Wanandaf: A Ride To Bangalore’s Hip-Hop Scene By The Meter
Home to veteran hip-hop heads like Brodha V and Smokey the Ghost, Bengaluru is buzzing beyond its infamous traffic jams. Read on to know more about the city's rising hip-hop scene.
Bangalore is a city infamous for its traffic jams and of course, the yellow & green autos present abundantly in them. The experience of haggling over auto fares is something so central to the city of Bangalore that it has become an everyday ritual for many in this bustling city. This everyday bargain has put in place some laws that govern these scuffles, including the necessary installation of a standardised meter to be adhered to in all journeys. The only acceptable time for a hike in these standardised rates is post 9PM, when the drivers get to charge you one-and-a-half times the meter, a quote often mumbled and rushed over to sound like “Wanandaf” (one-and-half).
The word therefore carries the essence of Bangalore and was the best placeholder for a citywide hip-hop movement to get artists together in one place. In Wanandaf’s origin story, this place was Lalbagh. On a Whatsapp group called STBL (Sangathan Text Battle League), rappers Akx, Agaahi Raahi and Nex realised that they were from the same city and decided to meet up to discuss the possibility of a cypher movement. Since almost all cities had their own consolidated hip-hop circuits, STBL served as a group to promote competitiveness in rap as well as solidarity and support to newcomers in the scene. Once it was clear that there were a bunch of like minded hip-hop enthusiasts from the same city, they decided to meet up with Smokey The Ghost for advice and decided to organise a trial cypher session.
This first jam (cypher) at Lalbagh witnessed the coming together of rappers Akx, Agaahi, Nex, Inner Rhymes, videographer Karim Poocha (Soup) and producer CJ. With music blaring out of portable speakers and verses flowing from each of the emcees, the jam then became a spectacle that Soup could document and put out on the newly created Wanandaf page. Akx quickly drew up a logo for Wanandaf, a graphic that looks like a simple “W” but is actually made up of a mixed fraction reading one-and-a-half (1 ½). With content from the first cypher posted and the invites created for a second run, the team hoped for more than six people to show up this time, and show up they did.
The second cypher at MG Road saw individual emcees and small collectives pouring in till there were about 150 people. The rappers kept rapping one after the other without much breakage of flow over whatever beats were played and created an atmosphere so ecstatic that nobody stopped even when it started raining heavily. Inspired and encouraged from the unfathomable success of a movement in its infancy, the core team decided to organise these sessions every Sunday.
What followed was a series of consistent cyphers at Cubbon Park and Indiranagar Basketball Court. To keep up with the snowballing interest, upcoming talent and a quest for equal opportunity, Wanandaf started taking slot registrations where emcees could register to rap and not miss out on the opportunity to spit their best verses for an actual audience. In more ways than one, Wanandaf was able to consolidate the fragmented hip-hop scene of Bangalore through massive cyphers that people would travel the length and breadth of the city for.
Soon, there was an audience for people in the city who just engaged with hip-hop as a hobby and therefore, many emcees and producers were empowered to start putting out their original tracks and get serious with their art. Wanandaf also consolidated this community over whatsapp on a group that now has more than 150 people. They also started delving into other forms of art showcasing and began hosting competitions.
The first one, titled Bisi Belle Bars, was a rap based competition conducted online for rappers from all across the country. It was soon followed up with events such as Beat Bakery-- a beat making competition for producers with the title prize of a custom made synthesiser, Mixed & Mastered-- an underground hip-hop party with special emphasis on real time production from scratch while rappers freestyled and Control Room-- an educative event meant to break down the basics of recording & performance for rappers and producers alike.
To cater to the ever increasing demand for consumption and creation of hip-hop music, Wanandaf also started delving into the business of music distribution. Smokey was able to partner up with Symphonic Distribution to start music distribution for Wanandaf artists.
Soon, a distribution team was put together with the vision of making music distribution and streaming inclusive and accessible to all. Wanandaf artists were now able to put their music on streaming platforms and even some editorial playlists, which was somewhat of a breakthrough in the independent music scene. Wanandaf was able to give opportunities simply as an artist collective that rivaled those of a traditional label. There was no paid staff that kept things afloat; rather, the artists themselves did all that was required for the culture.
Wanandaf was now able to monetise performances thanks to the growing consumer base. Their regular collaboration with Social titled Meter Down allows for both veterans and upcoming rappers to show their talent on a larger scale and get paid for it. Keeping the momentum rolling, Wanandaf is now also delving into radio play for independent artists and has tied things for the future up with Radio Indigo.
The goal of Wanandaf has been a simple one, yet one that’s difficult to execute. Empowering artists to open multiple streams of revenue for them, promoting inclusivity in hip-hop and giving back to the genre that has given these artists so much personally and spiritually in their lives.
These efforts are being realised one initiative at a time with the team also setting up back end infrastructure that comprises of community driven artists and recording engineers who have also come together to offer free mixing, mastering and recording services to those that are unable to put out well polished music due to lack of resources. Wanandaf does not shy away from the realities of caste, class and gender related hindrances in the industry and has made it a long term quest to start with impacting the grassroots while also reaching far and wide to garner opportunities.
Focusing also on mental health and the spiritual impact of hip-hop, Wanandaf core members such as Smokey and Carter Ruff have come together to form Poetic Labs - an academically driven venture that seeks to incorporate academic research in the realm of hip-hop while also exploring the art of rap as therapy. One of the primary focal points of this venture include the promotion of freestyle rap as a form of meditation in the country. Carter, one of the finest freestyle rappers and a practitioner of different meditation techniques has come up with a programme that guides all people (not just rappers) to explore meditation via a verbal outlet.
The idea is simple-- since the art of freestyling is set ‘in the moment’ and based on reflexive improvisation, it forces people to automatically say things they wouldn’t say otherwise, biases and stresses that leak out in keeping up with the rhythmic flow of words. This constant self confrontation and self reflection nudges people to let go and accept realisations while also distracting them from various stressors by being one with the flow.
Being able to freestyle not only rids the mind of pollutants and other obstructions, but also brings forth a sense of achievement of having accomplished something that looks incredibly difficult on the surface.
“Our busking activities have revealed to us the demand and acceptance for freestyle rap & hip-hop in India, something I don’t think even the rappers can take credit for. There have been times when we have freestyled for sixty minutes straight on Church Street and the crowd has wanted us to go on,” says Carter, describing the massive crowds who come seeking freestyle rap close to MG Road, where the first major Wanandaf cypher took place.
It is now their mission to not only have the audience engage as passive listeners but more as active participants in activities pertaining to hip-hop that have the scope to impact individual lives.
The Wanandaf moment has been one of serendipity, where passionate artists happened to come together to achieve things they themselves wouldn’t have imagined. It only goes to show how artists can themselves create infrastructure and opportunities in the post-label era with an honest sense of purpose and take the traditional ways of the industry for an absolute ride.