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Dharavi hip-hop boys keep the stories alive

t is more than a decade since the boys of Dharavi-based hip-hop outfit Dopeadelicz — Tony Sebastian aka Stony Psycho, Rajesh Radhakrishnan aka Dope Daddy, and Agnel Avinash Benson aka Ben Z – first discovered in hip-hop the freedom to assert their individual identity and find a distinct voice as a community.

It was around the time when Tony had decided to walk out of the local hip-hop outfit he was a part of to write songs that told his story better. With that objective and a fire in his gut, when he approached Rajesh, the latter was a curious neighbourhood dance freak, who, as a Malayali-Tamil boy growing up in Dharavi, dreamed of taking part in Tamil reality dance shows. “I told him I didn’t know anything about rap. He said, he would write the songs, I’d just have to perform on them. And that’s how it started,” says Rajesh. Cut to last week, the boys launched their debut album, ‘Mapulz’, in Chennai after unveiling Unlock fest, a mega hip-hop festival which will be launched in Chennai next month. In addition to this, what the Dopeadelicz have shaped in Dharavi today is an ecosystem for hip-hop — complete with Dharavi United: a multilingual hip-hop collective; free tutorials for any child or young adult with words to slay; open mics for aspirants to break out of their shells and test the waters; and a reggae versus hip-hop event presided over by Bob Marley’s granddaughter Donisha Prendergast that made headlines last February.

“When I started off in the late 2000s, among the first things I did was get to know my favourite artists better — West Coast rappers such as 2 Pac and Snoop Dogg; where they came from, why they sang about what they did. It helped me write songs about my community after extensively reading up about the things that made news to add nuance, resistance and humour in my music,” says Tony.

Self-styled joggers, baggy pants, sneakers, boots and sports jerseys aren’t just overt fashion statements, but closely linked to the culture of non-commercial, revolutionary, underground hip-hop as it was pioneered by African and Latino Americans in Bronx, New York. Most young people are drawn to these representations of ‘swag’. But, it is only by being educated about the culture that they can produce authentic work, and the Dopeadelicz boys know this.

“It was easy to draw parallels when I was growing up, kids from Dharavi were segregated inside one section in school, they had shorter classes than the kids from better socio-economic backgrounds who were privy to special classes. Teachers wrote us off even before we started planning our future after Class X,” says Rajesh. “There was no dearth of material.”

Where you come from drills into you lessons for a lifetime and that’s why the Dopeadelicz have been using Tamil lyrics as much as Marathi and Hindi in their songs and have now found a fan base for this in their ‘hood’. They’ve worked in films such as Rajinikanth-starrer ‘Kaala’ and ‘Gully Boy’, and now, along with Chennaibased choreographer and hip-hop artist from Hip-Hop International and World of Dance championships Ragu G, are determined to create a vibrant hip-hop stage through the Unlock Fest.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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