Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rising to the top and still dreaming high!

Urban Inc brings hip-hop back on the scene

Trailblazing their way through the swarm of pop and rock, Sikkim’s first hip-hop crew, ‘Urban Inc’, marks the beginning of a resurgence of hip-hop in the State. While Sikkim rode the hip hop wave in the 90s along with the rest of the world, it extended only to hoarding Tupac albums, oversized clothing, loud accessories and hip hop slang. It could not go much beyond that. Now, two-albums-old [their second album was released in September last year], Urban Inc symbolizes the coming of age of hip hop in Sikkim.
The last few years have seen a growing trend in terms of the number of youngsters taking to hip hop not just as a ‘look’ to sport but as a medium to express themselves. ‘Breaking’ and ‘b-boying’, hip hop dance crews like BRSTP and others are also an emerging trend while graffiti art, long associated with the hip hop culture, has popped up in certain corners of the capital. Although too early to say that this popular culture has taken over Sikkim, there is definitely a whiff of it spreading across this hill state.
Complementing this rise is the growing popularity of Nep-hop or Nepali hip-hop from neighbouring Nepal. Rapping in Nepali, the lingua franca of the State, has made hip hop accessible to the general masses hitherto perplexed by the incomprehensible lyrics that their favourite American stars were rhyming. You now have hip hop also finding space where earlier rock shows and performances ruled the roost. Case in point is an event held around the end of August last year which featured performances by two popular rappers from Nepal [Yamma Buddha and Sacar], a local hip hop dance crew [BRSTP] and rock band [Tribal Rain]. It was perhaps the first such event where the dominant theme was hip hop. There are many other names sprouting in this genre from Sikkim like Sagar Pradhan or Kiddi [his stage name] who draws inspiration from international stars like Nas, The Notorious B.I.G, Eminem, Tupac, Jay-z and Mike Shinoda being his “biggest inspiration” as he writes in his reverbnation profile.
In 2010, two new names surfaced in the music scene in Sikkim - Bosing and Urban Inc. While rapper Bosing exploded onto the music scene as a solo artist and became a popular name, it didn’t last long. In the same year, Urban Inc was also formed and their rise has been slow and steady. After a successful first show as a band at a New Year’s eve event, the four of them - DJ Sunny [Sunny Norden Lepcha], Lex [Tenzing Lekchola], Thups [Thupden Wangchuk] and Robin [Robin Rai] decided to formally come together as Urban Inc. However, Robin left the band after the first album. Urban Inc now comprises the music producer DJ Sunny with rappers Lex and Thups, all in their mid-twenties.
The band released their debut album “Rise to the Top” in September 2011, and the lead single “Beat the Rain” was well received. The song’s music video became the first official hip-hop/ rap music video from the entire North-East India. Their second album “Dream High” is set to be released by the end of this year. However, the band has already released three tracks from the 13-track album - “Dream high”, “Walk in our shoes” and “Maya” along with the music video.
Urban Inc has performed in almost all the major cities of the country as well as some outside. They toured Nepal in November 2013 performing a string of gigs at popular joints [Capital Grill, Attic and Factory] in Kathmandu. The band received a warm response from the Nepalese crowd who have heard and seen very little of Sikkimese hip hop. The band has also performed in Bhutan in 2012 at the Mojo Park in Thimphu.
Urban Inc draws inspiration from old school hip hop biggies like 2Pac, Notorious BIG, Dr Dre to the more recent Wiz Khalifa, Kid Ink, Lil Wayne.
“We write about what is real and happening around us,” say the duo.
Laidback beats and positive vibes resonate from their songs and albums. Their first album, ‘Rise to the top’, as the title suggests is about striving for the best and becoming it. Their second album too shares similar tones urging the youth to “Dream high, there comes a light after every dark night”.
Their look and their music are also all about ‘keeping it real’.
“We steer clear of profanities as much as possible in our songs because Sikkim is still a bit conservative,” shares Thups. That however does not take away from the hip hop traditions that the band subscribes to. A tribute to the genre’s history of voicing social concerns is the single, ‘Walk in our shoes’, which features in their second album. The song is about the Tibetan struggle for freedom which is inspired by a peace march that the two rappers, who share a Tibetan heritage, participated in 2012. Tibetans living in Sikkim had undertaken a five-day march from Gangtok to Siliguri [West Bengal] to protest the atrocities being suffered by the Tibetans in Tibet.
In a similar vein, the band also released a single titled ‘Take that’ dedicated to all the “chinkies” around the world in October last year.
“Our first album was more personal and in our second album there is something different in terms of the song about the Tibetan cause and a song in Nepali called ‘Maya’ where we have collaborated with the local pop duo Anita and Nitesh,” say the duo.
While their first album was recorded at Psalms Studio in Gangtok and was distributed by the band themselves, this time round they are looking at digital distribution. They are currently in talks with and plan to upload the album on other digital platforms as well.
Music as a career is an unconventional choice, more so for Sikkim which is yet to see anyone making it “big” in the music industry. Add to this a genre that is relatively new, and survival becomes all the more difficult. Shows and performances are few and far between and even these do not pay very well. However, all members of the band are solely devoted to making music and do not hold any other jobs as such.  Urban Inc soldiers on, rapping about these very realities.
“When we started out, our parents didn’t take us seriously. They thought we would fizzle out soon. But now they understand that we are serious about our music and support us,” say Urban Inc.
The hip-hop crew thinks there is a lot of material as well as potential for hip-hop music in the state. “There are many youngsters today who are coming up in this genre although sustaining themselves and making serious music could still take a while longer,” believes Thups.
With Urban Inc leading the pack, hip hop and rap seems set to grow further in the state. As a fan Dheeraj Lemo Gurung puts it, “Urban Inc has contributed immensely to the popularity of hip-hop in Sikkim. Future generations of hip-hop artists and fans will remember them as the ones who started it all”.
You can check out Urban Inc on Facebook, Twitter, soundcloud, songdew and other sites online.

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