Why the hip-hop culture could not sustain in Bangladesh

Shadique Mahbub Islam | Sunday, 3 July 2022

The genre still raises the eyebrows of many avid music enthusiasts, including those who have a penchant for listening to American or Indian hip-hop.

Hip-hop culture has not bloomed in our country, and it has yet to create a strong impression in mainstream media. However, hip-hop and rap is the fastest growing music genre worldwide, and it has become the voice of the youth.

Rap expresses rage, protest and dissent against the social evils and establishments. And this is where the question rises - why, despite the presence of rampant social causes and woes, have the hip-hop artists failed to take roots here?

Had there not been any initial wave of hip-hop and rap in this country, then it could have been argued that the rap music scene is new, therefore not so accepted. However, the country has had its fair share of early popular hip-hop and rap artists.

History of Hip-Hop and Rap Music in Bangladesh:

In 1993, Ashraf Babu and Abdul Wazed Charu introduced rap music to the Bangladeshi music scene by releasing their first album 'Tri Rotner Khepa,' which was released during Eid-ul Fitr.

Later, their second album 'Bayuchura' was released during Eid-ul Azha. The two albums became major successes, and the Charu-Babu duo released seventeen albums; however, the cassette companies were only interested in Bangla songs in Hindi tunes, and so, their rap journey was short-lived.

The 2000s were a blooming time for hip-hop artists. New expatriate artists formed groups and released songs.

Stoic Bliss is a Bangladeshi American hip hop group formed in Queens, New York. Most of the tracks for Stoic Bliss are produced by Rajib Rahman, better known by his stage name 'Double R.' They became popular in Bangladesh due to their hit track 'Abar Jigay' from their debut album Light Years Ahead – the first Hip Hop album in Bangladesh.

The Light Years Ahead album sold well over 250,000 copies within the first 10 months, making Stoic Bliss an emerging mainstream music group in Bangladesh.

Dhaka-based crew Deshi MCs was formed in 2006. Mc Shaq, Xplosive and Skibkhan were the founding members. Later, another member MC Mugz joined the group.

In 2007, Deshi MCs released their debut album and became the pioneers of Banglish Gangsta Rap. The album was titled 'Banned' and it spread like wildfire, leading up to numerous collaborations, concerts, and TV/Radio appearances, and got a great response from the young listeners of Hip Hop.

Later, Jalali Set and Bhanga Bangla gained considerable popularity. However, the initial surge of popularity has dried up, and now, hip-hop has gone underground since the early years of the 2010s.

Why the genre dried up in the country?

So, what happened after the early years of the 2010s? The Financial Express has tried to seek the answer with the opinion of Lisan, a prominent musician and the frontman of the band Lisan and the Blindmen.

Lisan thinks that mainstream hip-hop artists have shifted their focus from mainstream listeners to a niche section of the listeners.

“Now, in my opinion, the artists are producing music for a selective group of audience,” he said.

Rap is the voice of rage and dissent around the world. The rap genre sprang up in the African-American community against government oppression and systematic racism.

Even in India, rap and hip-hop are doing a better job by raging against the establishment. Yet it is still not used in our country, despite so many social evils prevalent. Lisan thinks that hip-hop is not becoming mainstream in our country because rebel music might not be accepted by the masses usually.

“The root of the hip-hop or rap genre is embedded in questioning the established sets of beliefs and ideas of the society. It is the nature of hip-hop to rebel. There are a few exceptions, but most often, the music that questions authority and tries to seek unsavoury answers is bound to be neglected by the larger population.”

We are not prepared for the genre?

He also thinks that the audience is not prepared for such music, "At the end of the day, the Bengali love to tend to follow the rules and norms. Around the world, rap challenges social norms and evils, but we are not sure how the crowd will react to it.”

And as the Babu-Charu case has shown us, market demand plays a powerful role in the proliferation of a certain music genre.

Hip-hop has complex messaging angles, and mainstream popular music tends to be softer and easier to enjoy. And speaking up against social evils in the country is quite a daunting task due to the socio-political situation of the country as well, something that global hip-hop artists face relatively less. 

Music has to be understood, felt

There has been a talk that the music pundits and cultural elites have prevented rap music from becoming mainstream by creating a negative image of it.

However, Lisan disagrees with this argument.

“Rap music never cared about the opinions of the musical pundits. The problem is the audience. The audience used to be better than now. You had to put effort into listening to music, either by buying CDs or on the radio. Now, you can just put music in the background. You do not need to put effort into understanding the music."

"Well, listening to music while doing something else is not necessarily bad, but you should pay attention to the music every once in a while,” he remarked.

The listeners like to pay less attention to music nowadays, so complex and rhythmic rap songs fare worse here.

Lisan thinks, “Every type of music should be mainstream. From an economics or finance point of view, every artist deserves to meet two ends by creating music. So, infrastructure needs to be developed. And most importantly, the audience needs to ‘listen’ to music more, not just play it in the background. Only by understanding the music can we revive a genre.”

Hip-hop and rap genres are the current trends in the global music scene. Our artists need to be patronised and encouraged, so that we can get more ‘Dhakaiya Gully Boy’ and feel a new surge of new sound and new taste in our stagnant local music scene.

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