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Homegrown beats: Naezy & his brand of Hindi hip-hop
BHANUJ KAPPAL  5th Jul 2014

Mode7 and Naezy

arly this year, Urdu rapper Naved Sheikh aka Naezy, quietly released his debut track Aafat by uploading it onto YouTube. Over a simple, minimal beat, Sheikh paints a fascinating picture of the Kurla ghetto he grew up in filled with a variety of characters — the thugs, the criminals, those who live off charity and others who live by their wits. Sheikh himself is a part of this cast, but he's also apart as he mercilessly rips on the absurdity and hypocrisy of the much glorified "thug life". In the few months since, Naezy's become a rising star in the Indian hip-hop scene on the strength of his impressive flow and slang-inflected Urdu lyricism. Here, he speaks about his music, his crew and his plans for the future.

Q. How were you introduced to hip-hop?

The first rap song I heard was Temperature by Seal Paul in the seventh or eighth standard. When I heard it, I broke it down, memorised it and performed it in front of other students in the recess to entertain them. I realised that I quite enjoy rapping, so I started doing it in my own way. But it was only in the first year of my Bachelor of Science course that I found others who wanted to perform and we started to do ciphers and freestyle rap. It happened at an audition for our college festival. At the audition, I found a few other people who were also interested in hip-hop. So we got together, formed a crew and called it The Schizophrenics. After a while we realised that English wasn't cutting it and that people would understand and like it if we performed in our own language, so we started rapping in Hindi and Urdu.

Q. It took you three years between the formation of The Schizophrenics and the release of your first song. What were you up to in the interim?

We were performing; we performed at the college festival every year. Every day we used to have a cipher session in the college canteen, and we'd bunk classes to go sit and rap on the streets, everywhere. Slowly, we started to understand about flow and figured out the sort of subjects we wanted to rap about. Then after a time, when I dropped Aafat, that was quite a sudden thing, it wasn't planned. The people in my area had screwed with my head, and I didn't get to perform in the college festival as well. I wanted to prove myself to people and show them that we're still active. So in that mood we made the song in five days and then we got a great response and realized that we've got something here. After that the songs started coming quickly.

Q. Tell me about Mumbai 70, which you describe as the city's most dangerous locality in Aafat.

Mumbai 70 is Kurla West. I was born and spent the first 15 years of my life in a chawl here, spent my entire childhood here. Then I shifted to a different colony in the same area which is where I'm staying now. A lot of the experiences I had during my childhood are an important part of what motivates my self-expression. I want to open the eyes of the people from the chawl I used to live in, they're doing all sorts of stupid and illegal shit and I want to tell them that it's time to be responsible, open your eyes and get on the right path, don't waste your lives.

A lot of the experiences I had during my childhood are an important part of what motivates my self-expression. I want to open the eyes of the people from the chawl I used to live in. — Naved Sheikh

Q. How big an influence is your locality and the experiences you had there when it comes to your lyrics?

I want to speak about my area all my life and bring it on to the map. I want to tell the world about the sort of people who live in this locality and help solve some of the problems of the area. I want people to stop fighting, stop the daily brawls and the murders that are a regular feature of life there. I've seen all sorts of abuse and violence there. Through my ciphers and lyrics I want to help improve that situation. If I rap about it in our own language, maybe the people will understand and think seriously about what's going on.

Q. You also collaborated with Kerala-based surfer and music producer Raffael Kably aka Mode7 on a track. How did that come about?

A couple of months after I released Aafat on YouTube, there was a practical exam in my college. They didn't let me sit for the practical because of my incomplete journals and for the first time in my life I was going to fail. I felt really bad about that so I thought I'd write something about it and try to explain to my parents that I'm not interested in studying and then going on to a nine-to-five job, I want to do something else. I went to the beach, I was feeling very upset and the whole thing came to me in one shot. That night when I got home I spoke to Raffael and we'd already been talking about collaborating. So I sent him the lyrics and told him what it was about and he sent me a beat that I really liked. I made the whole track on that beat in a couple of days and sent the recording to him. We did all of this online, he mastered the track, asked me for a photo for the album art and we released it. It all happened really quickly.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

We were planning on putting out a mixtape but now we've had a few delays so I can't really say. We had some issues and the mixtape isn't ready but our fans are already excited and waiting for new music so we're planning on releasing the tracks we already have one by one. We'll probably do a proper mixtape later. In the meantime, I'm also doing a song for a movie.

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