Becoming the Badshah of Indian rap

The self-made star discusses his remarkable rise, OVO Arena show, hip hop in India, live performance, future hopes and being a torchbearer of a music revolution


Asjad Nazir

A HIP HOP revolution in the past decade transformed all areas of commercial Indian music.

A new wave of rappers has impacted everything, from single releases and film soundtracks to live shows, with their cutting-edge beats, lyrical flow and intense live performances.

One of those leading the way has been Badshah. The explosive rap talent has set fire to the rulebooks with incendiary tracks that have blazed a trail for a new wave of artists adding different dimensions to Indian music in diverse languages.

He has also been a connecting point for different generations to find common ground through popular music and given back by mentoring new talent. After delivering a massive number of hits like DJ Waley Babu, Genda Phool, Kala Chashma, Proper Patola and Paani Paani, and clocking up billions of views online, he will perform his first major arena shows in the UK in London on November 25 and in Leeds the following day.

 Eastern Eye caught up with the self-made star to discuss his remarkable rise, OVO Arena show, hip hop in India, live performance, future hopes and being a torchbearer of a music revolution.

How do you reflect on your music journey?

It’s been an insightful joyride where I got to learn hard life lessons and had a chance to discover my inner circle, but it also led me to the path of self-discovery. It’s been beautiful and all the struggles and shortcomings made me more resilient and steadfast.

Did you ever expect to make such a big impact on the musical landscape?

It’s just God’s grace. The universe has been kind, and I’m happy it all turned out even better than I had envisaged. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been with me on this journey and shared the same level of optimism and passion I have towards my craft.

What do you think your role has been in making hip hop big in India?

I would say I’m just another one of those advocates who tried to inspire others that you could do it by yourself. When I started, I had only one goal – to inspire. If I inspire even one person on this planet, I’d say I’m half successful. The fact is, I never want to know who that one person could be as I continue to put in the work.

Tell us more about that?

I would want to continue that pursuit without limiting myself to a ‘role’. I’ve always seen myself as a work-in-progress, in the sense that I’ve never felt entitled. I would never try to define any role I may have had in the success of Indian hip hop because it’s had such a beautiful impact on me. I’m such a student of what raised me that I can’t even wrap my head around that.

You have had many memorable moments, but which has been the most special?

The day my parents realised I made the best decision choosing music over everything else and were proud of that decision of mine as their son.

Which of your records is closest to your heart?

O.N.E. is a very personalised project; the guy in those songs is the real me and I got a chance with the record to focus on how I felt about it.

How much are you looking forward to your UK concerts?

I’m excited. My promoters are planning a few lifestyle pop ups a few weeks before the shows. We have some slick merchandise and it’s going to be a Badshah takeover in November. It’s my birthday month and I’m blessed to be able to perform for my fans, as I turn a year older and share this moment with my day one tribe.

What can we expect from the shows?

Mad energy, stellar production, dancefloor bangers and yes, we are going to create lot of memories and spread some good vibes and crazy love.

Does the fact that there are high expectations put pressure on you?

I’ve stopped living for the world and started living for myself. The only expectation I cater to is the one that comes from within. It’s healthy to draw boundaries and calibrate accessibility. If you’re going to be accessible to everyone and cater to a multitude of expectations, then there is bound to be a burnout. You need to do things that are good for your soul and not what looks good on social media or what the world prefers you to do. You need to be selfish for your own mental health and self-care.

BadshahHow much does live performances mean to you?

Live performances bring me closer to my inner child. It’s a very enriching feeling to go up onto the stage and enjoy the privilege of being your most unfiltered and authentic self. There are no facades to maintain or masks to wear because it’s that spiritual bond between the artist and fans, and that sea of love is unconditional and pure magic.

With diverse projects, including business, you are becoming a music mogul. What is the plan going forward?

I’m working on a few collaborations, new songs, tours and business ventures. I really want to take the Indian music banner ahead and make an impact globally now. I would like to be the torchbearer of the south Asian hip hop revolution.

You have become a role model for a new generation of rap talent in India. How much does that mean to you?

Mentorship gives me a sense of purpose. It’s my way of serving the community. Isn’t it such a beautiful thing to add constructive value to somebody’s life without expecting anything in return?

I never had a mentor, and the struggle was real when I made a foray into the music industry, so I take that responsibility of mentorship very seriously.

What is the hip hop scene in India like right now?

It’s not one you want to miss out on – labels, artists and producers across the world are finally warming up to this reality.

The future of hip hop is in India. We are no longer underground or regional and are headed towards a massive revolution. We have great talent springing out from the most unexpected places. Reality shows are a testimony to the fact that hip hop has never been as mainstream, idiosyncratic, and relevant as it is today.

What is your greatest unfulfilled ambition?

Ambition is such a thing that it can never be quantified or quenched. You could have certain goals at 30, and all could dramatically dissipate at 40, because your perception and mindset are bound to evolve. It’s a constant process of wanting to be better than your last project but sometimes that determination can drive you to a point of having unrealistic expectations of yourself. However, there are a few things that have always stayed constant throughout the years in terms of my wish list.

Tell us about that wish list?

First, being able to champion the excellence of south Asian hip hop to a large audience worldwide and get Indian music its fair share of global limelight. Second, being able to launch my own not-forprofit foundation and do more than what I do currently for the empowerment and upliftment of the under-resourced. Third, being able to enjoy the luxury of catering to the music world sitting out of my hometown in Chandigarh, within the close proximity of my family and loved ones.

Does your approach change between film music and your own solo work?

There is no set agenda to my creative process. Sometimes it is the beat that comes first, sometimes it is the lyrics. I don’t have a rulebook that I play by. I like to be fluid with my approach. When I am working on a commercial track, I am more mindful of the script, theme, and characters. Luckily for me, film[1]makers and producers have been accommodative and created the setting to seamlessly sync in my tracks. With my independent music, I’m like a freespirited soul who’s always seeking a new adventure. But one thing’s for certain, I’m never following trends.

What music dominates your playlist?

Well, I’m very fluid about genres and artists. Good music is good music at the end of the day. I can totally dig into Gurdas Maan and Sidhu Moose Wala, but also Coldplay, Jay Z, Drake and others.

What inspires you as an artist?

I’m motivated by everything that involves hard work and a good work ethic. I had to hustle to get where I’m at, so I respect people who are constantly investing in levelling up and staying true to who they really are. I surround myself with some of the hardest working people in the business because their work ethic is all about commitment, gratitude, and respect.

Why should we all come to your UK concert?

I’d love to see all my London fans up close and personal, and it would be nice to see a stadium full of spirited fans waving the Indian flag high and supporting the brown revolution taking over the world.

Badshah Live at OVO Arena, Arena Square, Engineers Way, London HA9 0AA on November 25; and First Direct Arena, Arena Way, Leeds LS2 8BY on November 26.