Conversations with Street Academics : Kerala Underground HipHop

I don't usually listen to much hip-hop or rap, but recently, I happened to chance upon a few songs from a seemingly self styled group of rap enthusiasts from my native state of Kerala. They seem to be exploring possible combinations of vernacular rap and different forms of hip-hop. A series of comments and frivolous criticism triggered a short conversation with some of its members and an internal monologue. Apart from the musical merit of this project, which appears in snippets, in the form of surprising samples and quasi lyrical references, I was more interested in observing this effort in the wider context of emerging sub-cultures, expression and hybrid identities in urban India.

Although Hindi and Tamil rap has been around for a while, I was only familiar with the mainstream faceless offshoots and it's poor appropriation in Bollywood music. By faceless I mean, Hindi Pop and similar commercial parallels, where, it is difficult to imagine or relate to the artist's personal lives, and the gap between their performative avatar and their mundane self, which is seemingly important in the world of spoken word, rap and hip hop. The artist is expected be self-referential and autobiographical in verse and manner. For that very reason, hip hop makes an interesting framework to observe the mechanisms in which cultures are interpreted, appropriated and reclaimed , especially in this globalized era, where it is possible to go beyond a superficial understanding and avoid mere mimicry of a cultural expression, by bypassing main stream media, digging through archives and even through collaborations.

Hip-hop always seemed more alien and challenging in that regard, with a strong socio - cultural history, tethered to it's geographic roots, in it's vocabulary, imagery, references and memes, more than the other forms of music that have been appropriated and accepted here. Which is a rather strange claim to make and get away with, considering how the Metal music sub culture is equally alien and extensive, but perhaps not bound to geography or cultural identity as much as Hip-Hop. I wonder if Rock, Blues and the Jazz genres can be evaluated in the same paradigm in this era.

However, the independent Indian hip hop scene was always taken with a pinch of salt, when it was more likely to stumble upon the cringe worthy variants on Youtube. For instance, the ones in which a fellow Indian will be walking around with an aggressive looking entourage, spluttering swear words and wearing hooded sweat shirts and obscure winter wear in the sweltering heat, desperately attempting to invoke an associative hipness just to make up for the lack of talent, effort and know how. Hip - hop was sadly mistaken by some as the cooler and easier way out, instead of going for guitar lessons, swooned by the glamor, rebellion and angst that it contained. But perhaps it awoke the discerning poet in some.

We might have moved a considerable distance from those dark times as I was glad to see this group called Street Academics restraining from such debauchery and putting effort to work out interesting combinations of word and music.

But it sounds like all such efforts of reinterpretation have to find more comfort and confidence to settle into this new skin. So that it may sound more convincing, completing the illusion, where the listener becomes immersed in the flow, devoid of skepticism and urgency to nitpick errors and cringe upon feeling slight dissonance. Perhaps, this confidence will come from an active exercise of introspection, creation and reflection, projecting the internal landscape of identity, influences and memories with its inherent swag, without resolving to gags, however fragmented or distant it might be, or surprisingly close to home.

Therivu Academy !  Undoubtedly an interesting mix, and a commendable natural sounding switch between the languages and folk snippets. But there is a danger to laying out spoken word on dub step. It tends to ensue a tug of war in terms of energy and aggression between the words and sound. If this aggression in the composition is not really reflecting in the ideas/phrases and its delivery, personally, for me, it starts falling flat as mere trend hopping. It becomes a stylistic adoption of a popular trend rather than carrying the vibe of the track. One of my favorites that i recall on the top of my head, close to this genre is the one with Foreign Beggars feat. Noisa. Would like to hear the Malayalam, on some old school loops, with a slightly less generic video if budgets permit. :) You guys seem sharp, so i hope you take this as constructive criticism. But all said and done, collectively this is a pioneering effort.

 Street Academics - Kerala Underground HipHop Thank you for sharing your views brother.As you know, this piece is a bit experimental comparing to our other works. we are traditional by tradition . we have done hundreds of old school works, which went unnoticed due to the lack of interest in people for that flavour maybe. Our address is written by underground oldschool flavoured conscious metaphysical tracks in indian underground.we needed something offbeat to do once in a while. so here it is thiis is not for your ears & brain, something you shoul listen with your body & feet.Peace. -Rjv Ernesto

( after browsing through and digging through some of the videos I did find a few with Old School influence and better video )

I like how the American accent breaks in places and the natural Indian accent comes through.Before you cry foul, I Don't know and don't care if it was by design or accident. 

Hey ! Honestly, the tracks and sound, i heard on Street Lights In the Sun befits the experimental tag more than the dub step track. Perhaps moving out of the comfort zone and collaborating with another producer is to be considered and congratulated here. I happened to discover the old school bunch a little bit later after putting that comment down. Its just that personally it has always been tight Grooves that tune up my body and feet, and dubstep puts me into a frenzy. All that i was saying was when working with dubstep it needs an equally frenzied delivery if not in concept all the time. All in good spirit. I am sure you are relentlessly upgrading your craft and having a lot of fun at it

I am absolutely loving that first bit of the Malayalam rant, Rjv Ernesto, however insignificant that might have been in the larger scheme of things. But that was the most candid, honest and spontaneous glimpse into the persona at work here ! That's the honesty that could reflect back in the sound. The confidence, ease, playfulness with the words and the resonance with oneself. That brings it closer to the brink of discovering a new and true 'shili/shyli' in your sound, with comfort, confidence, honesty and fun all at the same time ( even if the subject matter, and reality in question is borderline mundane)

I had noticed that vernacular rap, starts sounding cohesive and natural when the syllables, intonation and stretches are closer to the patterns and emotions (exaggerated when necessary) of the every day speaking mode of the respective language and its dialect ( distinct to the individual, area or community ) . Consequently, it starts crumbling when it is limited to fit an expected English style of delivery. Rjv Ernesto, For instance I could imagine an entertaining battle between a distinct Thrissur and Malabar style. If that helps to illustrate the point further.

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