Vignesh Shivanand, popularly known as Brodha V, infuses a Carnatic touch to rap. His recent hits include tunes such as ‘Aathma Raama,’ ‘Aigiri Nandini,’ ‘Indian Flava,’ and ‘Let Em Talk.’ Brodha V, who has appeared in Hindi and South Indian films, celebrated his track ‘Way Too Easy,’ and earning the Best Hip-Hop Artiste of the Year Award at the Radio City Freedom Awards 2018.
‘Way Too Easy,’ according to Brodha V, is a defiant song about proving the critics wrong. “They either believe you can’t do it or they’re scared you can do it. So it is all about staying positive and doing it in such a way that you can show the world it’s ‘Way Too Easy’ for you.”
Brodha V, who comes from a traditional household where he would wake up every morning to classical music and religious songs, adds, “When you are younger, you find it very boring since no one else listens to it. As I grew older, I remember there was an unreleased song by Black Eyed Peas called the ‘Elephunk Theme’, where they sampled the Ilaiyaraaja composition ‘Unakkum Ennakum’ from the Rajinikanth starrer Sri Raghavendra and made it a hip hop song. That was the first time I heard anything like that. And given that my first exposure to rap came from ‘Pettai Rap’ by AR Rahman, I realised there could be so much done with this genre of music.”
He immediately began layering beats on top of slokas and classical recordings. “I used to find it amusing at first. Then when I added some serious lyrics on top of that and gave it a direction and added samples, it became a lot cooler and developed a meaning. I wasn’t doing it as a parody any more. That is what clicked with people and it was a sound that even the West was not exposed to.”
Being Indian is advantageous. “We have access to this wide repertoire of traditional music that we can tap into. India is a multicultural country and every 500 kilometres, the language and the culture changes. There is so much material out there that it can be used in any art form. Of course, it is not saleable at the moment since it is not on radio or TV yet, but I think using this in the right way can set off a new trend.”
According to Brodha V, rap music helps young people deal with bullying and injustice.
“The underlying theme of rebellion is a projection of my life. Like I say in the song, there is so much negativity. Rap is picking up but very few of us are taking it on a new path. We want to make careers out of telling stories through music. For me it is about changing the story around and showing people that I can be successful doing what I do. Through my music and journey, I like to change the perception of how people look at me. It is all about creating history.”
He further adds, “My music is always been about the perspective of a young middle class South Indian boy. It can be any topic. Most of my songs are about not giving up or overcoming struggles because I feel everyone around me is frustrated. Of course, I do write songs about partying too.”
Rappers had little possibilities ten to twelve years ago.“ Now we have music producers giving us material from home studios, labels signing us, movies with rap songs and brands that we are endorsing. We’re even headlining college shows and music fests. I feel this is because rap directly speaks to people. You also don’t need to be a technical pundit. You just need a beat and a story to tell. In the next few years, I feel it will be on par with Bollywood music.”
Rap of high quality, “Has always been about good lyrics,” says Brodha V. “As rappers we are competitive and that is why we are so confrontational, at times, because we are aiming for the top spot.”
Hip-hop has a strong political undercurrent. “A lot of us who do that, albeit subtly since we do live in sensitive times. If I was in the US, I could take potshots at the President, but here I can’t even take a dig at the local corporator. It is about how you say the same message without being direct or angry.”
Is he political? According to Brodha V, it depends. “Any time I see something that doesn’t sit with me, I add a couple of lines to my songs. I don’t do an entire song about the issue since it is relevant only as long as the issue is. I’d rather take to my Twitter and Facebook. When you’re popular online, you also need to be responsible about what you say. Anything can go viral these days.”
Brodha V claims to be one of the country’s few English rap artists. “I have respect in the community. My aim is to make my music mainstream and reach out to people looking for alternative entertainment. The internet is my domain now since that is where I feel young kids are going now. The goal is to take the sound of India and make it mainstream globally and educate people about our sound.”