“My first hit song was in 12th grade, about three years ago. I made it for my brother and we had nearly two lakh views on it,” Prince Chaprana tells me. “I can’t give a link to it because we had to delete it. Bhai ka naam ladai jhagde mein aa gaya tha neighbours ke saath. ( Bhai was named in a scuffle with our neighbours). He was named in a FIR (First Information Report), and the police started to judge his character by watching the video, saying, ‘look how these spoilt kids roam around on bikes and do laundagiri (dude-flexing, physical and material)’. So my family asked me to pull it down,” he adds.
A Meerut native, 20-year-old Prince Chaprana, got out of a seven-year long relationship in 2016. His antidote? A dive head-first into rapping, taking inspiration from childhood heroes Raftaar and Badshah. He didn’t regret the breakup, as his girlfriend too wanted to pursue her own dreams of becoming a star kabbaddi player. He’d always been into music—he wrote a song about the greatness of Jat-Gujjar friendships in the 7th grade.
For the uninitiated, both Jats and Gujjars are traditionally farmers in Northern and Western India. Like any other community in India close to each other, there have been clashes between the two, but their recent independent battles for reservations has brought them on a level-playing field. The harmony has been 20 years in the making, ever since Meerut bore witness to one of India’s most horrific massacres in Hashimpura, where members of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) were accused of shooting 40 people and throwing them into a nearby stream. The city, famous for hosting the beginning of the Sepoy revolution against the British in 1857, hasn’t seen communal clashes since Hashimpura thanks to a watertight administrative management. Instead, it has focused on building its industries, including manufacturing sporting equipment, and fascinatingly, supplying 90% of India’s brass musical instruments, providing the soundtrack to weddings across India. Despite this musical legacy, Meerut is not a city that encourages youngsters to pursue music, either as a vocation or a hobby.
Chaprana however, with relatively well off parents funding him, banded together with some collaborators (comprising both Jats and Gujjars), and started Desi Vibes Records, investing upwards of Rs 50,000 in building a studio earlier this year, a coveted venue for up and coming musicians in the city. He doesn’t pay any rent or turn a profit, just sometimes uses it to make his stuff. He doesn’t need to, because his father owns multiple properties in Meerut.
I met Chaprana and his gang on my way back from Rishikesh. They were nice enough to give my photographer and me a ride to a bus stand amidst incessant rains and a cab strike. We decided to stay in touch, and I looked them up recently, seeing that their studio is fully operational now. It’s run by seven people, but Chaprana and 22-year-old Udit Sharma (who raps under the stage name v-Chitr) manage it on a day-to-day basis. Unlike Chaprana, Sharma’s family isn’t that loaded, so he still hasn’t told his automobile electrician father what he does. They think he’s still looking for a job after he quit his call centre gig 10 months ago.
“I’m currently working on a video which tells the story of three college-going Muslim women, where one wants to be a musician and her parents say no, another one wants to study and her parents say no, and the third wants to be a dancer and her parents say no,” says Sharma. “We want to do social projects like this, as it will create even more interest in music here.”
For as little as Rs 4,000, you can record a track in the studio. The price is so great, that teenage girls come over to record covers of Bollywood heartbreak music. Whether they want to release the track or not isn’t much of a priority. If they do want to make it better, Desi Vibes has Sohan Solanki and Mudit Khanna, helpful rappers, Shubham Shrivastav, a video editor, Mudit Khanna, and even a video director in Nazim Saifi—all of them happy to extend their skills. Most of them met at Meerut’s first cipher, which took place late last year. Ciphers have emerged as a key way for small artists to meet and build communities, in cities where such communities are non-existent as well as venues. Cities like Mumbai have been hosting them since the early 2010s, and in smaller cities, meeting like-minded people through ciphers is the only way to build contacts.
At the cipher, the Desi Vibes boys decided to take shit into their own hands. Now, the studio is located on in a posh area, on Rohta Road, down the street from a series of competitive exam coaching classes, where kids from nearby villages come to study. Just like the rest of the country, the job market in Meerut isn’t exactly popping. To save both time and money, instead of going to Delhi on his one off-day a week to record, they set up the studio.
The music emerging from the studio is, at best, mostly sad ballad rap. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of Meerut’s rap scene, which is more community-centric. “Here most of the music coming out is community-based promotional music,” says Desi-Vibes’s 23-year old producer Aman Chauhan. “It’s the same as Noida. Gujjars are making songs hyping up Gujjars, Jats and Rajputs too. Earlier people were making normal tracks, but now it’s community promotion, or love-rap,” he adds.
The love-song cover market is apparently hot, and Meerut’s youngsters are impressionable. “If one person listens to Skrillex, they ask me to mix their tracks like that. Agar Punjabi sun liya toh punjabi bana hai, even if uski mother-tongue na ho. Kuchh log maar kha rahein hain iss maamle mein (If they listen to a Punjabi song, they want to sing in that tone, even if it’s not their first language. Some people get fucked due to this appropriation),” says Chauhan.
The desi boys though, don’t give a fuck. Whoever I spoke with is unconcerned about YouTube views. They’re happy just making music, and sometimes, upto 30k a month in remunerations from the studio or production freelance work. Chaprana even feels happy when his mother’s doctor asks her if she’s his mom. "Mummy ko thoda proud feel hua,” he says.
“Earlier people used to ask me to randomly add Haryanvi dhikchik dhikchik to the music,” Chauhan says. “Apni upgradation aur promotion zaroori hai, par paise ke chakkar mein jo meri vibes bhi nahi hai, woh nahi banana (My creative improvement and publicity is important, not sacrificing my vibes for cash).”
Chauhan wants to eventually run an independent label, one he thinks he can get off ground once Desi Vibes eventually explodes onto the mainstream. That's how he's going to bring Meerut love-rap to the masses, and maybe even turn it into the giant that Mumbai’s gully rap has now evolved into.
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