UK hip-hop collective Foreign Beggars reflect on the genre's popularity world over, in the run-up to Mumbai set

Amit Gurbaxani

Mar 23, 2019 10:25:30 IST

Long-running UK hip-hop collective Foreign Beggars’ tunes traverse the worlds of rap and electronic music. As such, this makes them a perfect fit to play a slot at BUDX, a platform comprising masterclasses, panel discussions, collaborations and performances by both Indian and international acts that aims to both spotlight and empower artists working in India’s EDM, bass music and hip-hop scenes.

Foreign Beggars, namely vocalists Orifice Vulgatron aka Pavan Mukhi and Metropolis aka Ebow Graham and DJ Nonames aka James Miller — who released their debut album Asylum Speakers in 2003 and their newest 2 2 Karma in 2018 – promise to play a career-spanning “rap-heavy” set at the event, which will be held at Mehboob Studios in Mumbai over 23-24 March 2019.

The group, whose members come from British, Indian and African backgrounds, has never shied away from rhyming about political subject matter such as immigration. We spoke to Orifice Vulgatron and Nonames about the growth in the global popularity of hip-hop, their thoughts on the scene in India and what they think about the increasing trend of independent artists looking to brands rather than labels for support. Edited excerpts:

Hip-hop is said to be the most popular genre in the world right now. What do you think led to this moment?

Orifice Vulgatron: Gradually over the course of time, the true essence of hip-hop culture has become more mainstream and more widely accepted. That doesn’t mean it’s been diluted, it just means that people understand it everywhere. This has happened 20-25 years ago [in the US]. India’s having its big hip-hop moment right now but probably even without noticing it, hip-hop culture has been in Indian mainstream culture before, with bhangra artists working with rappers or the way people dress or the way people breakdance in their videos or the way people have tried to rap or the production style.

Right now what’s happening in India is beautiful because [it’s] the real essence of what rap music is, which is a voice for the voiceless, the CNN of the streets.

Nonames: In places like India and other countries around the world that haven’t had this prolonged exposure to hip-hop music, it’s all come to a head a lot more quickly because you guys had a massive explosion in technology and with the advent of the internet, everything is available to [all] people at once. In other societies, like England, France, America, that seeping through to the mainstream has happened a lot more slowly because the tools hadn’t been there.

UK hip-hop collective Foreign Beggars reflect on the genres popularity world over, in the run-up to Mumbai set

Foreign Beggars promise to play a career-spanning “rap-heavy” set at BUDX, Mumbai

In these times of increasing divisiveness, is hip-hop even more relevant?

Orifice Vulgatron: I think so because in other forms of music, people can have messages but it’s not necessarily as lyrically focused. Hip-hop came from people who had been marginalised, sidelined, whose voices hadn’t been heard. [In hip-hop] I can hear stories from down south in America, I can stories from France, Germany, India, from everywhere, people speaking their truths about what’s really going on in society. I think it takes a lot of fight for somebody to become a rapper. It’s like a pressurised situation so when it comes to actually rapping, it’s quite a release so you hear a lot of unadulterated content, a lot of reality.

Like an artist called Dave who has got the No.1 album (Pyschodrama) in England right now. Dave’s album is important because he really speaks on subject matter that is important to people and the pressures of society as opposed to sugarcoating stuff or just making dance songs. It’s amazing because America’s slightly different. It’s such a huge place [that] underground artists can gain traction and get to that No.1 spot whereas in England, there is somewhat of a bottleneck in terms of what gets exposed by the major media outlets. But in recent times we’ve seen that, especially with the advent of social media, people can express themselves and garner a massive following without changing their message.

You can see it in India. People are fed up of being fed a story. The news has been fake the whole time. It’s been a massive spin and a propagator for the message from the top down. And that’s been a tool of divisiveness. Now a lot of people have woken up and they’re feeling more empowered. There’s a demand [from] people who don’t want to hear bullshit anymore. People are finished with the corruption.

You’ve performed at the NH7 Weekender and Vh1 Supersonic music festivals and were last here in November 2018 for Nucleya’s Sunburn Arena show in Mumbai. What are your observations of the hip-hop and electronic music scenes in India?

Nonames: We’ve been to India four times. The shows [have] got bigger, that’s for sure.

Orifice Vulgatron: I think the main thing is that there’s much more of a demand for real and diverse music and different messages, especially with the advent of the EDM industry. Seeing artists like Nucleya come through…Nucleya is a massively important artist. Nucleya broke ground as somebody who doesn’t have to make westernised music to garner respect. He doesn’t have to go outside and come back. With the kind of music he’s been making and the fact that there’s been a demand for this kind of entertainment…the youth want it.

I think just because of the wealth disparity that’s been there in India in the past, these kinds of things were there for the upper-middle class and richer people whereas now information has become much more decentralised and there is more much of a demand for what’s going on in the rest of the world. If this shit is happening in England or America or China, why can’t Indian kids have that stuff too? The fact that technology has changed [things] so much, that people can make this music in their bedroom, that they can release music…all of these things happening at the same time has created a real infrastructure. Seven years ago, I could name you 20 Indian artists but I’d struggle to name you 50. Now, with everything that’s happened in the last five years, I could name you 400 Indian electronic artists who have careers.

Nonames: It’s worth adding that the technology barrier is a lot lower now. I’ve noticed that the quality of sound design and production and the level at which they record vocals is up there with the standard [across the world]. I’ve just noticed with the beats and stuff that I hear how on par it sounds with contemporary American and UK hip-hop.

You’re here for BUDX. What do you feel about initiatives like it and why is it important for you to be part of them?

Orifice Vulgatron: It’s such a crucial time in Indian artists getting recognition worldwide because [we’ve] come to a point now where artists have really developed; a lot of people have embraced this as a real career opportunity. A lot of parents would never even consider their children to become artists or DJs. It’s something people had to fight for a lot more. It’s definitely something I’ve been trying to do for the past seven or eight years with my other business, Arms House. We’ve been looking at bringing artists from the UK over there [and] artists from India over to the UK to create collaborative situations.

The way Foreign Beggars have approached everything is that it’s a global situation. And I hate the fact that even if you look at UK hip-hop, the scene that we come from, it was very separate from the rest of the world. And I never understood why it had to be like that. So we always branched out, worked with artists from Spain, Germany, all over the world. For us, these initiatives are really, really, really important because by putting two artists from two different countries in a room, you create something that’s never been created before. This just goes further and builds a bridge that unifies the music scene and the music scene itself is something that unifies people everywhere.

Are you working on collaborations with Indian artists at the moment?

Orifice Vulgatron: There is stuff in the works. I’m working with lots of Indian artists for my solo project. There’s a producer called Baajewala from Madhya Pradesh who’s signed to Quality Goods Records, which is UZ’s label from LA. I’ve made a track with him. I’ve worked with 2NV Music, who is an Indian artist based in the UK. There’s a (British-Indian) producer called Sukh Knight, I’m working with him.

Brands have replaced labels for a lot of independent acts. Is that a good thing?

Orifice Vulgatron: I think what’s really good about it is that if a label supports an artist, what they’ll do is give them money and everything will be recoupable. But we’re in an age where money isn’t necessarily recouped by record sales in a traditional format but labels are functioning that way. If a label wants to support an artist, they’ll take a cut of their publishing, a cut of their merch, a cut of their live shows, a cut of their licencing whereas there are other things that are collateral and currency in the situation for example a BUDX or brand investing in artists.

They’re getting their returns by affiliation rather than it having to be a financial, monetary return and it also enables the artist to really go and create something without this burden of ‘We need to cut costs here, we need to cut costs there’ and [making] sacrifices on spending which at the end of the day will affect the art that they create because they don’t have the facilities. This kind of thing is much more progressive in many respects because the artist is free to do what they want. The brand sponsors it, they get all the promotion, they get to benefit off all the goodwill and publicity that the artist brings to them. It’s a nice handshake situation and it’s quite clean.

Updated Date: Mar 23, 2019 12:37:55 IST

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