MTV Hustle: How a rap reality show became a stage for dissent & protest poetry
Pitched to be a run-of-the-mill rap reality show, how MTV Hustle transcended the genre and became a platform for youth to express dissent and sow the seeds of protest poetry.
When MTV Hustle was announced in August this year, it was promoted as India's first rap reality show and a rap revolution. Initially, many felt the word 'revolution' was just another promotional pitch. But not anymore.
Two months later, the show seems to have delivered more than what it promised. It let Indian TV audience experience rap that connects with Indian realities. The contestants, the guest performers and the judges voiced dissent through their performances. They talked about social issues and expressed their views without the fear of censorship.
Farmers of our country unite, for we have nothing to lose but our chains! Jodi tor daak shune keu na aashe / awaaz tumhari kho jaaye / aawaam ye behri so jaye / tobe ekla cholo re! #Repost @mtvhustle with @make_repost ・・・ The Grand Finale of @jblindia presents @mtvhustle saw @epr_svnslas_iyer’s rap be the voice of millions! ???? Did this performance dedicated to the plight of our farmers move you too? Tell us in the comments below and groove to all Hustle performances anytime on @voot. @breezervividshuffle @philipsindia . . . . . #MTVHustle #DareToListen #BreezerVivid #IndianMusic #DesiHipHop #DesiSwag #Bantai #IndianMusicScene
A post shared by Epr Iyer (@epr_svnslas_iyer) on Oct 15, 2019 at 12:59am PDT
Though rap has been an integral part of Bollywood music for quite some time now, it was only after Zoya Akhtar's 'Gully Boy' (India's official entry to the Academy Awards), that the country was interested in the 'voice of the streets'.
From 'Gaadi-ladki-daaru' to 'Voice of the streets'
Till then rap music was more-or-less about the 'Gaadi-ladki-daaru' (cars-girls-alcohol) schtick, mainly by Punjabi rappers. Rappers like Honey Singh & Badshaah led that early rap boom in the Hindi film industry with chartbusters such as 'Angreji Beat', 'Brown Rang', 'Saturday Saturday' and 'Kar Gayi Chull'.
Despite their popularity, such tracks were often criticised for objectifying women and promoting substance abuse. In fact, a lot of hip-hop purists slammed such songs for being inauthentic and aloof from the core of what rap music stands for.
Meanwhile an underground movement was parallelly shaping up across the country. From the chawls of Bombay broke out two rappers, Naezy and Divine, with distinct sound and stories from the streets.
'We go underground'
In January 2014, Naved aka Naezy published his first track “Aafat!” on YouTube with a raw music video. It instantly connected with people across India for its honest and authentic storytelling in tune with the Indian reality. Today that video has more than 7 million hits on YouTube and has resulted in the rise of Naezy as one of the most popular performers in the country.
Vivian aka Divine too has a similar story. 'Starting at the bottom' and dealing with difficulties of his chawl-life, his socio-politically informed lines now rule the charts across the country. In fact, Zoya Akhtar's 'Gully Boy' claims to be inspired by Naezy and Divine's stories and sound.
So when MTV Hustle was announced, the apprehension was that it has simply jumped the rap bandwagon and wants to encash rap music's newfound fame. But with each episode, and songs about tackling poverty, women empowerment, farmer suicides and acid attacks, the show became somewhat of a release for the newer, rawer 'underground' voices.
Poetry for change
"Being a musician, being an artist - all I have is my words. My pen, my protest poetry, my flow. If I can spread awareness among the people through my craft, through my music - nothing better than that! When I have the capability, why wouldn’t I use that to do something that counts!`` says runners-up of MTV Hustle season 1 and Kolkata-based rapper EPR.
EPR was one rapper who used every episode of MTV Hustle to talk about one issue that the society or the government has failed to address.
Along with EPR, other up and coming rappers like Agsy, M Zee Bella, Shloka have also translated important issues into music.
From Shloka's dream of making Bihar the epicentre of Indian hip-hop to Agsy's battle-cry against child-abuse to Void's powerful verses bringing attention to the growing epidemic of depression, the show became much more than just a reality show.
The guest performances featured artists from Kerala to Assam to Australia to the UK, bringing in voices from the Indian diaspora across the world.
While it's too early to say that MTV Hustle is the pop-culture entity which will bring change in the society, but with authentic and powerful performances, it definitely initiated a conversation around issues plaguing our country.
Hip-hop historically has been an art form which has been a vessel of dissent and modern protest. With close links to the black liberation movement in the U.S., the art form has stood for authentic expression for years now. And to see, young Indian musicians adapting the art form to share their stories, highlight their problems- is nothing short of cathartic.
It has also been refreshing and empowering to see a commercial channel owned by Viacom 18 letting the authentic voices of the youth come out and talk about issues which affect them. That aspect was highlighted by one of the judges, Raftaar as well, when he called MTV Hustle more of a ‘real show’ than a ‘reality show’.
#Repost @mtvhustle with @make_repost ・・・ This is @jblindia presents @mtvhustle, jisne India ka rap scene truly diya hai badal. ???? The Hustle stage is going to shake you up this time 'cause a mind-blowing medley featuring @epr_svnslas_iyer, @bellaofficials, @raftaarmusic & @brodhav awaits you on the semi-finale episode, tonight at 7 PM on MTV and anytime on @voot! @breezervividshuffle @philipsindia . . . . . #MTVHustle #DareToListen #BreezerVivid #IndianMusic #DesiHipHop #DesiSwag #Bantai #IndianMusicScene