Balancing fun with social messaging: The Telugu rap scene

Rap artistes Roll Rida, Pranav Changanty, Meghraj Ravindra, MC Uneek, and MC Mike speak to TNM about the challenges they face in the field.
Balancing fun with social messaging: The Telugu rap scene
Balancing fun with social messaging: The Telugu rap scene

The story of Telugu rap piques a music enthusiast's curiousity for several reasons. Primarily, it's a genre that's quite young, about four years since its inception and is still full of many possibilities. Another interesting dimension to Telugu rap is the fact that it wasn't quite born out of a social charge, unlike in the West.

Many a Telugu rapper, namely Roll Rida, MC Uneek, MC Mike, Pranav Chaganty, Meghraj Ravindra, have no qualms about calling themselves 'commercial rappers', because they want their music to be sustainable first before they use it as a tool of social consciousness.

Telugu rap numbers have significantly captured the colourful side of the Telugu speaking community more than its problems. Talk about rap numbers that went viral, be it Roll Rida's ‘Patang’ (that is an ode to the kite-flying community in Hyderabad) or Pranav Chaganty's ‘Panipuri’ (that talks of the love for panipuris among Telugus) or Mc Uneek and Mc Mike's ‘Jimpak Chipak’ (that is an ode to the funnier side of Hyderabad), the rappers have focused on the fun-quotient, the regional and musical appeal.

However, it's important to note that the rappers are doing this to ensure their sustainability before they attain a certain stature and can trigger an impact with their music. Rapper Mc Uneek aka Harish says, “The direction of Telugu rap is more dependent on where the audiences want it to go than what the artiste wants to do. The ideal route is to make a couple of commercial songs, develop an audience base. To hit the mark, you need to strike a chord with the masses, like we did with ‘Jimpak Chipak’. Then you bring your socially aware/conscious music, because you have an established audience who would readily listen to your work. If you want to be sustainable as an independent artiste, it's inevitable to take the commercial route. Otherwise it's better that you take up a 9 to 5 job and do your socially conscious stuff sans much reach. I have a hope to create music that will have social impact in the future because my music is sustainable now.”

Another reason that Telugu rappers are trying maintain this fine balance between entertaining and purposeful rap numbers is also because of online trolls and political groups that target musicians. Rapper Meghraj Ravindra aka Megh-Uh-Watt, who's made a mark with numbers like ‘Manam’, ‘Dhoorjati’ that discuss issues of women safety, civic responsibility, corruption and humanity, quips, “I can't quite help but agree that the attempts to reflect social issues through rap in Telugu have only been few and far between. One needs to understand the audiences aren't quite open to reflective content in Telugu rap. Besides, there are groups that come back at you with trolls and warnings when you criticise the system, and force you to take the commercial route.”

The Telugu music industry is one fraternity that constantly seeks validation from film music over any other form. On that front, rappers like Roll Rida and Pranav Chaganty have played a key role in taking Telugu rap to the mainstream listener base. With numbers in popular films like A..Aa, Kaala, Hello, and Hushaaru, they've certainly given Telugu rap a good push.

Interestingly, the two have utilised their movie and television fame to their advantage on the independent circuit, too. Roll Rida, who was also seen on Bigg Boss Telugu season 2, recently came up with two music videos ‘Arupu’ and ‘Radhu’, that served as a mirror to society in the way it treats its women and how they deserve better. Pranav's videos ‘Drunkard on the Road’ and ‘Thalli Bhaarama’ have also talked about the menace of drunken driving and women’s safety.

Roll Rida remarks, “My earlier rap videos like ‘Breaking News’ and ‘Patang’ entertained people and made them dance. Had I started off as an underground rapper only discussing social issues, I wouldn't have grown much beyond that and even had an audience. My films and the Bigg Boss stint were platforms to tell people what Telugu rap was all about. I now have 9-10 year olds sending me their rap videos through their parents' accounts on Facebook. Imagine the reach they'll have a decade or two from now. You'll find better rappers than me in the future. I have only tried to lay a foundation for them.”

Telugu literature, thanks to poets like Palkuriki Somanatha, Srinadha, Nannayya and Vemulavaada Bheemakavi, is full of instances where several forms of poetry like padya kavitvam, bhava kavitvam, bandha kavitvam, and vachana kavitvam have thrived. Rapper Pranav Chaganty feels Telugu rap is an extension of vachana kavitvam, where Telugu words are set to a particular scale and rhythm.

“Many say we are inspired by the rappers from the West. But Telugu language has had poets like Vemulavaada Bheemakavi and Somanatha who popularised protest/ freestyle poetry back in the 11th and 13th century. A factor that pegged us back is that legendary Telugu poets wrote poetry more in praise of Gods and kings than the people. The time is now ripe to remind people of the glorious Telugu past and reintroduce it to this generation with relevant themes,” he says.

The need of the hour is also a strong community of Telugu rappers who unite on a larger platform for larger causes. Mc Uneek, however adds, “Frankly, there is no platform to facilitate it (Telugu rap) though. I, Roll Rida and several others did get together for concerts at night clubs but nothing that warranted media attention. Fusing Bollywood and Tollywood classics with rap/hiphop in cultural venues is on our agenda for the future. We are trying to tie up with digital marketing platforms to create unique content. The scene might just change in 2-3 years.”

And looks like there's some good news after all, with Roll Rida's upcoming album ‘Jathara’ that'll see him collaborating with regional and top national rappers, capturing the several distinct musical flavours of the country. 

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