Hameed, there needs to be a space in this progressive subculture where women aren't satisfied with hand-me-downs.

Exciting times ahead for Malayalam rap
Aashiq Bava says the growth of the hip-hop scene in Kerala is something that has surprised even enthusiasts. “While organising the first edition of Ocha, a lot of people asked us why do such a huge stage event for hip-hop. By the second edition, the question had become why is the event not bigger. In a year, the growth has been exponential. He also believes it is not just hip-hop, but all independent music genres that will boom in the next two years.

Fejo, who has been in the scene for over 13 years, says the graph of the Southside story is only moving upwards from here and hopes Malayalam rap gets the international recognition Punjabi and Spanish music enjoy at present. "There will soon be a time when YouTubers lyrically dissect and review artists' content, similar to Desi hip-hop." 

He says the genre is currently in a place where there is a lot of commercial content with the sole intention of luring more loyal listeners. "Once we peak, there will be a situation where fans start demanding content that has a lyrical quality." 

Imbachi believes hip-hop is a lot like stand-up. It cannot be taught but has to come from within. “If you had told me I would be living off my music five years ago, I wouldn't have believed you. Today, I have quit my job and earn from the music I put out. That is a dream come true."

Hanumankind believes the rap scene is going to evolve. "I think the people should be ready for it and if they aren't it's still going to do its thing. So keep your ears and eyes open.”

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.