In India, rap went from derivative to original over the last few years, got co-opted quicker, and hit the mainstream without warning. This, despite the vibrant hip-hop scene in Mumbai having existed for over a decade. Many rappers who are around today started off by hosting rap battles on the now-defunct social media networking site, Orkut. Back then, the language of choice was English.
But the turning point for Mumbai rap came when rappers started using local Bambaiyya slang and becoming more comfortable rapping in their own languages – be it Hindi, Marathi, Tamil or Konkani. One of the first rappers to do this was DIVINE, with “Yeh Mera Bombay” in 2013, followed by Naezy’s “Aafat!”. In 2015, Sony Music India released “Mere Gully Mein” performed by DIVINE featuring Naezy. This marked the first time a major record label released a track featuring Mumbai rappers.
The breakout success of this track led to the popularity of the gully rap genre. Gully rap translates to “street” rap and is a scene dominated by music that speaks about the struggles of the ’hood, using local languages and slang. This booming, brimming subculture entered mainstream consciousness in a huge way through overnight, instantaneous success stories like DIVINE, Naezy, Emiway, and others. There’s no greater testament to the popularity of the genre than the fact that a big-budget Bollywood film called Gully Boy, is scheduled to release in February 2019.
Via conversations, interviews, and some sick bars, VICE India unfurls the recent history of rap in Mumbai with Kya Bolta Bantai. Over the course of this documentary, we explore what it means to be a gully rapper in 2018, what the genre itself translates to and stands for, and why it’s such a draw for kids in the ’hood, brands, and even Bollywood.
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.