What’s lacking in Nephop?
Nepali hip-hop scene is threatened by many problems and many issues are responsible for it. Many rappers do not understand the groove of hip-hop music and they don’t feel it. Besides, rappers are using music to diss each other with their songs and they lack respect and appreciation for senior rappers and the hip-hop culture. Most of them are egoistic and self-centric and are just following a trend. However, with good mentorship and education, the hip-hop scene of Nepal has potentiality to shine, Nepali hip-hop pioneers say.
By Abish Shakya
Photos by Pranish Shrestha and Satyan Shrestha
Hip-hop, as a culture, has brought great reforms around the world in the past. In Nepal, it began in 1993 when Girish Khatiwada came up with the first-ever Nepali hip-hop material. At that time, Tupac was alive and there was a big East Coast-West Coast rivalry in the US. However, in Nepal, most people were into rock and pop, while the earliest rap group Rappaz Union with Nirnaya da NSK, Sammy Samrat and Chaos came into existence. Now, the big question lies; how much do the followers of Nephop really know about the origins of rap in the country or how much they are truly utilizing the genre for the betterment of all?
The home of hip-hop lies in the Bronx, a borough of the New York City. At that time, rappers used hip-hop music to voice out the frustration, the struggle, the ghetto, the guns, and the violence. However, politicians were against it saying that the hip-hop music was brainwashing their children. “That’s rap. If you’re dissatisfied with something, you say it on the mic instead of causing violence,” opines DJ AJ.
When rap began in Nepal, Rap was an expression to a higher authority, just like the voice of those suppressed which started with the Afro-American in the west. Hip-hop artists had fine collaborations with each other. Content-wise, it talked about social issues such as Girish Khatiwada’s satirical song ‘Malai Vote Deu’, Nirnaya da NSK song ‘Gaun’, or Ahgor’s ‘Hariyo Baan’. It talked about life. “Rap was commercial and accepted by Nepali society. Not only in pubs, TV, and radios, hip-hop music used to be an attraction of wedding receptions as well. This seems like a dream now,” says Kolin Bikram Rana, co-founder of Raw Barz.
However, despite all the progress of rap back in the days, people still did not have the knowledge of hip-hop then and it is the same today as well. “Many lacked the hip-hop feel back in the days. Even today, people still do not understand the groove of hip-hop,” DJ AJ claims. The trend of rap battles supports this fact, and even Rana, who spearheads the battle, says, “Rappers are unnecessarily overusing foul words without any strong content while lacking rap techniques. On the other hand, the audience claps when one uses a vulgar word, and if a rapper uses a complex technique, the audience does not understand it.”
When complaints on the use of explicit words have continued coming from different realms, rap pioneers, however, highlight that rap is explicit only in the views of people who do not understand it and believe that the use of explicit words is necessary to some extent to bring out the feeling, but is not necessary all the times.
“Rap is the purest form of expressions. One can say anything without filtering it, and to become more expressive, one explores wider vocabulary. People say it’s explicit because the words are no different from the one people use in the street,” says DJ AJ, and clarifies, “Rap battle is a separate activity which shows rappers’ writing skills, word-play, and their showmanship; something like dohori. You have to listen well to understand and figure out whose line is superior to that of the opponent. Sometimes, you might have to use explicit words to bring out the feeling.”
In North America, there is a difference between rap battles and rappers. But in Nepal, there are no such distinctions and rappers are using music to diss each other from their songs. “Influential rappers such as Public Enemy, Dre or Tupac spoke about injustice and repression in the system but here in Nepal, hip-hop musicians are busy dissing each other. There are many problems in the society they can speak up about, but they’re disrespecting each other which will lead them nowhere,” describes Rana.
“In Nepal, rappers are using music to diss each other from their songs and the feeling of individuality is creating a huge problem. Even today, people still do not understand the groove of hip-hop.”
“One of many reasons behind this is the lack of mentors. “When Yama (Buddha) was here, he made sure that rappers do not diss each other with their songs. Since he’s gone, young guys are using their songs just to get the fame,” justifies Rana, “In another instance, battle rappers have done great in the battles but their song context have been arbitrary.” Regarding the diss, Mc B-jay believes, “I think they’re dissing each other because they don’t have the courage to face each other. If you’re an artist and you respect each other, it is not something you would do.” Dissing someone in songs is using rap as a medium to spread the evil.
With Raw Barz taking a height since its initiation, many new talents have been born; however, the extent to which the hip-hop scene should have had grown has not been possible. Despite the fact that there are good young battle rappers in Nepal, rap is not progressing and one of the other constraints is the lack of respects and appreciation for the senior rappers and the hip-hop culture. Instead of showing gratitude, there is more ‘ego’ among the rappers.
Aghor extends this claim and says, “To be a rap star, you need that ego. You have to feel that you are the best to get go ahead. This made Kanya and Tupac what they were and are. But you have to know when to have the ego and when not to. When you meet your people, you need to have respect and love for your peers.” Rana says, “People with unbearable ego will not get anywhere until they are grateful for those who have set the path for them.”
Another big problem in Nepali hip-hop scene lies in individuality. Today, individual rappers can produce beats by themselves or find them online. They can even promote themselves so they feel no need for a producer or a manager, and they—and the producers themselves—still do not know the role of producers. “Everyone is trying to be a one-man army and this will not work in his or her favor,” claims Rana.
The belief in individuality and distrust upon the producers has created a splurge of following a trend. “Newbie rappers should start their hip-hop career with boom bap (an East Coast style which helps a rapper with storytelling) because it emphasizes on the lyricism and strong technical ability” believes Aeezy. Most newbies are starting with trap music, which is dominating the hip-hop sound but might not be suitable for them as it is aggressive and has a dark vibe to it.
“Most new rappers are following a trend that they too don’t understand,” claims DJ AJ, “If you want to musically debut in hip-hop, you need the love for hip-hop and start from the beginning to learn the sound. If you start now and go back, you cannot comprehend it.” Similarly, producer Lay Zy believes, “There’s no wrong and right but it’s all a part of the learning culture. How you learn is how you present. New rappers are just following the trend, not the culture.”
An evolution has definitely taken place over the years and good rappers have come, but lack of education has created a lot of misunderstandings and imbalances in the Nephop scene. There is a need for education and knowledge about culture and techniques, which is not just all about similes and metaphors but also about alliterations, imagery, and more. “This was what legendary rapper Yama (Buddha) was doing in the UK. He was conducting workshops to teach the basics and structures of music. What’s more needed here are more workshops,” opines Ahgor.
Many programs, initiatives, and techniques are required so as to elevate Nepali hip-hop scene to the next level, and organizations like Raw Barz are doing their best.
Raw Barz has been doing workshops at places such as Chitwan, Butwal, and Pokhara, and have more plans for the East. Besides, they are conducting workshops on the hip-hop scene, rapping techniques, and beat production for all levels of hip-hop enthusiasts. They even have started Raw Barz Records and are currently working with Redroom. Rana says, “Our intention to teach beat production and have producers outside Kathmandu to make it easier for rappers outside the valley.”
Back in the early days of Nepali hip-hop, artists collaborated and kept improving. However, there is a need of right mentors, unity, and education today. Mc B-jay believes, “With a proper network and workshops for sharing the knowledge of hip-hop, the scene will get better. Don’t be shy and come forward. The more you talk, the more you get to know about hip-hop.” And with all these in harmony, Nephop has great future, especially with the pioneers returning to Nepal to set the path right.
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