The 5 torchbearers for the future of Indian Hip Hop
Enter: Deep Kalsi, Panther, Irfana, MC Altaf & Young Galib
Just like its other Asian counterparts, Indian Hip Hop started gaining popularity in the 1990s, influenced by the rise of Hip Hop culture around the globe. One of the many pioneers of it was none other than Baba Sehgal, who introduced Hindi rap to the mainstream audience with hit tracks in ‘Thanda Thanda Paani’ and ‘Dil Dhadke.’
Indian Hip Hop really started to gain steam in the early 2000s. One of the major breakthroughs for Indian hip hop came through the success of Yo Yo Honey Singh, who incorporated rap tracks into one of India’s most lucrative businesses in entertainment, Bollywood. Even when he stepped away from Bollywood soundtracks, it flew. In 2011, he released an album titled International Villager, which became the first non-film music album to dominate radio waves in almost a decade.
Yo Yo Honey Singh also founded the rap collective Mafia Mundeer, India’s first Hip Hop group, along with other rappers like Raftaar and Badshah, who have gone on to make amazing Rap careers for themselves.
In Indian Hip Hop, there are also independent kings like Emiway Bantai, who has ground out a career for himself with zero label backing and has become one of India’s biggest MCs right now. Another Indian MC who does his own thing is Prabh Deep. As his name says, his lyrics are full of meaning, and his videos, which he is starting to direct, are there to make people think. Also this year, MC STΔN won Big Boss and put Indian Hip Hop into another stratosphere.
There are a variety of sounds and flavors when you look into Indian Hip Hop today. But there’s a specific sound that encapsulates the very rawness of it all. It’s a glorious product of the many years of Hip Hop culture trickling down the generations - Gully Rap - which originated from the slums [aka gully] of Mumbai and later influenced other parts of India. Its fiery and intense lyrics focus on the struggles one might face growing up in poverty, and what it feels like to be a part of a marginalized society.
You cannot say Gully Rap and not mention the Gully King himself, DIVINE. He laid his story bare for all to take in and has taken himself from the slums of Mumbai to the billboards of Times Square in New York City. This all started in 2015, when his collaborative track with Naezy, titled ‘Mere Gully Mein’ took the country by storm. He’s also the head honcho of Gully Gang, one of the biggest Hip Hop labels in India right now.
His meteoric rise was iconic in every sense of the word. So much so that in 2019, they turned it into a movie, with two of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, playing lead roles. The movie, GULLY BOY, went on to win multiple awards, and of course, broke box office records as well. If that wasn’t enough, the seminal US rapper Nas went on to sign him and Gully Gang to his label, Mass Appeal – making DIVINE the very face of its Indian imprint.
Today, the Indian Hip Hop scene is thriving, with a wide variety of artists from all over the country making music in different styles. The scene is still relatively young, but it has already made a significant impact on Indian culture and is showing no signs of slowing down. Here is a list of MCs LiFTED thinks are carrying The Torch to the future.
Not only is Deep Kalsi a dope MC with a very melodious voice, but he also doubles as a producer. Once Deep Kalsi jumps on a track’s hook, it’s guaranteed to be a hit. He’s currently signed to Raftaar’s label, Kalamkaar, and has collaborated with multiple star-studded names in KR$HNA, Karma, and of course Raftaar himself. He has it all in his locker, from hard-hitting anthems such as ‘This Side’ and ‘Image,' to slower, melodic takes like ‘Complicated.’ Deep Kalsi’s got the torch on his hands now, and he’s lighting up the path for the next generation of MCs and producers brightly.
Tamil Nadu’s Irfana is not one to play games. On April 1 of this year, she became the very first female MC to be signed to Def Jam’s Indian imprint. Not only that, her song, ‘I’m Your King’ is the title track for the popular Netflix television series Masaba Masaba. Her ferocious approach to her lyricism is second to none. She dives deep into social issues, touching on themes related to femininity and her identity as a Tamil woman. However, all of this had to come from somewhere.
It wasn’t all about spraying bars for her growing up. Instead, she dabbled in traditional art forms through Carnatic vocal and veena training. That all changed when she discovered Eminem through her friends, and Irfana has never looked back since. When it comes to honing her skills as an MC and producing, it is all self-taught. Now, she’s one of the most influential names in this current generation of young MCs. If there were to be a leading light for female MCs in India, all roads lead back to Irfana.
Panther, real name is Anubhav Shukla, is an MC whose music has been blowing up because of his bars and hard-hitting delivery. He started building a bigger fanbase when he was a participant on MTV Hustle 2.0 in 2022, a Hip Hop reality show, showcasing his prowess as an MC. To date, he has an album and multiple singles under his belt. Just like his namesake, Panther is ready to pounce on any track.
Just like DIVINE, MC Altaf is an MC raised by the Gully. He hails from Dharavi, which is considered one of Asia’s largest slums — and you can hear it being translated into his raw, fiery, passionate, and utterly unapologetic lyrics. He’s also signed to DIVINE’s Gully Gang, and if you get a consign from the Gully King himself, you know you’re doing something right.
Dive into MC Altaf’s discography and you’d be met with an absolute killer chopper-flow. If there had to be someone to carry on the light that DIVINE brought to Indian Hip Hop, it’s none other than this 23-year-old MC.
Young Galib epitomizes what it means to be an MC that is authentically themselves. There’s room for imitation here, only stories that were of a lived experience. His career was kickstarted through Emiway Bantai’s Bantai Records, and the young MC has not looked back since.
His first-ever single came in 2021, and since then, he has steadily released tracks. Most recentlycollaborating with Emiway in May, where he dropped a bar that goes, “We played since the time of Street Fighters/I’ve left all that gangsta sh*t behind/I worked so hard, that’s why everyone knows my name now.” In a sea of veteran rappers alongside brilliant up-and-coming acts in this burgeoning Indian Hip Hop scene, the name Young Galib rings through with weight.