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Pakistan's rap sheet: Three hip-hop artists you should listen to right now
Adwait A. Patil  10th Apr 2015

Pakistani rapper Ali Gul Pir.

uch like its other South Asian counterparts, non-mainstream music in Pakistan has been on a slow burner for the past few years. An obvious history of a combination of Sufi and rock music is slowly taking the back seat as genres like electronic and rap music are being more rapidly consumed by as many people as an erstwhile fusion band would.

Unfortunately, at this juncture in history, conditions in Pakistan are detrimental to the rise of an alternative culture and independent music in the country. There exist no big sponsors to help put on shows in the few venues that do entertain live music, and the ban on YouTube alienates fans from the musicians, making it harder than ever to find working streams of their favourite music videos.

However, even within the shackles of the rules and regulations that undermine the very ethos of cultural expression, Pakistan is home to some of the most interesting rap music coming out of South Asia at the moment. There is a healthy combination of hard-hitting, brutal rap that deals with topics like racial discontent and more light-hearted fare that pokes fun at the countries' ridiculous social policies.

Here are three Pakistani rap artists we recommend you find and listen to.

Faris Shafi

Faris Shafi is no stranger to the world of cinema and music. Both his mother and his sister are actors and you would've seen the latter playing Riz MC's sister in Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and portraying the role of Perizaad in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. From Lahore, Faris raps in Urdu, while dropping the occasional English word in between to keep his flow in check. With his Urdu deliveries, he riffs eloquently about the current state of Pakistan and comments on its internal turmoil. His verse on the track Jawab De, his latest release with producer Talal Qureshi includes, "Kiss kisam ke ashraful-makhlookat hain hum / Zarra aa ke baat to sun / Kissi tarhaan rok dey yeh paghalpan / Yeh katlo-gharat, bomb", a line that questions the usage of violence, which he calls out to be stupid. Though Faris raps about topics that plague the quintessential Pakistani youngster (terrorism, archaic laws, a brutal and ineffective police force) there is a lighter side to his music as well. His slapstick video for the track Awaam (which includes a verse, "Mazhab ke maslay / Ghazab ke jalsay / Katal ke hamlay / Pakistan ko lag gaye lassan ke tarkay,") looks at how in-fighting, be it political or religious, is slowly rotting away the fundamentals on which Pakistan was built. Though the video sees him goofing around while rapping, he doesn't hold back, name-dropping former president Musharraf with drones in the same line. 

Though the video for Awaam sees Faris Shah goofing around while rapping, he doesn’t hold back, name-dropping former president PervezMusharraf with drones in the same line.

Ali Gul Pir

It's always hard blending humour with music, and not everyone can pull it off. As a rapper, you don't want to sound too gimmicky, masking your bad rhymes with stale humour. For Ali Gul Pir, mixing rhymes with humour is a skill he's been honing for years. Like Faris Shafi, Gul Pir also raps in Urdu. However unlike Shafi, humour forms the crux of his rap. On his latest track, Kaisa Diya, Gul Pir pokes fun at the Pakistani entertainment industry, mocking its behaviour and mannerisms. He opens with the line, "Producer ko bol meri pay ready rakhe / Nahi toh yaha hi rok dunga / Lag jayenge sabke", establishing that greed is a common denominator among industry professionals. Though humour is Gul Pir's preferred style, it doesn't dilute the social messages he's trying to convey. Earlier last year, he wrote a song called #KholoBC, with Adil Omar, pleading with the government to lift the ban on YouTube in Pakistan. The song, with verses from Gul Pir in Urdu and Omar in English, describes Pakistan's YouTube ban as a form of repression that every citizen should fight against. Follow him on Twitter @Aligulpir for updates.

The Darkside

The Darkside is the most hard-hitting rap group to come out of Pakistan. Unfortunately, they also have a tragic history. The group, comprising of writer/producer Asjad Ali "Ay-Jay" Kazi, with brothers Taha "Trax" Raza and Hamza "Haze" Raza started recording as The Darkside sometime in 2011. But in August 2012, Hamza, the group's youngest member, was gunned down in Houston, in what the local authorities claimed to be a drug deal gone sour. Their music, an aggressive boom-bap style of rap music à la Sadat X (and Brand Nubian) is an honest and belligerent take on their country's political state. On their single Sold My Soul, Haze raps, "I chose to drop lessons like a man / Cause my intelligent measurements, shot the president of Pakistan / Blame Osama, better yet, blame the Klan/ Now they saying Obama's the one who saved the Christian land / They have invaded my country's sovereignty/ Took our privacy and waited, camouflaged in poverty/ Made a policy and played it like a rusty robbery," a compellingly honest and combative take on the state affairs. Though Hamza will never be replaced in The Darkside, both Asjad (now living in Canada) and Taha (now living in the United States) continue to write and record rap music and will soon put out solo releases.

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