Rapper D’Evil has been one of the oldest members of the ‘Gully Gang’ troupe. He has seen the culture of hip-hop growing since 2003 in India. In a heartfelt chat with Outlook, he talks about how his music has changed over the years, from where he gets his source material and how he feels hip-hop fashion has a reason behind its being. Excerpts:
What kind of music did you listen to while growing up, and what was your first introduction to hip-hop?
Eminem. I used to listen to him and buy those mix-tapes and listen to the songs and write down the lyrics. I used to learn them and listen again and again and then write the lyrics.
How different is your music now from the time that you started?
Tons of changes have come in my music. In life, nothing remains permanent. The good thing that I have seen about hip-hop is that hip-hop is always going up the hill. The culture itself is like that, that everybody likes it and everybody wants to live that way. The way rappers talk, the kind of clothes that they wear, the kind of lifestyle that they live - all of this attracts people.
As a rapper, what is your best source material?
Real-life. Whatever is happening around us, only about that I can be writing a rap song. Unless I am writing a completely fictional character, like 'Lighter Ki Aatmakatha' (Life Of A Lighter) or writing for a character in a movie, then I have to put myself in that character's shoes and think like that. But whenever I am writing and making a song for myself, it will either be for something that I feel inside and wants to come out or it will be something I see around me and that comes out.
Do you think the hip-hop culture is growing in India?
Definitely, it is growing. It is growing because we have a lot of record labels coming in and investing in hip-hop. Not just from here, but from outside of India there are labels that are coming to India and producing songs. You can see artistes from India going abroad and collaborating with artistes from the US and the other parts of the world. DIVINE, Badshah, Raftaar - they are everywhere. When we were starting to do hip-hop, that time this was like a dream which would never get fulfilled. But now it is something which is possible. That itself shows that the genre is growing. I could never imagine that I would be able to sit with someone like Eminem, who is my idol, and talk to him about music and learn something. But now it feels really possible. That it can happen now, that is very much possible, which is why I feel that it is an indication that the genre is growing in India.
Tell us a bit about your fashion. Why do we see hip-hop stars dress in a similar fashion always?
Honestly, if I tell you I personally do not want this to happen. For example, I do not wear jackets, but at one point, I used to wear jackets because we had no idea of what to do. We were just aping what we were seeing the American rappers do. In the US, it used to be like a long jacket with a reversed cap, baggy jeans and gold chains. I can tell you about them all how they came into fashion.
Rappers come from the streets and ghettos. In the ghetto, there is something called the thrift store. There it is impossible to find the perfect fit for you. It is cold outside and you have to wear whatever size you are getting as they were all very cheap. Normally streetwear would always be oversized. That is why rappers can be seen wearing such oversized clothes and jackets because they were not getting the size that they want in their price range. Later on, this itself became a style statement and fashion. That is the beauty of hip hop. Whatever you do in hip hop, it becomes fashion and it became the style.
Talking of the gold, African Americans and Latinos started the hip hop culture in America. The African kings would wear gold all over their bodies. Big chains, pendants, gold tooth, crown, ornaments - everything of gold. The African Americans still believe that they would have been kings of their villages in Africa. Because they feel they are not in the US of our own choice. Because of slavery, they were brought to America from Africa. So, they thought that we would earn money here and just as our king wear gold, and we will show that people hear that we are still the kings. That is why all rappers wear gold.
The reversed cap, that the way is actually a baseball cap which these baseball players use to wear. But since the rappers are also being sponsored by the same Adidas, Reebok and Nike who are also sponsoring the sports team, they would get the same clothes that the baseball players would get. The rappers started giving a different treatment by wearing it reversed. So, that’s how the whole culture of baseball caps and sneakers started coming in. It’s only recently that these brands started making outfits specific to rappers.
What does fashion mean to you personally?
In India, I don't wear jackets. I wear only T-shirts and shorts. Why? Because I live in Bombay and the city is a toaster oven. If you are wearing a jacket here you will just melt. If you're from Delhi, wear jackets as much as you want. It will suit your weather. So, that's what I would like to suggest to everyone is that your style should come from a place which defines who you are and your surroundings. It would look really stupid if I am roaming around in my jacket. People in Bombay would not take me seriously. So there has to be a reason behind the fashion as well and not just that you’re a rapper and you wear something just like that.