Distinctive personalities. Unique styles. An abiding love for their music. Our pick of 5 Tamil rappers and hip hop musicians are a groovy, fun lot. In this exclusive, they talk to Ritz about a range of topics from their craft to the use of profanity and even their fashion sense. With June 12 marking the World Day Against Child Labour, we ask the artists about the menace and find that they are also all heart, as they emphasise on every child’s right to dignity and life through education.
Hustle And Flow
From growing up breakdancing on the sets designed by his architect father to becoming a hugely popular name in the Tamil music industry, Lakshmi Narasimha Vijaya Rajagopala Seshadri, aka Blaaze has pushed the limits of his musical prowess. With 14 years, a whole lot of film music and an extensive history of stage shows under his belt, Blaaze has cultivated an aura of awe and ingenuity that leaves fans screaming for more. Continuing his legacy, Blaaze tells RITZ that he’s been “real angry and had explicit lyrics in some of my rhymes, but when it’s time to spread music, it’s always better to do it with positivity rather than hate.”
Define your style of music especially in the context of your interesting background of a TamBrahm boy growing up in Zambia and touring the United States.
From living 25 years in Zambia to studying at a boarding school in Suffolk, England and then moving to Columbia College, Hollywood for my Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema- my perspective is truly worldwide.Having said that, being in the motherland, Chennai, for over the last ten years has allowed me to discover my roots, my ancestry, Tamil, Sanskrit, religion and tradition.Life has taken me from my presidential rap song in Zambia with only a guitar and keyboard in 1991, to being onstage at an AR Rahman concert with 80 live musicians, to releasing my first Sanskrit rap. My music is constantly evolving and growing.
Hip hop and rap are from the West. How far have you had to Indianise your music to suit our audiences?
Hip hop and rap are inborn. If we have something to say and we say it with a beat and in poetry – It’s a rap!
I first really learnt to Indianise my thoughts in – In My Father’s Words by Zambezi funK. It was the first time that we expressed our thoughts on religion and its effects on us as an Indian society. Though the song was in English, the sound and crux of the message made it truly Indian, yet global (smiles).
Who are your favourite artists internationally and why? And what do you think defines a great musician?
My favourite artists are 2Pac, K-rino, Miles Davies and Prince. They had, still have, the ability to make you feel, through sound, notes and syllables.
For me a great musician is one who stays real to the art and still manages to reach the world.
How important are drama, awe and a carefully cultivated persona to the overall success of pop culture artists? What is your unique image?
It’s important to have an image as you are discovered but it’s also just as important to re-define that image as you learn and grow.My image comes with the stage. There is no conscious effort to portray oneself as this or that. I think we try to stay true to who we are deep inside, the rest is just perception.
One routine you follow to create music? Some music directors go abroad, some go on luxury cruises etc. What gets your creativity going?
Prayers. Issues. Everyday instances.I get triggered anytime and I just allow myself to be a tool to express that in the best way I can. Fastest you have made a rap and the compliments you received for it.
We were on the Jai Ho tour and I had been doing the same rap on Humma Humma for a while. Suddenly during one of the rehearsals Rahman said, ‘Hey if you have a new rap, join in.’ I felt my heart skip several beats and I had about two minutes to come up with and perform a rap that would be ‘worthy’ of Mr Rahman. I rushed on stage and the lead guitarist, Joel Shearer, threw me a pen and a piece of paper and I started to rap out a really trippy triple time triple syllable flow, before the song reached the background music interlude! That Rap made it onto the rest of the shows and that was a ‘wow’ moment for me. Also I remember the guitarist exclaiming, ‘That’s badass!’
How international are Indian musicians today? What do you think the future will be like for us?
The world is so small these days and we have the added advantage of a deep musical heritage in our blood. So as we explore and collaborate, the future could be real melodious.
From 2PAC – Me against the world:
They punish the people that’s askin questions
And those that possess, steal from the ones without possessions
The message I stress: to make it stop study your lessons
Don’t settle for less – even a genius asks-es questions
Some words for aspiring musicians…
Always keep it real and express yourself. Do what really makes you happy and enjoy the journey. The struggle always gives rise to the hustle.
Abroad it is norm core for rappers to use profane language. Honey Singh has also been criticised for his vulgar lyrics although his songs had a great following. Would you say that South Indian rappers are a little tame for profanity? Many seem to want to deliver social messages.
Nah. I’ve heard some real gangsta talk here too (laughs). I think the platform determines what we put out. I’ve been real angry and had explicit lyrics in some of my rhymes, but when it’s time to spread music and spread a song, it’s always better to do it with positivity rather than hate.
My mantra is: If it’s real, it’s required. Not just for the sake of it.
Your unique voice, we feel, is one of your greatest pluses. What do you feel are your strengths?
My passion for writing songs, love for syllables, exposure to world music, family, and commitment to work.
Present and future projects.
I have just completed a collaboration with Veena maestro Rajesh Vaidya and Paul Jacob on the first Sanskrit Rap – the Syamala Dandakam. It’s my ‘present’ and my ‘future’ project. The music will be available soon through doopaadoo.com.
Also we’ve just formed the first Rap Act from India and Sri Lanka – it’s called Asian Underground Music – South Asian Invasion. It includes Kingsouth Krishan, Paul J, Scratchmaster Kave and me. The first two singles are ready for the mix.
The social issue closest to your heart.
Blindness. I even made a short film about a blind gentleman in Bengaluru called Braille Babu which showcases his work.I also feel strongly about child labour – I witness it everywhere, everyday and it’s getting worse. I think awareness is the key and action must follow. My family tries to do its bit. For the last 10 years now we have celebrated my son’s birthday at an orphanage for girls in the city. The only way we can empower children is through education.
You have worked with some of the biggest names in the Indian music industry today. Tell us about some of your experiences.
My journey so far has been a blessing. AR Rahman really showed me how to blend the flows and raps with the norms of the film industry. He taught me to view songs from the director’s point of view.
Amitabh Bhachchan, or Uncle B as I call him, was also fun to work with and train when he had to portray a rapper in the song BnB from Bunty Aur Babli. Ilayaraja had some cool insights into every word and phrase that I rapped and its metering.
Kamal Haasan knew all the right words for the Unnaipol Oruvan song and allowed me to do my own thing.
Also I have rapped for Rajinikanth Sir’s movies for the last 13 years, I finally got to meet him on May 4. It was surreal! He even gave me his blessings (smiles)
Who would your dream music collaboration be with and why?
My music teacher, Mr Teiron Jonesv, from Kitana Primary School. He introduced me to the world of music and now I’m swimming in it.
Blazer: His Studio
Photographer: Sai Nikileshwar