MTV Hustle: India's rap revolution gets a reality TV boost with Nucleya, Raja Kumari, Raftaar
Where Gully Boy pitched typical melodrama and fanfare around the lives of kids who picked up rapping, producing, b-boying and graffiti as a means of expression, Hustle expectedly brings the reality TV format to the same lot.
Since the release of Bollywood film Gully Boy earlier this year, everyone in media seems keen on getting aboard the hip hop train. Any follower of the music industry could have predicted and prepared for this, but the real test lay in seeing how much media and culture machines would co-opt the hip hop talent coming out of India and how much of its distinctive grittiness and honesty they can handle.
You might see Emiway collaborating with Canadian counterpart DAX and Sony Music India joining hands with Desi Hip Hop for Awaaz Records, but you definitely won’t see Kashmiri rapper Ahmer’s firepower collab with Prabh Deep – 'Elaan' – breach past the hundred thousand mark and/or attract TV coverage. I mean, no one’s going to call on him to sign a brand endorsement deal.
But the one way newer (or just lesser known) rap names can be catapulted into fame is now playing out on MTV India’s new show MTV Hustle. Where Gully Boy pitched typical melodrama and fanfare around the lives of kids who picked up rapping, producing, b-boying and graffiti as a means of expression, Hustle expectedly brings the reality TV format to the same lot.
The first episode aired on MTV on 10 August , followed by episodes every Saturday and Sunday at 7 pm. The hour-long show sees desi bass producer-DJ Nucleya aka Udyan Sagar, rapper Raftaar and Indian American rapper-singer Raja Kumari sit down with a guest judge (this one had rap frontrunner Naezy) to vote on contestants.
The contestants either get “selected” or picked directly into the top 15 finalists on the show. VJ and host Gaelyn Mendonca stepped in with the very cordial “Kaise ho aap sab”, which is a missed opportunity to straight off throw in some “kya bolta buntai” to a studio audience.
Clearly the slang is reserved for the judges. Nucleya comes in to his hit rendition of 'Laung Gawacha' and says, “Kya bol reli hai public?” He seems genuinely hyped and through the course of the first episode, seems to offer the most level-headed advice and criticism alike to contestants. He’s likely to fit into the senior judge trope on MTV Hustle.
Raja Kumari walks in to perform 'City Slums' and she seems to take to the role of a high-profile judge who can (deservedly) namedrop international artists but also offer pointers on songwriting. Raftaar, who walks out to deliver his snarling verses from 'Naachne Ka Shaunq' (his collab with Brodha V) and takes the middle seat amidst the judges, which is an obvious visual cue. He plays hard talk, bad cop (going to a Roadies-like confrontational behaviour level with one emotional contestant Sagar Shetty, more than that later) but eventually is the liveliest of the judges, with a button to trigger sound samples of a claxon and a machine gun.
These judges are looking out for the “revolution” that MTV Hustle is apparently projected to bring about, while Raftaar also plugs his new record label Kalamkaar. The winner of Hustle, however, gets Rs 5 lakhs worth of JBL gear and signed to a somewhat lazily named entity called the MTV Music Project, which was originally announced in 2017.
Among the contestants, there’s the data scientist/musician and producer Akshay Zack, who gets an enthusiastic thumbs up, with Nucleya impressing upon the importance of learning music.
If you could fit in the judges into some kind of established TV reality contest role, you could even see a sort of pattern in the kind of contestants stepping up – Akshay Zack was the guy brimming with energy and wearing a wide smile, while Sagar Shetty is the son of a street vendor who’s really taken to hip hop as the thing that will take him places. There’s a lot of drama and emotion attached to Shetty’s on-stage audition, but the most quizzical part is Raftaar coming on to hug him (and give him a Raftaar hat) as Darshan Raval’s weepy love song 'Ab Phirse Jab Baarish' plays in the background.
Arpan Kumar and Agrita Dhawan aka Agsy go straight into the Top 15 for their standout performances, with the lyrics appearing as they rap (so that all us folks at home can understand the flow) and sing. The judges – with Naezy’s no-nonsense straight talk – knock off the rest. lauding singer-rappers but rejecting one contestant for picking overdone topics of hip hop.
There’s a lot of unnecessary drama (that probably befits any MTV show) on Hustle but that’s how reality TV gets sold in 2019, one assumes. The show has so far offered an interesting glimpse into the contestants’ entry into rap and hip hop regardless of their background, which tells us how Indian kids are drawn to the genre and music making in general, whether it’s learning beat-making or understanding songwriting.
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