Seedhe Maut: How Delhi’s hip-hop firepower duo have their finger on Gen-Z’s pulse
“Whatever we’ve read in our childhood, our books – storybooks, even our textbooks, literature in Hindi and English in school… it’s all about how much interest you have in studying, and those things registering themselves in your mind. All of that reflects in our art,' says Encore, one half of Seedhe Maut.
In their 2017 debut mixtape 2 Ka Pahada, New Delhi duo Seedhe Maut’s Encore ABJ and Calm delivered one of their most insightful lines, on the closing track 'Keh Chuka, Pt. 1.' It goes: “Vo darta tha ki kal ko nark me jaaye, toh shaitan ka chehra jaana pehchana na lage.”
In a vox pop conducted to aid this feature, two different respondents quoted the same line by Encore ABJ as their favourite Seedhe Maut lyric. Vinayak Tripathi from Jaipur says, “If Encore didn't rap, but was a poet, I'd probably still be a fan. The guy doesn't even need the rhythm to impress me, just his words do the trick.” Raunak Agrawal, another listener from Jaipur, opines on the same ‘Keh Chuka, Pt 1’ lyrics and adds, “[I like] the sheer beauty in the craftsmanship, and the depth of the emotion.”
Seedhe Maut have been releasing music since 2017, starting with the emphatic ‘Seedhe Maut Anthem’ in which they pitched their flag for all to see. They were undoubtedly pushed to explore a confident, no-holds-barred sonic identity thanks to producer Sez On The Beat. After signing with Azadi Records, work began on what would become their 2018 debut album Bayaan. Songs like ‘Shaktimaan’ and ‘Kyu’ were quick to capture the aggro, mosh-ready energy of young audiences around the country, specially in Delhi at a time when DIVINE and Naezy had made Mumbai synonymous with gully rap, and hedonistic Punjabi hip-hop was all the rage countrywide.
To introduce Bayaan, the duo released a two-minute song called ‘Kranti’ in late 2018, in which Encore briefly talks about ditching any idea of joining law enforcement authorities in favour of rapping. Songs like ‘Pasnkh’ and ‘Uss Din’ showcased an emotive, introspective side to the duo, creating a vulnerability in their rap that was refreshing, and of course, endearing. Calm says the topics they choose just happen to resonate with younger audiences, and it is not necessarily a focused attempt to write for an audience. “We don’t necessarily care about what theme we go for, we don’t keep the audience in mind while thinking up a theme. We make a track on our terms, and accordingly, our audience perceives us. This is what I think,” he explains.
Calm and Encore also teamed up with fellow Azadi labelmates Prabh Deep and Sez On The Beat (who later left the label to start his own imprint The MVMNT) for ‘Class-Sikh Maut, Vol. II,' a follow up to the 2017 song off '2 Ka Pahada.' Everything about the song – from the 4chopped-up tabla beat to lethal flows from Encore, Calm, and Prabh rocketed ‘Class-Sikh Maut, Vol. II’ straight into Indian hip-hop lore, making it a must-hear intro to everything that was going on outside of Mumbai’s hip-hop takeover.
Most of 2019 was spent promoting Bayaan heavily, paired with a few singles like ‘101’ and ‘Saans Le,’ which cemented their place further. They collaborated with MC Delhi Sultanate (from Ska Vengers) for a sublime takedown of mob lynching and Hindutva extremism on ‘Scalp Dem,' showing they were not afraid to speak their mind about the happenings in the country either.
The steady flow of releases perhaps created an important lesson which Seedhe Maut carried forward into 2020 and 2021, becoming new discoveries for many due to the regular digital presence and collaborations with the likes of Ritviz (‘Chalo Chalein’), Sickflip (‘Roshni’), Karan Kanchan (‘Dum Pishaach’). Calm says, “One thing we’ve learned about thriving in the digital space is you have to be consistent. It’s not like you’re taking four or five months to drop a project. After one month, you put a track out so that your fans know you’re working hard, and it’s going on.”
By July this year, the duo were selected as part of YouTube’s artist development program Foundry. It was right around then that they dropped ‘Nanchaku’ with Pune’s MC Stan. It currently stands as Seedhe Maut’s most popular song yet, garnering over 7.8 million views on YouTube. The slinky production is the launchpad for staggering turns at the mic by Encore and Calm, who reference everything from being undefeatable to the basketball greats to cancel culture and freedom of speech.
An intentional contrast of styles was obvious when Stan delivers his verse, his mumble rap-inspired, immodest lyrics more in line with the misogynistic style of American artists over decades. Indian women rappers called out Stan for using words like r*nd, and also Seedhe Maut for working with the Pune rapper, but the duo see it differently. Encore says, “As far as we’re concerned, we always hold our values, and reflect those values in our songs.
We always express what we feel openly. In the same way, we don’t stop or inhibit another artist to express what they’re about. That’s what hip-hop is about, I feel. Everyone has the right to say things, and everyone should take things a little less personally and be in the spirit. That’s the only way we’re going to grow.”
Calm says the numbers behind ‘Nanchaku’ definitely motivates them, as it should with all artists. “It creates a momentum that we want to carry forward, which we’re doing. As soon as ‘Nanchaku’ came out, we wanted to drop more tracks, and after that, we worked on न, which was our mixtape, and we put it out as soon as possible. We gotta work using the momentum, and plan things out.”
Featuring 10 tracks, and previously released singles which were all named with the sound न, there is an evolution and finessed sense of verbosity in Seedhe Maut’s lyrics in 2021. Their chopper flow and clever twisting of Hindi proverbs and the like make listeners imbibe a lot from each and every verse. Encore says their vocabulary and lyric building comes from everything they have learned growing up. “Whatever we’ve read in our childhood, our books – storybooks, even our textbooks, literature in Hindi and English in school… it’s all about how much interest you have in studying, and those things registering themselves in your mind. It’s never been unnatural. And how we were brought up, that reflects in our art,” Encore says.
Seedhe Maut have also wrapped up a full-length collaborative album with Ritviz. Calm says about the record, “Usually, it’s Encore and me working on a record, and there’s no third person involved. This time, there was a third person, and it felt like we were one entity working together. All of us, we were listening to each other and made each other feel comfortable so that we could all be on the same page. That was always necessary. It wasn’t something we haven’t dealt with before though. It was smooth and nice.”
Even as they head out on a multi-city tour at Hard Rock Cafés in cities ranging from Chandigarh to Bengaluru to Mumbai, fans are populating social media asking for shows in Jharkhand, Bhubaneswar, and more cities where indie musicians have never usually made stops. Seedhe Maut might just be among the artists who change that. Encore adds about plans for 2022, “Expect a lot more shows, a couple of albums, and a lot more singles along the way.”
Anurag Tagat is a Bengaluru-based independent music journalist, covering artists nationwide and around the globe. He is also an assistant editor at Rolling Stone India.
All photos by Rahul Sharda.
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