The Emperors New Clothes

Written by Ektaa Malik | Updated: August 20, 2018 12:35:31 am Badshah Gajendra Yadav.

A non-descript office space in the worn-out alleys of Okhla Phase II in Delhi are hardly the environs one would associate with the glamour quotient of rapper Badshah, even as the black Mercedez Benz parked outside did counter some of those apprehensions. The office belongs to Sony Music India, the label behind Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia aka Badshahs latest album, ONE – Original Never Ends, where we meet the artiste. “The album was supposed to have 30 songs, we then curtailed them to 17. Its a reflection of many things — state of my mind, state of the youth, current situation of women, and yes, there are some numbers which you will groove to,” says the 32-year-old, who became a household name in the country owing to his folksy-earthy rap numbers.

Badshah had released the first single for ONE, titled Mercy, in early 2017, but the album has been in the works for a while. In the meantime, various Bollywood projects kept him busy. He turned producer for a musical web series titled Lockdown, where mainstream musicians collaborate with YouTube stars. A Hindi film is also being produced by him.

His latest venture is Badfit, a unisexual clothing line. “The name has nothing to do with my stage name. Its a homage to how we all are misfits in some world or the other. I was a misfit — a musician in an engineering college. Bad is rapper slang. We are designing bags, shoes, belts and bags. Its on a small scale and I havent tied up with any clothing label because I want to see if we can make it feasible independently,” says Badshah.

Some designs from his new clothing line, Badfit. Some designs from his new clothing line, Badfit.

Juggling so many hats already, the questions begs to be asked: does he not feel the weight of stardom, or the fact that he might be stretched too thin? “I hate stardom and its manifestations. People should do business with me not because I am Badshah, but because I want to create something that outlasts Badshah. My hits should not be the only thing that draws them into a partnership. What about when I dont give hits?,” he says.

With the clothing line and other projects in the pipeline, Badshah is reflecting a Western phenomena where rappers such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Eminem and Kanye West have invested in clothing lines and other lifestyle arenas. “This is a trend where the club, perfume or clothes are made into an extension of the rapper. I want to go beyond this typical trajectory, and design resorts and houses,” he adds.

Badshahs rap numbers have a huge fan following in the country and also among expats. While in the West, rap started as a tool of political assertion, it is still finding its feet back home. “Rap has now trickled down to its home in India. Gali, mohalle aur basti main pahucha hai rap, where it belongs, to the people. Look at what Divine (a rapper from Mumbai) is doing. Rap is a voice, imagine the impact when the voiceless get a voice. Maybe I, and some other artistes, can take a small credit, but people in villages and far-flung areas are also rapping — not some abstract lyrical notions, but about their daily lives. We are just in a nascent stage, give it some time,” adds Badshah.

“I wrote about the world I came from. I wrote about my hostel mess, about the youth in Chandigarh, the gedi route, the friendly banter between boys and girls — all of which I saw. Once I was travelling to Chandigarh from Delhi in a bus with my cousin. He was speaking to his girlfriend on the phone. He hung up, irritated. I asked him what happened, and he said, Saturday, Saturday karti rehte hai, and thats how the song (Saturday Saturday; Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania) came about.”

Bollywood and, in turn, the music industry, has often been at the receiving end of criticism about the way they project women and perpetuate stereotypes. Those criticisms have only got louder in the light of the #metoo movement. Badshah feels a slow and steady approach is the key. “I respect our industry. I feel nobody has been stripped of their rights to speak out. Though I am sure its not easy. I am someone who stays away from in-your-face confrontation. I speak through my work. I wrote Pinjra, about honour killings. I wish ki mere kehne se kuch hota, par jo hota hai, woh main kehta hun. I do realise my social responsibilities, I fulfill them in other ways. We need to build a resistance slowly. For someone who has only consumed fast food, I cant give you karele ka juice directly; lauki ke juice se shuru karna padega,” he says.

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