Karachi is a city of 21 million, home to nearly two thirds of the inhabitants of the Sindh region in Pakistan. You might not expect to find some retro boom-bap shit in the style of DasEFX or Brand Nubian bumping out of trunks in the Bohri Bazaar. But straight outta Khadda Market come Trax, Ay-Jay, and Haze (RIP), AKA The Darkside, three Karachi natives who are unlikely devotees of a certain strand of New York rap.
They don't have a proper website, and they're not on a label or anything. Barely anyone's heard them, but they're stronger than a lot of the garbage coming out of the fringes of underground hip-hop. Listen to their key single, "Sold My Soul," which (at press time) has only been listened to 120 times:
A few years back, these three young rappers were listening to a lot of Nas, Immortal Technique, WuTang, and Diabolic, and studying the lyrical content and harsh East Coast beats. Underneath that New York delivery you can still hear a crisp Pakistani accent. You might wonder why they're concealing an accent if their fan base is Pakistani. Ay-Jay says, "worldwide, at least 95% of all Pakistanis have an identity crisis. I've seen Pakistani guys try to force British accents after being in the UK for just a month. What the hell is wrong with you?"
In August of 2012, the third member Haze, or Hamza, was gunned down in Houston, Texas of all places. As Ay-Jay remembers it, "these guys come out of nowhere. They took out a gun and said 'take out everything you got!' Hamza's friend took out everything. Now Haze is like what the fuck is this shit? So Haze tries to run away the guy grabs him. They got into a fist fight, and as Haze tried to run away the dude fired three or four shots and hit him in the head."
Listen to their strongest single, "Sold My Soul." By far the best verse is Haze's, the kind of political verse that's as fascinating as it is alienating:
I chose to drop lessons like a man/ 'Cause my intelligent measurements, shot the president of Pakistan
Blame Osama, better yet, blame the Klan/ Now they saying Obama's the one who saved the Christian land
They have invaded my country's sovereignty/ Took our privacy and waited, camouflaged in poverty/ Made a policy and played it like a rusty robbery
The two remaining members have since moved to separate cities to work on solo records, Trax to Houston and Ay-Jay to Toronto. They miss Karachi, but not its dark side: Violence in Karachi is a mixed bag, but it's hard to imagine a Pakistani version of Seaside Heights with 21 million people and tribal blood-feuds playing out at beach parties. "Karachi is the kind of place where people can come at you out of nowhere and you can't do shit. Me, Trax, and Haze, all three of us and some of our friends, it was a circle we had to keep. These few friends are life-friends. So when shit goes down, you know who's on your side. Not guys who would wile out and do stupid shit."
R.I.P Hamza AKA Haze, and long-live the Darkside.