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.
Mixing Up That Jam
Fourteen years ago, a young hip hop ‘artist’ of 18 years made his way around Kuala Lumpur performing at local underground rap battles. Today he walks tall, flaunting his signature nose ring bling and being known as one of the most commercially successful Tamil Hip Hop artists in the industry. Not having shied away from the sheen of mainstream Kollywood music, Kavithai Gundar Emcee Jesz’ tracks exude the filmy charm that we all love.
Emcee Jesz peppers his conversation with RITZ with brutal honesty and opens up about friendships and the unique position he holds in the industry.
Describe the evolution of your stage name.
My stage name is a play on my actual name Sujesh. I took the ‘Jesh’ out of Sujesh and changed it to Jesz. The word emcee refers to a rapper and that’s how I became Emcee Jesz. Of late I have come to be better known as Kavithai Gundar, which translates to lyrical gangster, after the success of my independent album Kavithai Gundar.
Abroad it is norm core for rappers to use profane language. Would you say that South Indian rappers are a little tame for profanity? Many seem to want to deliver social messages. Are you open to trying a sexy, fun rap number without a social message?
Tamil is a powerful language and I think most Tamil rappers around the world respect the language too much to add profanity to their songs.I prefer not to use profanity because I really don’t feel the need for it. But, I do have a couple of tracks which contain highly explicit content. Most of my music is mainstream, commercial and radio friendly.
Hip hop and rap are from the West. How far have you had to Indianise your music to suit our audiences?
Hip Hop is a culture in itself and to Indianise it means to take away from its core essence. Tamil Hip Hop is an amalgamation of Tamil poetry and this subculture and I think it takes a lot of skill to stay true to the root art form while making it your own.
Who are your favourite artists internationally and why? And what do you think defines a great musician?
A couple of my favourites are Notorious B.I.G., Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Ja Rule.
Despite the fact that most of them have questionable side businesses, (laughs) they were brilliant in putting together chartbusters that are still remembered. For me, a great musician is someone who is real and doesn’t fake a persona.
I have been influenced by these rappers to a great extent. I am a big fan of AR Rahman as well. There is a magical quality to his music. He has inspired me to see the larger picture when it comes to music and not confine myself to being a rapper. I think that is why all my music has commercial value too.
How important are drama, awe and a carefully cultivated persona to the overall success of pop culture artists? What is your unique image?
Drama is what gets us the publicity. It is pretty much just how we package this persona that we don and promote it among fans. My unique image is my ‘KG’ (Kavithai Gundar) brand and also my looks. I am the only Tamil rap artist who sports a mukuthi (nose ring) and has long hair.
As for fashion, I am not very swayed by trends. You will probably find me waltzing into any showroom and picking up stuff that I think suits me and defines my KG image!
How important do you feel is writing your own lyrics and making your own music? Also tell us about your favourite quotable lyrics.
I write most of my lyrics. I believe that I can better deliver a message on my own rather than depend on a lyricist. Lyrics are all we have to tell our story. My favourite lyrics or if I could call it a ‘punch quote’ is “Neriki Sei”, which means do it right.
Where do you see yourself in the music industry 10 years from now? Do you want to make a mark internationally?
I think I have already managed my acclaim to international fame about 10 years ago. Another 10 years from now I will be at a stronger vantage point in the Tamil Hip Hop industry. There is lot that I as part of the Tamil music industry can deliver. I hope to inspire people through my music.
What is your biggest plus as a musician?
My biggest plus as a musician is that I can make my own hits, while working on other projects in Kollywood. Also as a musician I have the freedom to turn producer for other rappers.
Present and future projects.
I signed on to be the protagonist in a Tamil film called Chennai to Singapore. The movie is being directed by Abbas Akhbar and is set to release this month. Beside the movie, I am working on an album that is up for release this year, but I’d like to keep it all hush hush for now. (smiles)
The social issue closes to your heart.
Gender equality and climate change.
Some words on child labour.
I think governments should be more stringent in their action against those employing child labourers. I look forward to helping as many children as I can by educating them and giving them a safe place to stay. I would like to make a song about it too.
Some compliments you have received for your music.
I won an award for most popular artist of the year in 2009, at an award show by the #1 Tamil radio station in Malaysia THR Raaga. I think the award was a compliment in itself.
How come so many Tamil rappers are from Malaysia? Do you guys get along well and meet up?
Malaysia, especially Kuala Lumpur, is the motherland of Tamil Hip Hop. The Tamil Hip Hop revolution started here and now it has made its way into the music industry. There are new faces that keep emerging all the time. I think all the rappers here at KL are pretty tight. Most of the rappers here treat me as their big brother, which is a warm feeling,
Tamil rappers seem to dress similarly. Is that a very Western influence?
I personally don’t think so. Hip Hop has become a fashion statement too. Honestly you don’t find rappers dressing up like how artists used to or how people from the ghetto looked. Fashion trends and technology mount a lot of pressure on people to experiment with new looks on a day-to-day basis.