Vignesh Shivanand, popularly known as Brodha V, is an independent Indian hip-hop artist, lyricist, rapper and music producer. His sound is a fusion of mainstream hip-hop and Indian classical and folk. His earliest inspirations for blending the two came from AR Rahman’s ‘Pettai Rap’. Having grown up in a traditional household during the 90’s, classical music was a large part of Brodha V’s upbringing. During his teenage years he was influenced by western artists like Eminem and Jay Z. As a teenager, hip-hop music became an outlet for expression. He decided to experiment with the two by mixing classical melodies over Western sequences. What started off as an experiment soon became his signature style of music.
Habitual speaks to Brodha V who was just in Singapore for the 2018 edition of Music Matters.
Were you ever part of a crew?
I was part of a crew long back in India — this was around the time when hip-hop was just growing or was non-existent. Back then whatever few rappers were there, we’d just come together and form our own crew. But eventually everyone goes into their own direction, some end up getting regular day jobs, and I stayed with music so I went solo.
What is it like in India to “not get regular day jobs” and pursue your passion?
For most people it’s not easy because they feel more secure getting a regular salary as opposed to being an individual or entrepreneur where you never know what’s going to happen — a lot of people end up being successful, but a lot of people also fail.
Especially for rap, it’s an uncertain market, nobody has really done this before. It’s not like the United States where the music scene is part of their history and culture as well. It’s been there for 100 years so there’s just more organic support from the society.
Was rapping something you’ve always wanted to do?
I actually only started doing this when I was about 17 (roughly 10 years ago). Back then, when I started getting into rapping was the time when hip-hop was constantly playing on television and radio, and that’s how people got to know about hip-hop music; but before that rap wasn’t a big deal so there wasn’t much of a rap scene.
Who are some of your influences in hip-hop?
I’m a huge fan of the early-90s East coast rap, so Rakim, Nas, Big Pun, Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z — I’m from that space.
Who is one rapper you want to collaborate with right now?
There are so many, but if I could ever get on a track with somebody it would be Eminem. He’s one of the best lyricists out there right now — a legend no doubt — and for you to get on a track with him and sound as good, you would have to put in a lot of work and write the kind of rhymes he writes to be able to match up to that quality — that would get me to push myself to get better and write more.
What do you think of the recent rap scene in a China with 88 Rising and their rap competitions?
It’s so huge… but that’s the thing about hip-hop right, every country or every community has its own scene — there’s a scene in Indonesia, Korea, Pakistan — and every version of this is so different from one another, from the way they speak, their rap style, the way they dress, it’s all so unique but at the same time, it’s all part of the same culture.
You started something called the India Rap Cypher to further push the India rap scene — can you tell us more?
Yes, the India Rap Cypher started in Bangalore, which is my city. When I started it, the scene was still growing and there were only a handful of rappers. In India, there are a lot of emcees; you give them a verse and they’d probably kill it. The thing is there aren’t many songwriters who can write a full song, from the hooks to arrangement; so there aren’t many artists around. The whole point of the Cypher is to take a bunch of artists, put them on a track and freestyle to one beat, one after the other. So we start in Bangalore and see if this inspires other rappers from other cities to bring out their lyricism.
No one had done this before in India — it was a first of its kind and it went pretty wild. Since then, there are probably 20 or 30 more cyphers that have come up and we kind of sparked this movement. We want to push our rappers to be more lyrical and spread more content, and at the same time, play our music to people abroad and tell them that we have the same kind of international quality and standard as any other country in this world.
Describe your sound.
Most of my tracks are in English. I fuse a lot of hip-hop with Indian classical and folk from different parts of India. India is a multi-cultural society, so every 200 metres there’s a different culture, a different language that’s spoken, and each of these cultures have their own musical identity as well. So I’m a producer as well, and I take a hip-hop track and I try to fuse as many Indian elements as possible, depending on what the song needs.
You are currently an independent artist, but used to be signed on with Sony, and then you left — can you tell us more about that?
The thing about record labels in India is that their biggest source of income is via film music, which is Bollywood. When it comes to the indie space or the pop-indie space, there isn’t as much of a listenership as compared to Bollywood. So I was at this point where I would finish my tracks, send it out to them and I wasn’t able to reach out to more people by being with the label. So even when I release my music independently, I am doing the exact same thing the label was doing for me, except that I was giving them a big cut of my income. It just felt like I didn’t need a label. And most of the successful indie artists in India are independent anyway.
Signing with a label in India makes more sense if your eventual goal is to get into the film industry, making music for movies — there’s a lot of money to be made. But creatively I don’t come from that space; there’s so many issues I want to talk about, different kind of stories I want to tell that probably the mainstream movie industry won’t let you. And at the end of the day, it’s about building my own brand, letting people know what Brodha V stands for and what Brodha V is going to be, and no other artist or movie can give you my sound.
Check out Brodha V’s latest single “Way Too Easy” here:
And a freestyle paying homage to Mobb Deep here:
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Music Matters Live 2018. Credit: Matthew Lau (@matthewlaujh)
Music Matters Live 2018. Credit: Matthew Lau (@matthewlaujh)