Meet Shilla 050
Meet Shilla 050 Image Credit: Supplied

You can spit fire with your words; that’s the power of rap. The rhymes are born on the street, grown on the flames of unspoken emotion. Until they wrench themselves free.

And that’s how you break the world.

The gift of this gab is found in speckles around the globe – it requires a special something; a message, articulation, rhythm and great timing.

In the UAE, while there’s always been the talent, it’s finally time for the scene to surface and make itself known. Homegrown ‘community’ – the members refuse to call themselves a group - Shilla 050, is experimenting with Dubai rap, a commentary on the society it is exposed to. The members, Vikyath, Solo, Vardhaman, R3P, Josh Couto and Badri, talk about everything from depression to financial troubles on their tracks.

Shilla 050’s members identify as solo artists with individual tracks who are – for the moment – collaborating to rev up the Middle East rap scene.

Ahead of their latest release, '050 Cypher', we spoke to them about their origin stories, the ‘Gully Boy’ influence, and their fascination with the number ‘050’.

Why should you remember the name?

It’s derived from Deira slang. Or Old Dubai street talk. “And 050 is the original 3 digits for mobiles numbers in UAE. Running through our 9-5 jobs, music is something that has brought us all together and keeps us going,” explains Murtaza Badri (Badri), whose record includes a number called ‘Dubai to Bridgeside’.

The language of rap

Conventionally, the world knows of rap in English. Shilla 050, however, tap into their own heritage: a mix of Urdu and Hindi and English – and a mishmash of the two, Hinglish.

When most of these men discovered rap, they were in their late teens/early twenties, and the music came in waves of English: Tupac, Biggie and later, Eminem. They would concoct their own schemas in their heads or on little rustles of paper kept away from prying eyes. They’d share their bursts of poetry, with close friends and family, and that was about it. They all admit to having no real ‘career expectations’ – that is until they were exposed to rap in Hindi.

The desi rap scene

While in the Sub-continent there have been famous poets and beautiful couplets, they have perhaps not unloaded on their audience with all the tact of a bazooka 5 inches from the face. They have not been as raw – and sometimes cuss-laden – with vernacular. And it’s in this semi-crazed state that rap is best known for – where it makes the most visceral mark. The blows by words stayed hidden in the streets for years, funneling and harnessing all the rage of those behind the curtains, those overlooked. Until Divine and Naezy made inroads into the mainstream with music including that featured in Ranveer Singh’s ‘Gully Boy’.

“The rap scene in India has been there since years but not really noticed or was given importance because [the] majority didn’t understand what it was, “ says Vikyath, whose songs include ‘Sab Khair Hai’ which speaks of hardships faced by workers in Deira. “People were exposed to commercial rap music in Bollywood but that was more like a filler in a pop song. The idea of poetry on beats didn’t really please the commercial music-loving audience. For them rap was just saying Yo-Yo and doing weird hand gestures. Now that there is a movie on it that highlights what it’s all really about, people have starting giving it the respect it deserves,” he adds.

For Rudolph (R3P), his music was – pardon the pun – Divine intervention. He explains: “I used to write a lot rhymes, poetry, not the Shakespeare sort but just to vent out my feelings and stuff. So it was always writing but I was never publishing it online or anything. Just for myself. 2018 was one of my toughest years – professionally, personally, financially; everything. It really put me down, to the point where I actually started taking depression medicines. I happened to hear just through the shuffles of YouTube 'Farak' from Divine. And I just stopped the car and heard that song twice and something just happened to me, I just started to cry.”

It also helped him discover a new way to communicate, through a familiar language but using different inflictions.

Shilla 050
From left: Vikyath, Badri, Solo, and R3P in Deira Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

How tough is it to make music here?

While they draw from their varied backgrounds, Shilla 050 member Salman explains: “We knew that the creative and technical side of the songs always had the need to be Dubai based, something that the community would relate to. We are a crew that is constantly exploring Dubai sounds! It’s quite hard because none of us have technical expertise so producing beats is a hassle, but we are still investing time to learn and become an independent crew with a unique sound and messages that resonate with old Dubai.”

Shilla 050 - the whole team
Shilla 050, the whole team, from left: Badri, R3P, Vardhaman, Josh Couto, Vikyath and Solo. Plus, Rochelle, R3P's daughter. Image Credit: Social media

Challenges aplenty

While making classical music or even pop has become a commercial – read viable for some – option, rap remains in the back lanes, misunderstood often because of its rough edges. “My life is been all about challenges. Coming from a background where music is not really appreciated and is seen more of a sin, I had to really work for it to get here since there was no support at all from anyone from the community,” explains Badri.

The new song

The new song is called '050 Cypher'; it's an introduction to members Vikyath, Solo, Vardhaman, R3P, Josh Couto and Badri, some of whom rap and some of whom are beat producers. A hip-hop cipher is a situation where a group of artists come together and one by one show the others around the ring what they are about. The 050 is an ode to the collective's Dubai roots.

The long-term plan

“The Indian/Desi rap scene has not hit the international market as yet. It should be…like the whole Spanish influence is there in almost every pop song…why not Hindi?” wonders Vikyath.

The other Shilla members node sagely – “we want to tour with our songs; affect change.”

That’s the power of rap; you can spit fire.

Five terms from Dubai's streets
1. Shilla: A group or gang, a circle of friends

2. Taaf: You got owned

3. Bahut hard: Awesome

4. Salfa or rasbaraz: Do you want to fight one-on-one or with my whole crew?

5. Salaam with a smack across the head: nice haircut (sometimes sarcastic)