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.
The name rings synonymous with Tamil Hip Hop and for those who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s his Maadi Thirantu ruled the airways making him a household name. Yogi B has come a long way since pioneering the Tamil Hip Hop scene and even to this day his songs are ‘still dope’.
Maybe it is his pottu or maybe it’s just the name that gives you this deeply spiritual vibe, but the man is disarmingly young at heart, calls his mother amma and is an out and out role model for young hip-hoppers. Yogi B allows RITZ a look-see inside his world.
How did Yogeswaran Veerasingam become Yogi B?
I was 14 when I wanted to become a rapper. My genre’s precedent to becoming an ‘emcee’ is a moniker and I chose ‘Yogi B’. This was because I was very taken up with Hinduism in my teens and wanted to be a Yogi, thus Yogi B was the logical conclusion.
Abroad it is norm core for rappers to use profane language. Would you say that South Indian rappers are a little tame for profanity? And how about you?
Profanity in hip-hop lyrics were used to musically express the harsh realities of African American life. Contextually, these words in rap extruded profound emotions rather than mundane vulgarity.
For us Asians however, it would be asinine to emulate American lifestyles. I consciously made an effort not to blatantly curse in my songs.
I’m very glad that South Indian rappers have shunned profanity; I feel it is also as a sign of respect to the dignity of classical languages.
I have produced many tracks that are just plain ‘sexy and fun’. Hip-hop is all about real life, so it has to be fun to stay positive..
How far have you had to Indianise your music to suit our audiences?
I have always infused Asian elements in to the lyrical ideology and the musical sound of my albums, English and Tamil. When Vallavan from ‘Yogi B & Natchatra’ came out, it defined the Tamil hip-hop genre. My upcoming album, Manthrahood has a lot of South Indian instruments, which has been a long time ambition.
Who are your favourite artists internationally? And what do you think defines a great musician?
I have a long list (smiles). Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Beatles, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dr Dre, Naughty by Nature, NWA, Wu Tang, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Warren G, Mobb Deep, The Prodigy, Babyface, Boyz II Men, Run DMC, Redman, Teddy Riley, Blackstreet, Timbaland, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Bob Marley,. My Indian faves are of course the legendary trinity of South India; MSV, Ilayaraja and AR Rahman.
Great musicians are humble souls who have astounding artistry and admirable ideology in sound character.
How important are drama, awe and a carefully cultivated persona to the overall success of pop culture artists? What is your unique look?
Drama and awe are purely celebrity marketing tactics for Pop artists, which are necessary to be on the media radar of and grow brand equity. Persona coupled with exceptional talent and business finesse is what will keep you alive in this industry.
I have been told for the longest time that my santhana pottu is my signature look but in truth for me it is what my Amma always taught me to do, pray. My fashion sense gravitates towards anything that is urbane and suave.
How important do you feel is writing your own lyrics and making your own music? Also tell us about your favourite quotable lyrics
Penning your own rhymes on your own tracks is obligatory for a bonafide hip-hop artist but producing your music isn’t.On that note, my favourite quotable lyric is by Sting from the song ‘Russians’:
How can I save my little boy
From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
Do you feel it is easier for women to get famous quicker as musicians, while men have to try really hard?
No. The competition for women are not men, but other women.
Where do you see yourself in the music industry 10 years from now? Do you want to make a mark internationally?
In 10 years I see myself with voluminous songs with mad music videos from a successful career, financially and artistically. I am blessed to have already made a mark on the global Tamil diaspora.
How international are Indian musicians today? What do you think the future will be like for us?
I think we are still not truly international because Indian artists don’t have a significant fan base outside their ethnicity. ARR however is the golden benchmark for all of us Indian artists.
What is your biggest plus as a musician?
My edge I think would be that I produce my own music, my voice, my rhymes and my message.
Who would your dream music collaboration be with and why?
My dream collaboration would be with SPB sir again on an original Tamil funk-soul track because he is a living legend in music.
Present and future projects.
For the past 3 years I have been slaving on my follow up album to Vallavan. It is titled ‘Manthrahood’ by ‘Yogi B & Natchatra’ (Dr Burn & I). And then music for movies, music documentaries and other artists under my record label, Boombox Records.
The social issue closest to your heart.
The rot of mankind as a species, due to corrupt politicians, eventually leading to war.
Some words on the menace of child labour.
Developed countries must place precedence of children welfare above all else.
I come from a middle-income family. My Appa had a stroke at a very young age but he worked till his last years and my Amma sacrificed daily to provide us with everything from education to food on the table. I have come to realise that countless children have it much worse than I, as such I have assisted numerous organisations that give these kids a decent chance in life.
Some compliments you have received for your music.
‘Your music was my college life anthem’
‘This is Tamil hip-hop, everything else is a pathetic copy’‘
Even my grandparents like your songs’
‘I started rapping because of you, Anna’
How come so many Tamil rappers are from Singapore-Malaysia? Do you guys get along well and meet up?
I was the founding member and the principal music producer of a Hip Hop group called Poetic Ammo. Our first album, entitled It’s a Nice Day to be Alive, was released in 1997 and was a breakthrough in the Hip Hop scene in Malaysia. The song Vallavan was part of this album. And thus the Tamil hip hop scene was born. In 2007, my album Vallavan in collaboration with Natchatra, a duo comprising of Dr Burn and Emcee went viral. This gave a new lease of life to the Tamil hip-hop scene in Malaysia, thus mushrooming a legion of rappers into exploring with this art form.
Tamil rappers seem to dress similarly. Is that a very Western influence?
Both rap and its associated urban apparel are from the west so not only Tamil rappers but all rappers globally follow the fashion of their hip-hop idols in the states. The same implies to rockers.