The Big Mic events are just about the only entity promoting live rap in Mumbai and thanks to their passion, they have started pushing artists beyond their open mic sessions. In April, they released the “Big Mic Mixtapes Vol 1” and before the dust has even settled on that compilation, they brought us a refill with “Big Mic Mixtapes Vol 2.”
The eight-track compilation opens with a groove and bass heavy jam When The World Burns Down by Kochi based rapper Earthgrime. The powerful kick of the track laced with a melodious hook feels a tad too electronic, but I guess that is the flavour of the day so give him a pass for that. However, the verse is a challenge to listen to because of the way the artist mouths his rhymes. By the time the hook kicks in, it brings a breather before delving into the subsequent verse that is equally arduous to decipher. On a production level, this one scores well, a decent opener.
The second track Running Into You starts with a solo synth pattern before the heavily processed hook kicks in with an extremely stretched, lyrically economical line “What is this aboo—oooout” forced to fill the two bars. It takes a while before Delhi-based rapper dM finally begins to spit “When I step up in the club, everybody say what, say what, say, what, say what…” Repetitive lyrics are a bit much, making it seem like the songwriter was not in the mood to work on his rhymes. For the south side heads however, this one might just make you move in the club. With producer Sez on the beat, it’s about as good as underground production gets in the country, while making it sound pretty mainstream and club friendly. A step up from track one.
The next joint R.E.L.E.N.T.L.E.S.S. by Mumbai’s most notorious rhymers Noxious D and Kav E hits off quite ominously with a distorted voice announcing the principles they believe in, “Not swag, but lyricism and flow”. I was a fan of The Blacklisted People, a crew that included Kav-E, R.O.G.E.R. and recently watched Noxious in action at The Big Mic Night Rap. Believe me, these two cats do not surprise when they come off brutally on the track, supported by a simple synth melody and a straight old-school groove. They’re let down by the usual production glitches however, you can hear the blows and breathlessness on the mic at times, but you are gripped by the narrations that swing from lyrical flossing to warnings for the delusional, pride filled poser emcees that haven’t half the lyrical prowess they profess. There is definitely lyrical talent in local hip hop.
Raptivist A List steps up next with his now countywide famous joint Free Kabir Kala Manch. He argues their cause in his rhyme, calling the singers being tried by the State as Naxalites, poets. A List is definitely the odd one out in this mixtape. He’s one of the leftovers from the Doggystyle generation. The production on his track is much cleaner, another result of experience in the game, in fact some credit him with being one of the first Indian rappers to ever drop a mixtape in 2005, in what was then known as, Calcutta.
The rapper calls himself “the old man of hip hop,” when asked why the hip hop community doesn’t show him love even as big publications and the wider music community is in awe of his work. He stubbornly refuses to switch his style to the tunes most rappers today have grown up on. I can tell this sound would be comfortable back in the day, but today, it almost sounds like a lecture, complete with statistics read to an apolitical demographic, that probably does not even know who is the President of the country. A List, nevertheless occupies a lonely seat in the pantheon of political rap in India, a position where he has very few counterparts.
The first truly desi tune on this release is Chak Fatte by veteran Delhi-based Gaggy representing the popular Punjabi rap movement. The emcee who is a household name in the underground scene, doesn’t let down with his flow and tight grasp of the bars as he effortlessly kicks it in Punjabi on a distinctive local hip hop beat. His voice though sounding less intimidating than his image, will still grip you even if you don’t understand the language. This is real desi hip hop at its finest.
DNOAX, the mega crew composed of members from different cities bless us with Bhool Na Jaana, a slow romantic Bollywood meets hip hop type of track, complete with a Hindi hook. However the production side is not spectacular and jeopardises the theme of the song. This one could do with a lot more polishing. The strings and tablas are however an exquisite addition.
Z Diesel Ft. Berzerki, who featured in the “Big Mic Mixtapes Vol 1” re-appears with Time To Spar. A bright spot in the tape production wise, lyrically the joint has the potential to get crowds moving on the dance floor. The auto tune hook does sound a little trite though, but that’s about its only downside.
Brooklyn-based Eleagle closes the compilation with his joint The Shining. It’s the most adventurous track on the mixtape, starting out with a Braodway-esque brass intro, a style that instantly evokes memories of Wu Tang’s martial arts movie samples. A somewhat erratic beat then kicks in, Eleagle jumps in catching us off guard with his narration of American politics and issues that sounds quite odd after going on an Indian hip hop safari. But soon enough you’re caught up in the rapper’s style, ignoring the substance. It’s is a breath of fresh air after listening to the numerous radio friendly and mainstream sounding tracks preceding it. If you want a joint that doesn’t feel like an ersatz piece of The Dream’s production, then this might be it, good old rugged hip hop.
The whole compilation is a noble effort by the folks from The Big Mic, who are obviously doing this for the love and not for profit. Rappers continue to be dogged by the same old issues, lacklustre production and too much caution hampering experimentation. Although there is still a lot of scope for improvement, just having this mixtape out in the first place is a big deal. There are many more talented cats out there, so we are waiting for the next serving of this interesting series.
The complete tracklist of “The Big Mic Mixtapes Vol 2″ :
When The World Burns Down: Dnoax
Running Into You: dM
R.E.L.E.N.T.L.E.S.S. : Noxious D feat. Kav-E
Free Kabir Kalamanch: A-List
Chak Fatte: Gaggy B
Bhool Na Jaana: Dnoax
Time To Spare: Z Diesel feat. Berzerk
The Shining: Eleagle
- The Big Mic Mixtapes Vol 2 will be released at the next Big Mic Rap event that will be held sometime in August