I’ve read most of the books suggested to me, I’ve watched all that I had to, and I’ve listened to the same songs in my library a thousand times. Home quarantining isn’t as entertaining and comforting as I thought it would be. I soon realise excitement is a rare thing to feel during these times. But one day, I break out of this dull mould, when I’m told that I need to interview Raftaar. I had never spoken to the rapper before and I’ll admit it, I used to have a preconceived notion that Indian rappers were a little too brash and rough. But just a few minutes into our conversation, and I was proven wrong. I soon realised that I am not speaking to another run-of-the-mill Indian rapper, but I am actually engrossed in a conversation with an artiste who not only loves rap, but is highly educated in its history, and is determined to take it to new heights.

In India, A. R. Rahman was one of the first Indian composers to introduce rap back in the ‘90s, with the song, Patti Rap, from the 1994 film, Hum Se Hai Muqabla. It was a Hindi rap song, with hip-hop beats, and something very new in its time. Soon, he stuck with the Bollywood + rap formula and along with him, other composers saw the potential, and started following. Today, desi rap has grown larger than just a song feature. We’re seeing a whole culture being established, with a new breed of rappers sprouting from it. A lot of us are familiar with some notable names, and you are assured to find the name Raftaar somewhere at the top of that list. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rap fan or not, you’ve probably seen or heard Dilin Nair aka Raftaar. But in spite of being everywhere, he’s found the perfect balance between a commercial, successful career and a serious, hardcore rap career. What is special about Raftaar is that he isn’t your stereotypical rapper from North India. He’s a Malayali boy, who moved to Delhi, became a professional dancer and then became a mega-successful rapper, which is not exactly the conventional route for a newcomer.

 

 

But that’s why Raftaar feels it is important to tell his story. While he has lightly delved into this part of his life on a few older songs, he now lets you take a plunge into his past with his latest body of work. His vision for 2020 was clear — dropping his biggest and most concise body of work yet. Mr. Nair is the hardest project he’s worked on, and one he’s the proudest of, so far. “With all my previous work, I knew what kind of music to put out, and what kind of music would sell. But since then, I’ve learnt a lot and most importantly, I’ve learnt the direction I want to go in. This time, I visualised the whole album. I wanted to be distinct, and show people a whole other side of me,” he says. The rapper didn’t live a life of luxury. He belongs to a middle-class family where both his parents worked hard to give him a decent life. As he started getting bigger, his obsession with music and dance was evident, and he always remained vocal about his passion. He spent most of his time dancing, and eventually, became a professional choreographer and trainer. In fact, he also appeared on Dance India Dance as a contestant. Ironically, a few years down the line, he was asked to be a judge on the very same show.

His latest album — Mr. Nair — chronicles his whole life in one project. He’s never been the kind of rapper to hide where he comes from, or how he made it big, but this time, he’s doing it in a bigger way, with heavy emphasis on his South Indian background. The album cover itself tells it all. You see him in a Versace shirt, his neck covered in gold chains, but he pairs it all up with a mundu. One thing that’s apparent from the start, is Raftaar’s aim and efforts to bring unknown or smaller artistes to the forefront. Either by doing a song with them, or by signing them to his label, Kalamkaar, if he finds them passionate and worthy. “To me, Kalamkaar was inevitable. I used to have all these youngsters around me, who used to send me their music. And I always wanted to have this space where everyone could come together and make music as a collective. Right now, we have the connections and resources, why not use it on something like this?”

 

 

Raftaar sees his label and its artistes as family. So when someone tries to malign or disrespect your family, you go at them with everything you’ve got. Just two days prior to this interaction, the Internet was flooded with comments, tweets and posts, about Raftaar and another fellow rapper, Muhfaad. Around a year ago, the two collaborated on a song, but Muhfaad was not happy with how it turned out. He brought it all out with his diss song that took shots at Raftaar, and a few artistes on his label. It sparked a barrage of back-to-back diss tracks. From Jay-Z and Nas to Drake and Meek Mill, rap beefs have been going on since time immemorial. But Raftaar doesn’t like to drop back-to-back diss tracks. He believes in talking things out before rapping things out, a quality that a lot of successful rappers don’t possess. But most importantly, he’s aware that these songs are also just a publicity stunt. “There are so many rappers who just jump on the bandwagon. They might not have a reason, they just want to do it because it might get them attention or views. You end up turning into a debacle. People’s attention is diverted from all the good music out there and are now just interested to see when the next episode coming out,” he explains.

Before I could ask him about the whole blow up between him and Muhfaad, he brought it up. “I’ve actually helped that guy a lot. There were so many things I couldn’t say. I gave him an opportunity to clear things out, and I did that out of love. I directly asked him why he was upset with me, and he had no answer. And after that, now everyone who was interested in his art, is going against him, and now I feel bad. I’m still trying to tell people to let bygones be bygones and focus on his art, because he indeed is a good artiste. I tried to remain calm, but he was disrespectful from the beginning. They think a diss track will be their shortcut to fame, but it doesn’t work that way,” he shares.

Today, it seems like Raftaar has everything. The views, the numbers, the fame, the influence, the audience and most importantly, the skill. He fits the rapper check-list but is working hard to be more than that. He’s confident about the path he’s paved for himself, and is doing everything in his power to encourage other budding rappers to do the same. He’s part of a growing culture that is only going to get bigger every year. It almost feels like a little kingdom by itself. A kingdom that is still waiting for someone to take the throne. There are a lot of contenders leaping towards it, but Raftaar seems closer to it than anyone else.