Hip-hop is one of the most exciting and steadily growing musical styles today. Hip hop emerged as a musical genre and a culture in the 1970s, when block parties became increasingly common in New York City.
Most kids my age grew up listening to artists like Eminem, Lil Wayne, Tupac Shakur, and 50 Cent, and struggled to keep up with their fast-paced songs. Listening to rap songs with my brother is one of my favorite childhood memories, we didn’t understand the songs’ deeper meanings at the time, but we nevertheless enjoyed and danced to the rhythms. It wasn’t until later that I realised the true significance of these songs, which were written in response to social problems such as racism. Their music has been used to raise awareness of social problems such as police brutality, poverty, and the drug war.
According to Habib Sarfraz, who listens to rap music religiously, added “From my early years, I was always fascinated by the music genre rap. It started with some funky punjabi rap songs to becoming a bohemia fanatic to a shady’s solider and then YS, rap always has gotten my attention. For me rap was never about the disses or the wars between the east coast and west coast, it was more than that, it was how you can express your experiences throughout your life into a story that you can calibrate messages throughout the society by the strength of your vocals. Music was never always all about the harmonious melodies or beautiful voices, it was about the message it conveyed and the story it narrated. Now rap culture is also growing in Pakistan and new talents are coming everyday and giving amazing content to the masses. It started from Bohemia in the late 90s to now when every youngster is inspiring to become a rap artist with young stunners winning the hearts of people all around the country. Rap is and always an ever-growing culture.”
Similarly, in Pakistan, a new generation of artists has arisen who are speaking out about critical issues that are rarely discussed in rap music. A new wave of musicians is forming Pakistan’s own homegrown rap culture by the street rappers. The lingo, street talk, and regional languages are all essential factors in identifying with gully rap.
“Bhangra Rap” (1993) by Yatagaan (Fakhar-e-Alam) was the first Pakistani rap hit, and it became a major headliner on Pakistani music charts. Formal paraphrase Rapping was also used in Abrar-ul-hit Haq’s song “Billo De Ghar” from 1995.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, hip hop and rap music in Pakistan was mostly focused on those with a strong command of the English language (a socioeconomically privileged group). At the time, Pakistani hip hop and rap artists were mostly underground English acts who were mocked by the media and the mainstream as “Eminem ki aolad” (Eminem’s children) and “yo-bache” (yo-kids).
On reaching out to Taha G, indie hip-hop artist, he told us “ I grew up listening mostly to Eminem, Jay Z and Kanye West those are most influential rappers from my era atleast I believe. When it comes to inspirations mostly im inspired by The weeknd and Drake my music taste is more like them. I believe I go for more of a poppy drake vibe and sometimes the dark weeknd vibe I like”
Desi hip-hop is a mash-up between hip-hop styles and South Asian music, as the name implies. Desi hip-hop is a broad term that encompasses rap and pop music created by South Asian artists. The word has recently gained popularity, and the musicians are becoming more well-known. However, it took nearly two decades for Desi hip hop subcultures to gain recognition, and there is still more work to be done.
We had a question and answer session with Rehman Afshar known as Maanu, the very talented hip-hop artist who not only wrote Melancholic but composed, produced and performed it. Let’s see what he had to say about the rap culture in Pakistan.
1. Growing up what kind of rap did you listen to?
Growing up I didn’t listen to Rap Music much, I grew up on rock music. It was when I was in my O’levels (2015–2016). That’s when I started listening to hip-hop just because friends used to listen to it. I started off with listening to old school rappers, then locally I used to listen to Faris Shafi as there weren’t many other desi rappers. Not that desi rappers didn’t exist they weren’t just mainstream like Bohemia, I didn’t resonate with Bohemia but Faris Shafi has always been my huge inspiration.
2. Who were your inspirations?
Ans. Like I said growing it was Faris Shafi then overtime when I started writing my own music, where I had to find my own music style so I was listening to a lot of Drake, Weeknd, basically a lot of western stuff. I think my main inspiration comes from there although my music is mostly in urdu but the melodic structure is inspired by the R&B hip-hop scene in the West.
3. Why do you listen to Rap music?
Ans. I think I really like hip-hop is just because of the energy. It is that one genre that can never let you down whenever you need a “pick me up” so whenever I’m also you know feeling down that’s the genre I’m listening to or start writing in. It becomes cathartic in a way, I get all those frustrations out on a paper or I write something that I can listen to later and feel good about myself. Hip-hop represents struggle whether it is a class struggle or it is a struggle to make your dreams come true or anything at all. It is the energy of this genre that it encapsulates, it so difficult to put it in a box and to censor it, I think that’s why it has been my favourite genre so fast.
4. What changes do you want to see in the rap industry?
Ans. As far as the changes in the rap industry go, I feel like we’re at a point where slowly Pakistan’s rap scene is becoming a hip-hop culture. There are a lot of new hip-hop artists coming up and I don’t think there’s anything that I would want to change because there’s hip-hop emanating from all sorts of places and classes. Hip-hop has always come from people and I don’t think I would wanna change anything, I’m very interested to see where it could go in the next 2–3 years. Other than maybe just acceptance for different kinds of hip-hop not just the hip-hop that comes from the streets.
When asked by Ali Umair, a true desi hiphop fan, “What do you think is the reason that good rap songs are so underrated in Pakistan?” To which he responded, “I think people in Pakistan only listen to mainstream music or any song that goes viral on the internet. There is this other platform that is being used to promote music and that is tiktok, I feel like such songs don’t reach audiences as they don’t target the right audience.”
Bohemia, a Pakistani-American rapper, pioneered real Desi hip hop in the early 2000s with his debut album “Vich Pardesan De” Bohemia is well-known because he pioneered Desi hip hop with hit singles such as “Pesa Nasha Pyar.” This new genre was well-liked and accepted by all, inspiring many talents to begin rapping themselves.
Desi hip hop has never received the recognition it deserved. No, I’m not referring to Bollywood rap songs. In reality, the success of mainstream Bollywood raps has only served to drive real hip hop to the margins.
People are, thankfully, mindful of the presence of hip hop subcultures in a post-’Gully Boy’ setting. Also, thanks to Spotify, Apple Music, and other related apps for providing artists with a common and easy platform to upload and promote their music.
Rizzy Rozeo, hip-hop artist, had a take on the rap culture, “I listened mostly to Eminem, Jay Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Nas, Wu Tang, Kendrick, J Cole and A$AP Rocky. My inspirations were the artists I mentioned above but as rap in Pakistan is on the rise, they’ve changed to people like Faris Shafi and Young Stunners. I don’t know much about this rap industry so I can’t say what changes I’d like to see. I’m just glad that people are putting out music and doing their thing, I actually don’t listen to a lot of rap anymore. My spotify playlist is probably only 25% rap and the rest is other genres but when I do listen to rap, I do it to get myself in the ‘fight’ mode, to deal with a downer etc.”
Desi rappers and music producers are now more known and respected than ever before, with new talent growing on a daily basis, and young talents leading a hip hop revival with tremendous zeal, commitment, and sheer talent.
SALOR, a very talented musician and a rapper, added few points on his journey with rap.
- I grew up listening to a lot of pop music, a lot of atif arjit and one direction 😂and hated rap until 2017, that’s when I heard J Cole, Kendrick and Kanye and have been hooked ever since.
- Firstly my mom, who was a classical/folk singer at her university was my biggest supporter/influence as she got me listening to a lot of music. Talha Yunus was my senior in NCA. and he taught me a lot about hip hop and J Cole for influencing my style.
- I didn’t quite understand what you meant by personal experience but i would say it is a difficult field to make it big in, but it is a very accepting one. I’m grateful for what I have and I’m excited for what’s to come!
Lyari Underground (L.U.G.) is a Pakistani rap collective from Karachi’s poorest city, Lyari, which was formerly afflicted by severe gang wars. During the peak of the conflict, 800 locals were killed in a single year.
Abdul Ahad, a founding member, a.k.a. Anxiously, he is determined to say the truth about his culture through rap: “We’ll talk about whatever is going on right now — Lyari, the community, the inequality. We have no fear of telling the truth to the public.”
L.U.G.’s music addresses gang violence, joblessness, neglect, and the hardships of Lyari youth — a message that resonates in their culture and ties them to global struggles.
Here is a list of young artists who are changing the face of desi hip hop:
1. Liyari Underground
LUG, who rap in English, Urdu, Balochi, and Sindhi, started performing and posting their music on YouTube a little more than two years ago, with videos regularly reaching six figures in views.
2. Young Stunners
These boys rose to prominence after releasing their most famous song, ‘Burger-e-Karachi,’ in which they criticise the upper class and their behaviour. Following that, their singles ‘Maila Majnu’ and ‘Laam se Chaurah’ were both chart-topping hits.
3. Faris Shafi
Faris Shafi creates ferocious songs inspired by the environment that shapes us as people, our perceptions, and our daily lives in Pakistan. One of the best examples is his song ‘Jawaab De.’ It went viral after it aired on BBC Asian Network with Talal Qureshi.
4. Abid Brohi
Featuring Balochistan native Abid Brohi (above) and the experimental music group SomeWhatSuper (below), ‘The Sibbi Song’ is extremely infectious, full of futuristic EDM bounce, and Brohi remains the star of the sonic stage.
5. Shamoon Ismail (Chill Rap)
Shamoon Ismail began publishing his music on bandcamp and soundcloud with the aid of his friends early in his career, and he was able to gain some attention for the kind of music he was doing. He usually performed live on local university campuses, as well as at regional music festivals such as Music Mela and Lahore Music Meet. On YouTube, he debuted his first music video, “Tuntuna.”
Other young artists such as Maanu, Bol Jaani, Taha G, Rizzy Rozeo, and SALOR are breaking through, and I’m certain they have a lot more to give to the music industry.
From a small and confined rap culture in Pakistan with just a few musicians, it has now developed to become a whole society. Street cyphers have become a common forum for young people to share their strong opinions. Even college festivals have begun to hold rap battles, in which many young people compete. Rap music is gradually becoming one of the most influential aspects of youth culture, and it is expanding at a steady pace.
There are many other artists to take notice of and listen to, and that is only within the boundaries of our country. If you really want to get into the Desi hip hop culture and musicians, make sure to look into Desi artists from other countries as well. They all have something meaningful to express, something that will soothe our hearts.