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“Come on, I drink Horlicks,” said Indian rapper Badshah, referring to the popular kid-friendly drink to prove that he isn’t a troubled and brooding talent who needs something more potent to appear cool.

“I don’t see why rappers should be dark,” said Badshah in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of his New Year’s Eve concert at Meydan Grandstand, Dubai.

“Many glorify that in us because it’s mysterious and there’s a certain intrigue attached to it. But I am happy just drinking Horlicks. It’s as cool as it gets,” said Badshah with a laugh.

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Singer Badshah during a press conference at the Meydan Hotel. Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Background

The rapper, 34, whose recent hits include ‘Munna Badnaam Hua’ (‘Dabangg 3’), ‘Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai’ (‘Khoorbusurat’) and ‘Chandigarh Mein’ (‘Good Newwz’), will be in the UAE on December 31 for a concert entitled ‘Race 2020’, organised by Primo Global Events.

Badshah’s philosophy towards life and work is uncomplicated. This artist began his career by collaborating with rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh, who has openly spoken about his struggles with drug addiction and bipolar disorder. Badshah wears his wholesome attitude on his sleeve and, barring his propensity to wear rose-coloured sunglasses indoors, doesn’t come across as a flashy musician trapped in his own image.

“You got to be sorted if you want to be sane and at the end of the day, I am a professional. I have to work and do things the right way keeping in mind what the audience expects out of me … I think we rappers are always on the edge,” said Badshah, adding that finding a way to balance out the edginess is the key for a full live.

"I study my game"

Unlike his gigantic sunglasses covering half his face, he doesn’t need to view the entertainment world and its glorious trappings through rose-tinted lens. His dizzying success in an overcrowded Bollywood music landscape is a result of sheer hard work, says the rapper, who’s on his way to be a bona fide party legend with his acclaimed club anthems.

“Lot of people may say: ‘what’s the hard work in making a rap song like ‘Paagal’ … But it takes more than just writing a hook. I study my game, my audience and the music that is going one. I study who’s listening to my music that most … I study the hate that you get as well,” said Badshah.

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Singer Badshah during a press conference at the Meydan Hotel. Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

The lyrics to his recent 2019 song ‘Paagal’, which Badshah composed, wrote and sang — goes something like: “Teri mummy ki jai [Hail your mummy], Kya cheez banayi [What an object she has created], Doodh pe jaise aayi ho malai [It’s like cream that emerges from milk], Chitti Chitti bang bang [fair girl bang bang].” The flashy video, which got a whopping 75 million views within 24 hours of its release, features him pursuing a desirable woman in a swimsuit and cape and several dozen semi-clad dancers gyrating to his words.

“I know it’s funny, but there’s a method to my madness, I promise … It’s not easy being a rapper. Had it been easy then every guy out there would have been one,” he adds.

The lyrics mentioned aren’t angst-ridden, emotionally-charged or anti-establishment, but come across as trite and reductive. If you look closely, it’s derogatory towards women. But it’s a charge that he denies vehemently.

“I have become more responsible … Nothing that I have ever written is a deliberate attempt to hurt anyone’s sentiments. I have got a lot of sisters. I have grown up around strong women … Lots of it has to do with where I come from. I am from Punjab and we talk a lot about machismo and being an alpha male,” said Badshah, trying to put context to his breezy, sexually-charged lyrics.

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While Punjab is known for its wealthy folks and farming community, it’s a state that has faced severe drug abuse crises — a reality that Badshah seems to be removed from as such topics are not woven into his songs.

“I think someone from Srinagar [conflict-ridden region] would write about something else. Lots of my content seems to come from where I come from. But I have never tried to hurt anyone’s sentiments deliberately,” said Badshah, adding that when he was young, he was more reckless with his words without realising the impact that it would have on young minds. He has grown up now.

He is always playing the nimble balancing game, claims the singer. The rules of the rapping game are simple.

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“I have to strike a balance between what the public expects out of me and what I actually want to do. But I am also a responsible citizen. I know my social responsibilities … For me, it’s all about polishing my skills. My ears are always open and I read all the comments that come my way and I take note of the ones that matter,” said Badshah.

Hate, body shamed

So what kind of hate comes his way?

“I get body shamed a lot … ‘What’s he doing in a recording studio when he looks like this or that’ … Sometimes, I can’t insulate myself from that. That’s when I hit the gym, it doesn’t last long because food is important to me. I need the serotonin in my life to work and be able to stay sane. I have a sweet tooth too,” said Badshah, who isn’t in conventionally athletic in form. But whenever he is splashed with vitriol, he does what every grown man proudly does — go back to his mother’s wise words.

“My mummy taught me that I should not take things personally and don’t let success get to your heart or your failure to touch your heart. I try to follow that,” he said.

The rapper, who has been loved and sometimes loathed for his full figure, claims there’s a lot of pressure in today’s day and age.

“Everyone has a camera and everyone is a reporter with a point of view,” Badshah said. “The pressure is constant and it becomes difficult from time to time, but that’s the name of the game.”

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Who’s Badshah?

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Born Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia, he adopted his stage name Badshah (which means emperor) when he began his career in 2006 along with Yo Yo Honey Singh in his band called Mafia Mundeer. Their collaboration ended in 2012, but his Haryanvi song ‘Kar Gayi Chull’ put him on the music map of emerging Indian rappers. For years later, this single was a part of 2016 Bollywood blockbuster ‘Kapoor & Sons’. He has also worked in films including ‘Khoobsurat’, ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’ and ‘Good Newwz’. But is his debut single ‘DJ Waley Babu’, featuring Aastha Gill, established him as a hit machine. The song crossed a million views on YouTube within 30 hours of its release.

He belongs to a middle class family from Karnal, a city in Harayana, and his father hoped that he would become a civil engineer, considered to be a stable, conventional job.

“My dad was always concerned when I started out as a musician … He was concerned about my future and kept wonder if I would be able to earn or not in this line of work. He kept asking why I was doing this to my life … But I proved him wrong,” said Badshah.

2019 also saw him make his acting debut with Sonakshi Sinha in ‘Khandani Shafakhana’ as an eccentric rapper. Badshah claims it was his close friend and actress Sinha who convinced him to take the acting plunge.

He’s married to Jasmine and is a father to a two-year-old girl. His net worth is around $5 million (Dh18.3 million), but the figure couldn’t be independently verified.

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QUICK FACTS ABOUT BADSHAH

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Badshah Image Credit: SUpplied

*He loves sneakers and his collection is worth more than Rs15 million (Dh770,098).

*He has clothing line called Badfit, a resto-bar and a content production house.

*He has opened up about mental illness and anxiety and his song ‘Andhera’ (darkness) stemmed from that phase.

*Hollywood actor Will Smith became his fan after hearing his promotional song in the film ‘Aladdin’. “Badshah, great work man... that is beautiful... looking at the things that you shot against what is in the movie, that is some good production you got going on there,” Smith said in a video posted on Instagram. “It’s funny when we were making the sequence, what I kept saying to [diretor] Guy Ritchie, it gotta be Bollywood level man....don’t let the sequence not be Bollywood level. You know I always wanted to be in a Bollywood dance sequence, so this is beautiful man. Love the work man, really appreciate it. Thank you.”

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HERE’S A LIST OF OTHER RAPPERS IN BOLLYWOOD:

BABA SEHGAL

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Mumbai: Singer Baba Sehgal during the Red Bull Soapbox Race 2016 in Mumbai on Nov 13, 2016. (Photo: IANS) Image Credit: IANS

Say hello to the musician who introduced Hindi rap into Bollywood in the 90s. His works including ‘Thanda Thanda Pani’, ‘Di’, ‘Main Bhi Madonna’ and ‘Dil Dhadke’ brought rap to Indian music scene. His album ‘Thanda Thanda Pani’ sold over 100,000 copies within 100 days of its release.

BOHEMIA

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Bohemia Image Credit: Supplied

Born Roger David, this Pakistani-born rapper gave Bollywood a taste of by singing the title track of Akshay Kumar-led ‘Chandni Chowk To China’. His hits include ‘Car Nachdi,’ ‘Kali Denali’ and ‘Ek Tera Pyaar’.

RAFTAAR

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Born Dillin Nair, Raftaar has been known for his speed and flow in rapping since 2013. His notable works include albums ‘WTF(Witness The Future)’ and ‘Swag Mera Desi Hai’. The rapper, singer, lyricist and producer is also known for his hits including ‘Tamanchey Pe Disco’ from ‘Bullett Raja’ and ‘Whistle Baja’ from ‘Heropanti’.

DIVINE AND NAEZY

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Actor Ranveer Singh (centre) with rappers Divine and Naezy. Image Credit: IANS

Divine, born Vivian Fernades, and Naezy (Naved Shaikh) saw their fame skyrocket when Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh used their lives as a source of inspiration for his character in director Zoya Akhtar’s hit ‘Gully Boy’. Their street rap is a tool of rebellion and is inspired from the everyday struggles people face in Mumbai. Their track ‘Mere Gully Mein’ is worth a listen.

HARD KAUR

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Bollywood rapper Hard Kaur. Image Credit: Supplied

Hard Kaur burst into the Bollywood scene with ‘Move Your Body’ from the hit thriller ‘Johnny Gaddar’. She was raised in the United Kingdom, but her music is true to her Indian roots. Her debut solo album Supawoman included hits such as Bombay Deewana and Look 4 Me and she described it as an empowering album for women. Rapid-fire lyrics mixing English, Punjabi and Hindi lyrics are her signature.

YO YO HONEY SINGH

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He’s known as the poster boy for Punjabi rap and hip hop music. When Hirdesh Singh (stage name Honey Singh) started out, fans couldn’t get enough of his party anthems ‘Lungi Dance’ and ‘Angrezi Beat’ in Bollywood blockbusters ‘Chennai Express’ and ‘Cocktail’. His songs were mostly about objectifying women and though the lyrics were suggestive and offensive, his popularity peaked in early 2000s. But his fall from grace was spectacular as he battled alcoholism and bipolar disorder. He’s now on his comeback route. His songs are a mix of his agrarian roots in Punjab and unapologetic decadence filled with bodacious women.

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EVOLUTION OF RAP IN INDIA

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Director Zoya Akhtar and actor Ranveer Singh introduced into mainstream Hindi cinema with their blockbuster ‘Gully Boy’, a tale of an Indian rapper who rose from the Mumbai slums and rapped about poverty and violence. But the rumblings of the underground rap scene was felt in the lanes of Mumbai two decades ago.

One of the first rappers in India was Baba Sehgal in the 1990s with songs such as ‘Thanda Thanda Pani’. While his songs remained popular, his authenticity towards the genre was questioned. Sehgal’s songs, though hummable, were considered vanilla when compared to Western rappers. He wasn’t authentic enough, but Sehgal gave India a taste of the genre.

The city of Mumbai and its slums can be credited as a breeding ground for rappers. It gained steam and momentum in Mumbai, when Dopeadelicz, an authentic band that rose from the slums, hit the scene. In early 2000s, talent such as Divine made inroads into the hip hop/rap scene with releases such as ‘Yeh Mera Bombay’ in 2013. Its soaring popularity propelled international music labels such as Sony to take notice of the underground hip scene rising in India.

The rap scene percolated down South India too as rappers such as Brodha V, took charge in Bengaluru. The North East region was a fertile region for rap as well. Khasi Bloodz is one such band that rapped about corruption, drug abuse and violence around them. From the looks of it, Indian rappers are here to stay.

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What: Badshah concert, also featuring performers Sukriti, B Praak and Prakriti along with DJs Jeff and Buddha.

When: December 31. Doors open at 7pm.

Where: Meydan Grandstand.

Tickets: Dh79 and above.