Anjali Jhangiani
Friday, 2 August 2019

Raja Kumari, Raftaar and Nucleya, judges on the rap reality show MTV Hustle, talk about thier duties and the rocketting rise of rap in the country

Rap has taken the country by storm. Following suit is MTV Hustle, touted to be India's first rap reality show. But unlike other reality shows, this one actually has judges that are masters of the genre — Raja Kumari, Raftaar and celebrated electronic music producer Nucleya. We chat them up about their role in the show and their take on the nation-wide rap revolution that is currently taking place. 

- What did you bring to the show as a judge?
Raftaar: I bring my entire passion and persona to the show. My intent is to bring to the fore the next generation of rap superstars and hone their overall skills. I want people to know who I am, I want to make society better through my music, and I don’t want to waste my talent. The masses think that hip-hop is about alcohol, drugs, women, bling and swag but if you really look at hip-hop’s antecedents, it was used to bring about a revolution. I want to remove people's misconceptions and rewrite the history of Indian hip-hop.

Raja Kumari: I have a perspective that comes from working in the music industry in the US, working with artists that make songs that reach top 10 on global charts. With this international experience, and my understanding of Indian culture, I have a sense of ‘where we are and where we are going’. I have an understanding of Indian hip-hop as well. When I came here two years ago, I just knew there was so much growth about to happen that I should stay in the country and invest in the culture. We have an incredible platform like MTV Hustle to make the people understand this genre, support and inspire them. 

Nucleya: Rap music is not rap music without the music. I bring the perspective of the producer. What I look for in a contestant is how well they can control their voice, the musicality in their voice, how well they flow to the beat, how nicely they sync in their and a little bit of song writing approach. 

- Did you learn anything from the participants who probably had a fresh perspective towards the music industry and the genre of rap?
Raftaar: It’s been such a gratifying experience because you get to learn so much from their stories; every story and style is so unique. India definitely has top class potential to be as good as our Western counterparts. We just need more institutions like MTV Hustle that encourage and promote talent. They are driven by the passion to give a voice to their community, and I had that same passion when I started out. The versatile bunch of talent on the show is going to blow your brains out, never-seen/heard-before kind of stuff is coming your way. 

Raja Kumari: I’ve never been on television before, I’ve only been a viewer.  That’s been a learning experience. It’s just so heartwarming to see so many people expressing themselves with rap. For a long time, while I was growing up in America, being the only Indian rapper around there, I learnt hip-hop from MTV. Now I’m on MTV India, that means a lot to me. For a long time, growing up in America, being one of the only Indian people around, to see people from my own country showed me that we’re all in this together, I wasn’t alone. 

Nucleya: Every time I sit on that seat, I learn about life, struggle, not giving up, music and more, from every contestant. Every moment teaches me something. 

- What is the one thing from your own hustle you’d like to share with the participants (or the audience)?
Raftaar: Always remember where you came from and stick by those who supported you in your journey of success. Never take anyone or anything for granted, be grateful and humble and strive to be your best competitor. 

Raja Kumari: My personal hustle has been of perseverence. You’ve got to work on your art everyday. Even though I’m on the judges’ side of the table now, I was a contestant a blink of an eye ago. Now that I’m trying to make a name all over the world, I have to keep that hunger alive, keep hustling. Hiphop is about hustle. 

Nucleya: Not to give up ever. A lot of people will say a lot of things to bring you down, but always keep your head up, always hustle, and aim for your dreams. 

- What is your take on the revolution of rap post Gullyboy in the mainstream?
Raftaar: Bollywood is a great facilitator in further elevating the rap revolution in India as it caters to the masses. Let’s be honest, the whole idea of being a rapper is still very Western. There is finally real context to the music that we consume, which has been amiss for a while. However, this movement needs to sustain itself and hip-hop or rap should be the real deal without any Bollywood stars going around town promoting it. We need standalone hip hop festivals, we need more shows like MTV Hustle, we need hip hop schools. There’s an audience for everybody and that’s what I love about the game right now. Bollywood rappers play their own role that is different from ours, but neither is less or more than the other.

Raja Kumari: During my early performances in India, I hardly saw any girls. Maybe just a few here and there. But now I see the whole front row is all women. This means that hip-hop is becoming a safe place for girls, they come knowing that they won’t be harassed. The whole scene right now is about rappers making themselves better. Their work speaks of individuality and originality. We don’t need another Raftaar or Raja Kumari, we need more originals. Imitation don’t survive in hip-hop, that’s the culture. 

Nucleya: I feel that for the Bollywood industry to pick up a genre of music and make a movie about it, can only happen if the genre of music has reached some level by itself. Gullyboy definitely helped rap music become as big as it is today and we should all be thankful for that and the film industry should be thankful for rap music for bringing a completely different perspective towards Hindi film music. 

- Can we expect a collaboration between you three anytime soon? We’re keeping our fingers crossed it’s a yes!
Raftaar: I say ‘never say never’. We make a damn good team on MTV Hustle and I’m sure we can make a lot of magic otherwise too. 

Raja Kumari: That could be on the cards. We are good friends who like working with each other, that is the seed of good music. 

Nucleya: Yeah! I have done a couple of songs with Raja Kumari which I haven’t released yet. I have also done songs with Raftar. I love both of them. They are very creative and talented people with incredible voices. Hopefully sometime soon, we will make a song together. 

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