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Indian hip hop

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Indian hip hop is a genre of popular music developed in India. Desi hip hop is a term given by Bohemia for music and culture which combines the influences of hip hop and the Indian subcontinent; the term desi referring to the South Asian diaspora. The term has also come to be used as an alternative for rap music and even pop music which involves rappers of South Asian origins.


Apache Indian, UK artist of Indian origin, was the earliest to make an impact on the UK charts with a series of hits during the 90s.[1] This also paralleled the rise of Asian Underground in the UK.[2] The inflow of hip hop into India is also attributed to certain clubs and DJs in New Delhi in the 90s.[3]

Baba Sehgal introduced a caricaturist version of Hindi rap in the nineties with his albums.[4][5] In 1992, his album Thanda Thanda Pani sold 100,000 copies in three and a half months and brought rap music to the Indian club scene.[6]

In the 2000s the Hip hop scene remained limited largely to the underground, with a very niche loyal audience.[7] Hip-hop culture, including graffiti and b-boying started seeping into the club scene and street culture of big cities like Delhi and Mumbai.[8]

One of the early moments of Indian hip hop was the Bengali-language underground film Gandu which narrated a story of a rapper and had a soundtrack which mixed rap with alternative rock.[2] Besides Bollywood and commercial rap music, the underground hip-hop scene started shaping. Many emerging rappers, crews started to create a buzz in the underground hip-hop scene. Artists such as Roll Rida, Noel Sean & groups such as Machas With Attitude, Hiphop Tamizha and Street Academics pioneered respective vernacular rap music scenes.

Indian hip hop has become increasingly popular in India's biggest cities with big names like 'KR$NA' who has been picked up by talent management agencies like OML[9] who now have music videos with millions of views on YouTube.[10][11][12][13]

Director Zoya Akhtar was very impressed and fascinated after listening to "Aafat!" and "Mere Gully Mein". She wanted to portray the stories of both these young rappers and consequently approached DIVINE & Naezy. Akhtar pitched the idea of making a Bollywood movie based on their lives. Both DIVINE and Naezy left a huge impact on the Indian hip hop scene by bringing a large amount of audience.

Due to the exposure through Bollywood, rap became a household term and an increased production of rap music was observed, especially in the Punjabi music industry.[14] There is an ongoing debate among the hip-hop community about the contribution of Honey Singh to the genre. While some artists including Badshah,[15] Ikka,[16] Manj Musik and Bohemia[17] have acknowledged his contribution to the industry, others such as Raftaar[17] and Imran Khan[18] have openly denied it. There is also a negative sentiment among some followers of hip-hop culture in India regarding the recent commercialization of the genre.[19][20] However, this commercialisation has also led to expansion of the underground scene, with independent artists building a name in Indian hip hop. Because of this, the future of hip-hop in India is generally perceived to be positive.[19][21] There are many rappers in India, rapping in different languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Odia, Bhojpuri, Khasi etc.

Telugu hip hop became notable since the early 2000s when artists such as Smita started hip hop culture in the Telugu language. "Hai Rabba" and "Masaka Masaka" are her best selling albums which received wide acclaim, especially in the Indian sub-continent.[22] Artists such as Raja Kumari,[23] Roll Rida, Noel Sean and Manisha Eerabathini started the trend in the new-age Telugu hip hop by including rap.[24] With the rise of its popularity, these artists started working in Telugu cinema since the late 2010s.[25][26]

Tamil hip hop is gaining popularity in India. Many other languages like Kannada and Marathi are also becoming popular among the masses in India.[27][28]

Protest hip hop[edit]

YoungProzpekt (now KR$NA) released "Kaisa Mera Desh" in 2010. The track was an anti-corruption anthem against the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and the statement of Indian development in particular.[29] It earned a #2 ranking as one of the most watched music videos in India overnight following its release.[30]

Protest hip hop came into limelight again after mass protest started all over India against the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019. Since the crackdown in JMI, AMU and JNU, and the 2020 Delhi riots several rappers from all over the country have joined the cause with their own sonic protest. Rappers such as Rapper Shaz gained recognition for their protest songs alongside Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer (known as EPR).[31][32][33]

Diss Hip Hop[edit]

Disses became particularly popular and played a significant role in shaping Indian hip-hop post-2018.[2]


  1. ^ Larkin, Colin (1998) The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae, Virgin Books, ISBN 0-7535-0242-9, p.13
  2. ^ a b c Sarkar, Debarun (2023-05-19). "'Azadi's political until you're pressing play': Capitalist realism, hip-hop, and platform affordances". Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. 29 (6): 1437–1452. doi:10.1177/13548565231174598. ISSN 1354-8565. S2CID 258818888.
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