Charting Gully Boy's impact on Mumbai's hip-hop scene — from new record labels to bringing the genre into the limelight

Amit Gurbaxani

Apr 12, 2019 09:52:26 IST

It’s been almost two months since the release, and success, of Gully Boy so I thought it would be a good time to write about just how much of an impact the film has had on the hip-hop scene in Mumbai, from which it was inspired.

On the surface, the movie has done more for actor Ranveer Singh’s career than anybody else. Not only is it his third Rs 100 crore smash in a row, his performance is likely to make him a contender for the Best Actor trophy at all the film awards ceremonies next year. It’s also his songs on the soundtrack – the only ones we hear in full on screen – that have emerged the biggest hits.

If you look at Gaana and JioSaavn, widely regarded as the two biggest audio-streaming services in the country and the only ones to publicly display the number of plays for each track, as well YouTube, then you will find that only two songs can really be qualified as chart toppers and another two as smaller hits:

Gaana JioSaavn YouTube
'Apna Time Aayega' by Ranveer Singh 55 44 122
'Asli Hip-Hop' by Ranveer Singh 25 17 NA*
'Mere Gully Mein' by Ranveer Singh, Divine and Naezy 20 7 43
'Azadi' by Dub Sharma and Divine 10 7 21

Figures in millions
*Zee Music Company hasn’t yet uploaded a video for 'Asli Hip Hop'.

The rest of the tunes have got between over one million and over five million streams on Gaana and JioSaavn and less than 20 million views on YouTube with the exception of 'Sher Aaya Sher' by Divine, which has 22 million. In other words, the average Bollywood fan probably hasn’t been clicking to listen to the likes of Kaam Bhaari, Ace or the ensemble of rappers that take turns on 'India 91' (MC Altaf, 100RBH, Noxious D and members of Swadesi).

That’s not to say they haven’t benefited from their appearances on the OST. At the most basic level, as Dee MC aka Deepa Unnikrishnan – among the several rappers who had a cameo in the film – told the audience at a panel discussion moderated by journalist Bhanuj Kappal (whose upcoming book on Indian hip-hop I’m waiting to read) at BUDX last month, her peers and her no longer have to explain to immediate and extended family members what hip-hop is all about. As a result, a career in the genre is not considered as disreputable as it was just a couple of months ago.

Are they all basking in a post-Gully Boy glow after a few minutes in the spotlight? Yes and no. Quite naturally, the largest beneficiaries have been the subjects of the movie, Divine and Naezy. The massive exposure he received from the movie encouraged Divine to leave his management company Only Much Louder and strike out on his own to launch Gully Gang Entertainment, an enterprise that will function as a record label, concert promoter, merchandise seller and maker of branded content.

Charting Gully Boys impact on Mumbais hip-hop scene — from new record labels to bringing the genre into the limelight

Ranveer Singh in a still from Gully Boy. Screenshot from YouTube

The venture was announced a week before the movie’s release and fans got a taste of what to expect at BUDX Mumbai. Divine’s headlining set included opening spots by other acts — of which the most eye-catching were multi-lingual Mumbai crew Aavrutti — that are likely to be among Gully Gang Entertainment’s signees, although no official announcements have been made yet. Naezy, meanwhile, has been on the comeback trail ever since he made a long-awaited return at the Gully Boy soundtrack launch.

The release of his new single 'Aafat Wapas' in the last week of March, was accompanied by the news that he is the first person signed to Big Bang Records, a new independent label co-founded by Gaurav Wadhwa, the former vice president of entertainment and original content at Saavn. Since then, Naezy has been a part of two high-profile events, the Mumbai Indians vs Delhi Capitals IPL cricket match and this year’s edition of the YouTube FanFest, both in his home city of Mumbai. He also headlined the Bira-backed hip-hop and comedy-focused April Fools’ Fest in Delhi.

Last month also saw the creation of two more independent hip-hop labels. The one that garnered the maximum attention at least from the mainstream press was IncInk, co-founded by Ranveer Singh and ad filmmaker Navzar Eranee whose production house was behind the campaign for Danish clothing brand Jack & Jones that featured Singh rapping on the song 'Don’t Hold Back'. IncInk launched with a trio of Hindi rappers, Kaam Bhaari aka Kunal Pandgale and SlowCheeta aka Chaitanya Sharma from Mumbai and Spitfire aka Nitin Mishra from Madhya Pradesh, who won a contest to star along with Singh in a sequel for that track, and were subsequently pulled in by him to contribute to the OST for Gully Boy. The video for IncInk’s first release 'Zeher' by Kaam Bhaari equates greedy record executives with avaricious gangsters. Time will tell if it proves ironic.

The fourth new label has no connection with Gully Boy and to me is the most exciting. Not much is known about Most Wanted Records apart from the fact that Shantanu Pujari, the former manager of Mumbai-based conscious rap crew Swadesi, is involved with the company, which marked its arrival with a gig to showcase three of its upcoming releases, Asliyat by Hindi rapper Darpan from Amravati, Aala Azad by Marathi MC Azad aka Rushikesh Jadhav from the Mumbai area of Dhobi Ghat and Mapulz by multi-lingual duo Dopeadelicz from Dharavi.

The show, held in a rented hall in Bandra, is among the highlights of my concert calendar this year. The gig, which was opened by Hindi crew Dogz from Dharavi, was a great representation of Mumbai’s underground rap scene, much like the eleventh edition of Control Alt Delete, the line-up of which included six acts that also performed at the Most Wanted event — Dopeadelicz, MC Azad, multi-lingual group 7 Bantaiz from Dharavi, Hindi rapper MC Altaf from Dharavi, Marathi trio Raphopper from Amravati (of which Darpan is a member) and Swadesi, whose members are from across the city.

Their combination of socio-political commentary and infectious on-stage energy is both rare and refreshing in the Indian independent music industry. Even if you didn’t always understand the lyrics, the rage and despair (and song titles such as 'Krantikari', 'Achche Din', 'Marathi Manoos Maange Kya') brought their message across. Most Wanted Hip-Hop, as it was called, was also one of the most fun shows I’d been to in a while, for the sharp verses were more often than not set to dance-friendly beats, never mind that the sound quality was less than ideal; it was perfectly fine up front but terribly muddled at the back.

There was something about the show that reminded some of the rock and metal gigs that would be held at Juhu venue Razzberry Rhinoceros over a decade ago. Perhaps it had something to do with the lurid stage lighting or maybe it had something to do with the feeling that we were witnessing the flourishing of a bonafide sub-culture. One major difference between Razz and this concert was that while relatively privileged English-speaking fans formed the audience at the former, here we saw a true mingling of classes.

This was amplified when a few Bandra hipsters, including a couple of Caucasian women who, according to one of my friends looked like they were “dressed for Coachella”, entered the venue. All had an equally good time. For evidence of the popularity of these acts, know that a concert by a few of the same artists at the 100-capacity Levi’s Lounge in Mumbai next week was booked out within a few hours.

This is the first of a two-part column.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2019 18:15:10 IST

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