Gospel Hip-Hop That’s Putting Shillong on the Map

Meet Meghalaya’s newest hip-hop stars, Kingdom Culture.

Around The Corner is a series that aims to highlight India’s diverse cultural landscape beyond its metropolitan cities.

Over the past few years, homegrown hip-hop has emerged as one of the most engaging and viable forms of independent music in the country. As seen in VICE India’s documentary Kya Bolta Bantai?, the hip-hop community has become the voice of a generation that isn’t afraid to express its opinions about socio-political and cultural issues plaguing Indian society. Barring an attempt by 101 India via their Hip-Hop Homeland series, and despite being home to two of India’s mercurial hip-hop talents in Stunnah Beatz and Borkung Hrangkhawl, the coverage of the North-Eastern scene has been woefully inadequate.

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Keeping that in mind, for our first edition of Around The Corner, we turn our attention to Shillong where Kingdom Culture, a new crew from Shillong, is aiming to become a voice for the region’s youth and put the city on the map as a hot-spot for forward-thinking, gospel-inspired hip-hop music.

“Hip-hop culture has been misrepresented by opportunists,” says Manly, the 21-year-old MC that forms a quarter of Kingdom Culture. “I couldn’t stay silent about it—this is a culture that’s fascinated me from the very beginning and I learnt about how it changed lives—so I decided to use my pen and my voice to help do the same.” His crewmates—Shanbok (19), Tenny Sxn (23) and Cassidy (21)—agree. Inspired by the pioneers of Christian hip-hop such as Lecrae and his Reach Records alumni, as well the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper, Kingdom Culture’s music intrically weaves biblical narratives about redemption and hope with the socio-political situation in Meghalaya. Since the turn of the century, the state has been dealing with growing unemployment and an acute drug epidemic. A study conducted by the North-East India Drug & Aids Care (NEIDAC) found that the number of users had increased in the region by 33 percent between 1999 and 2009— raising fears that Shillong could mirror the epidemic in Punjab.

“Our faith is the primary influence on our music,” says Shanbok. “Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, 2 Pac, J. Cole and others motivate us to continue improving our skills and move forward artistically, but it’s important for us to look beyond this as just a medium for entertainment. We need to contribute our opinions about society, religion, politics and culture and inspire the people around us—whether that involves talking about the ills of substance abuse or something as small and simple as encouraging a kid to follow his or her dreams.”

Shanbok, Cassidy and Manly grew up in Riatsamthiah, a small neighbourhood in Shillong, eventually meeting Tenny Sxn while attending Bible studies at Soul Ministries, a voluntary, non-profit Christian ministry founded in 2001. While the quadruple are avid gamers and cinephiles, they’re also acutely aware of the message they need to express through their music and the potential impact it has on their surroundings. “We’re constantly trying to learn more about who we are and why our society is set up the way it is,” says Manly. “Our lyrics are based on our experiences, our understanding of what kind of messages our peers need to hear, and our faith in Jesus.”

Kingdom Culture is surrounded by a strong family unit, one that supports and instills their dreams of becoming a globally successful voice for the neglected youth of the North East. They’re just at the beginning of their journey, but as seen with the release of catchy, melodic trap track ‘Catalyst’ and old-school hip-hop anthem ‘Holier Than Thou’, this talented crew from Shillong has the potential to take over the world.