Rap has been called explicit, derogatory and sometimes uncouth, but its popularity worldwide is well documented. In Pakistan, with the rise of rappers such as Adil Omar, the country’s once hidden rap scene seems to be coming out of the shadows.
Xpolymer Dar, who is a rapper in Rap Engineers, has been making music since 2005. This crew had started while its members were studying engineering in Islamabad. Their recently released single “Conflict Management” has been making rounds on music websites and channels, and is proving to be an expression of the current situation of Pakistan.
The group’s first single includes a Baba Bulleh Shah kalam translated into English as the chorus. “It’s a war within, you can’t judge me through what I’ve been, Cuz my life itself is a war within.”
The development of the rap scene in the country seems to be all about fighting stigmas regarding the genre of music. Dar explains that many people don’t understand that rap music is basically a reflection of lifestyles. He said that unlike western rappers, who typically showcase gold jewellery or luxury cars, Pakistan’s rap scene is different as it is not plagued by gang war scenes as seen in America. “We really think that rap will bring a revolution,” said Dar.
The current trend in Pakistan is generally to start off with cover tracks and once the artist has gained a following, he or she can move onto performing original tracks. Butt said that there had to be a balance between covers and originals because there are inherent language limitations. “Everybody listens to ‘Like a G6’ but how many people really know what that song means?” said Butt. “In the end if you’re going to get the following, it is the content which makes you big.”
Content is especially important when it comes to making hip hop and rap music popular. There are the purists who believe that the rhymes and the lyrics have to have a certain goal and play on themes related to social issues. Others, who have also found mainstream success, have focused on romantic themes. For instance in Lahore, Babar Khan aka Billy X from the Lahore School Economics has around 40,000 fans and a hit single “Juttni”.
Elysium Entertainments director, Mokarram Jamil, said that internationally the trend was indicating a switch towards electronic music, but in Pakistan rap and hip hop music had developed, especially in Islamabad and Lahore.
In Lahore, Rappolutionary (aka Mubashir Naeem Butt), who was part of the most popular rap crew Freestylersco which recently disbanded, laments that there are not enough platforms for rap music in the country. He said that there are many Pakistani rap artists wanting recognition and all one has to do is search on YouTube to find performances in a variety of languages, including English, Punjab, Saraiki etc. “The biggest issue with the industry is that people do it for the moment and then move on to other things in life,” said Butt. “Pakistanis follow rap music like a cult.”
He said that the rap scene had emanated from an Orkut community ‘Desi rappers’ in 2002-2003, where local rappers would ‘text battle’. This was one of the platforms that ended up promoting rap music, while at the same time several crews began to gain popularity for covers and original tracks on school campuses.
Jamil added, “It’s a big deal that Adil Omar did his own original proper video with Xzibit, it shows that his original music is being reckoned globally.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2011.