Underground hip hop is a place where an artist generates hunger for his art: Indian rapper Aeke

People have a ‘Lat’ of addictions today but this guy’s Lat towards rap and underground hip hop made him one of the first generation Emcees. He has given 15 years of his life and career to work and develop underground hip hop, rap and its elements. Known as Aeke in the rap and hip hop circuit, Akash Khandelwal will tell you the basics of hip hop and rap. His years of hard and findings to make underground hip hop mainstream in India, is an inspiration for every rapper and musician. In an exclusive interview with Music Beat, Aeke actually gave us a crash course on rap and underground hip hop, took us through his journey, his debut EP, Trilibrium, and more. Every aspiring rapper, hip hoper and musician must check out his exclusive interview to know the basics of hip hop, rap, and underground hip hop in specific!

You have spent 15 years in the underground hip hop scene and created an identity as one of the rappers who has retained the five key elements of hip hop. When did you realise that hip hop, rap and bboying was your calling?

I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop artists. It started off with listening to an album called Aggression somewhere around 2000-01. Later I dug into more artists. By the time I was 15, I started understanding the language of rap pretty well and would naturally indulge in writing rhymes on a daily basis. I would write rhymes in the night and then would rap it out to my friends in the school next morning. Later I found online platforms where I met more rappers who would battle it on social media platforms, and this made my idea of rap even deeper. As I got into college and into the different music and dance scenes of Delhi, the idea of hip hop became even deeper.

I started bboying at the age of 17-18 and formed a crew called D2BX. I did bboying for a few years and later even judged and organized a few bboying jams. With organizing my own jams I even started hosting the jams and started rapping. I started writing and performing songs around the bboying circle. My songs – Cyphers Is Where Hip Hop Grows and Where Your Crew? are some of the most well knows songs in the bboying community even today. So that’s how I became a stage rapper. My journey is very different from most rappers who only get onto the stage representing only rap. For someone like me. it was for all elements.

How do you feel to be counted in the list of first-generation Emcees?

It boggles me at times because hip hop was something we never thought would explode at this scale. I was doing rap very seriously since the beginning and without realising would sharpen my skill daily be it writing, vocal training, music knowledge, freestyles etc. A handful of underground rappers in a country of a billion people worked a bit too much to make it a movement.

What are the five authentic elements of hip hop according to you?

I have always been fascinated by the hip hop culture as a whole. I first got into rap, then bboying, then got into different methods of rap like freestyling and battling. I also hung out with a lot of graffiti artists and represented HipHop DJs as a rapper/Emcee at prime events like DMC DJ Championships and IDA Championships. Other than this, hip hop has always pushed me to learn more in other fields like design and film making and that’s where the fifth element of hip hop i.e. knowledge comes into play. So Emceeing/Rap, Breaking/Bboying, Graffiti, Turntablism/Djing, and Knowledge have been an integral part of my life. But now HipHop is a lifestyle for me and I end up using the same mindset in everything be it personal life, health, etc.

Freestyle, rap battles, and the latest song, Lat on addictions, you have voiced and incorporated different areas. How do you choose them? Are they inspired by your real life?

The different forms of rap have been like a ladder. I started off with writing rap as poetry, then reciting rap-like poetry, then rapping it to a beat, then rapping it without the beat to practice flows, to freestyling on the spot to using the same skill to battle or cypher with other emcees for hours. I once attempted freestyle for 5 hours nonstop and made it weekly practice for months. Later I also wrote a rap to express stories and now that I am a film director as well I rap with visuals in mind which I use in my music videos. All these and other practices helped me learn rap from different perspectives.

Can you tell us about your debut EP ‘Trilbum’ and it’s songs?

Trilbum came together in 2018. All the three songs of Trilbum – Lat, Akelapan and Gin are written and performed in different styles, methods and flows. Even the music video of the three songs have been shot in three different styles of film making. The three songs represent the Drugs (Lat), Love (Akelapan) and Money (Gin). The topics have been given a different point of view though. Lat is the song that talks about behavioral addiction and psychology, Akelapan is the song that talks about loneliness and Gin is the topic that talks about monetary issues.

One of the songs from your debut EP ‘Lat’ talks about current generation addictions. Your college research inspired you to make it into a song. How challenging was it to work on in it?

The research on Lat started off with a personal experiment in 2016 of cutting out all forms of sugar in my diet. Be it from glucose to High fructose corn syrup. I went on a whole five-month-long spree and realized the brain clarity and increase in focus level it brought to me. I later that year made a short movie called – Johnny Johnny which was on the topic of sugar addiction. Over the following years until now, I am a keen researcher of addictions and behaviors related to it. It took hours and hours of research, reading and experiments to understand the psychology behind behavioral addiction.

You reached out California based music producer Homage for ‘Lat’. Can you tell us about the association?

Finding a producer has been one of the biggest tasks for me in hip hop. It took me a decade to find out the kind of producers I want to work with. Homage is definitely one of them. I bumped into his music online and immediately understood he makes beats the kind of I want for my tracks. Though I also produce music myself but because I handle direction, editing and other tasks of my music video production also so I wanted an expert who can give his full time to music production. I am currently working on my second song with Homage and that will be out in January. I also work with another producer out of New Delhi named Abhishek Salwan. I have known him for 12 years now and have made music for the songs like Chakravyu and upcoming track called Safar.

Lat is an old school style track. Can you tell us more? You have even directed it!

Lat is the slow 90s style tempo hip hop beat, the kind I grew up listening to. My love for hip hop goes to the lyricism part of it. I spend most of my time crafting the lyrics and making sense of it in layers. Also, being a rapper who has practiced freestyle a lot, I mostly connect to the boom-bap 90s style hip hop beats. Another art that I have started to fall in love with is film direction. After spending nearly, a decade in underground hip hop I chose to go for a master’s degree so I chose to go to NID, Ahmedabad to study Film and Video Communication and here I explored Film direction. Now I just like using film making just like I would like to use any other aspect of hip hop.

Having worked in the underground hip hop scene for over 15 years now, how according to you has it evolved? What more needs to be done?

Underground hip hop is a place where an artist generates hunger for his art. Underground is full of cutthroat competition and values. It comes with a lot of deep relations with other peer artists. Underground hip hop is the place where artists figure out the kind of artists they want to work with all their lives. I totally love the space and environment of an underground jam or a cypher. Underground hip hop never really evolves it just transforms into one form to another. After every few years, a whole new scene rises and replaces the previous one. So the age group never really changes to that extent. Artists do accumulate skills passed down to them from the ones before them. Right now the underground hip hop scene needs independent recognition for that more record labels need to focus only on the underground and bring the attention of the masses towards them. Our record label – AkashGanga records has primarily been established for the same reason. Our idea is not to use underground as a transition to the mainstream but make underground hip hop as loud as possible but while increasing the reach of the artists.

Do you think hip-hoppers and rappers are getting the financial support now? Is it sufficient?

Hip hop artists are getting more financial support than before. But at the same time with improvement in the quality of production, the increase in support doesn’t really do much help. Hip hop needs more live presence rather than on social media. Live presence does more wonders for an artist than on social media.

How have rap battles helped you in your career?

Rap battles have helped me to some extent. Though I have not battled for a long time but I have had my complete dedication to whenever I was battling. It was like a sport to me where I learnt how rap can create a sense of victory. But apart from battling, I have spent a lot many years in cyphers where I have never stepped back from hunting any rapper in front of me.

Tell us about your international collaborations?

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to be a part of events where there has been a pool of extraordinary national and international artists. I have performed as a rapper/Emcee at events/jams and battles which have had international artists like ShieChan(Japan), Boogie Frantick (USA), Greentek (Canada), Differ (South Korea), Hoan (South Korea), Yamabuddha (Nepal), DJ URI (UK), Salah (France) etc. These artists are some of the world’s best bboys, poppers and DJs.

Representing India at the Malaysian TV Series - HipHoppin’ Asia and having been chosen as one of the main artists for the National Film Division of India’s documentary, what next milestone are you keen to achieve?

I wish to make movies and documentaries myself and give platforms to other artists to express themselves. Film making and integrating it with hip-hop is the journey, I m on currently. I don’t want to use films as a mere visual project. The visuals must make sense and must have its own essence.

You are all set to release your debut album next year. Can you tell us it’s key highlights?

The upcoming music will include more storytelling, much more complex visual narration, and more exploration on the lyricism side. I want to create timeless music and videos that will document the times we live in. The album will also portray my life story and my journey. The music of the album will be different from the style of hip-hop music we hear on a daily basis. I’ll also produce a few tracks for this album alongside a couple of more producers. There are a lot of artists from all over the world who are going to be featured on this album and they are some of the best names in the biz.

Can you tell us about your recently launched Record Label and Video Production Company - AkashGanga Records and Thinev Productions?

AkashGanga Records is a hip hop label that captures the sounds I create. It is my dream project. Right now it is in its initial phase but it’s not going to have just a digital presence. Thinev is a film media production company and it is based out of New Delhi.

What was your major takeaway from lockdown?

Lockdown has only been more productive for me. The song Lat is something that I did before lockdown, so I was already prepared for everything in times of stress and isolation. So, keeping myself mentally and physically healthy was not an issue!

Any message you want to give to budding hip hopers and rappers?

Just keep doing it for all the reasons one feels right.