Lose Yourself to Badshah

Pop Culture

Lose Yourself to Badshah

It’s been pretty crap week.

The news this week has triggered a gamut of exhausting reactions ranging from tongue-biting rage to hair-pulling despair. The army was attacked by terrorists in Kashmir, a bomb in New York gave Donald Trump more ammunition for the shit cannon he calls his mouth, and Bollywood rapper Badshah declared that he didn’t find “anything special” about the music of Eminem. (These facts are presented in descending order in terms of impact and magnitude, and ascending order in terms of direct importance to me.)

Yes, clouds of war loom ominously on the horizon and a madman creeps closer to the post of Leader of the Free World and I’m more concerned with a performing artist who doesn’t share my opinion on “Slim Shady”. That’s just a symptom of our times though. Priyanka Chopra’s Emmy outing and Coldplay’s November carnival get as much, if not more, attention as Watergate 2.0 – The Cauvery Crisis – so I’m not going to apologise for being hooked up on the Badshah/Eminem news. I am but a product of my time.

So here’s what Badshah said: “I know the entire world is crazy about him [Eminem] and his music, but for me I never thought it was anything special. That’s because I can never really relate to the lyrics of his songs and I am sort of not really into that kind of music.”

My instinctive reaction: You talentless twat! What would you, who came out with “DJ Waley Babu”, the kind of earworm that burrows into your skull and takes up residence, defecating all over your better taste, know about music?

Badshah has captured the imagination of India’s youth at a time where daaru, swag, and raat ka plans are often the top priority.

The Black Sabbath-listening, Edgar Allan Poe-reading part of me had anyway been in rebellion against the Hindi music industry ever since “Chaar Bottle Vodka” became an anthem, but so enraged was I at this sacrilegious shade thrown at Eminem that I had no choice but to set out on the warpath against this “musician” who said he grew up inspired by the Backstreet Boys – without a trace of irony!

But first I had to prepare.

I snapped on my headphones and set sail in the world of “Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai”. Through my headphones came song after song, with subjects as varied as checking out girls at the club, drinking a lot of alcohol, and how awesome Badshah is, as a rapper and an O.G. gangsta. That is to say, not very varied at all. But as I listened on, seeping through my disdain, however, was a tinge of admiration. This music moved. The lyrics were a putrid mess of misogyny, classism, and machoism in a mix of Hindi, Punjabi, and Haryanvi but the man could rap. In three languages no less.

My headphones were still plugged in when “2 Many Girls” came on. I expected to groan out loud, but strangely, that never happened. After all, if Badshah wants to escape to a world of popping bottles and girls in short skirts through his art, who am I to judge? And some of the best rappers ever have stuck to a limited range of topics and crafted impressive legacies. I don’t remember an N.W.A. song that didn’t reference the ’hood and the gangsta lifestyle in South Central LA. 2Pac mainly rapped about being black and marginalised, and made some of the best music ever.

Maybe Badshah, with his Delhi as his hometown and his inspiration (his words, not mine), genuinely didn’t get Eminem. I took a second look at his statement, and this sentence stood out: “I can never really relate to the lyrics of his songs.”

Growing up, I was the English nerd in school. What drew me to Eminem was how he was like a spoken-word ninja, innovating with the English language to craft lyrically complex pieces. Why should the mastery of English be of any relevance to a rapper who performs in Hindi, Haryanvi, and Punjabi?

By the time “Take Your Sandals Off” started playing, I had stopped judging Badshah for his taste in music and accepted him for what he was — an artist who doesn’t make challenging music that causes you to think, but one that creates massively popular feel-good tracks that become the soundtrack to house parties and weddings across the nation.

Great or small, our idols and cultural icons are chosen by us. Badshah has captured the imagination of India’s youth at a time where daaru, swag, and raat ka plans are often the top priority. The beach isn’t a pristine spot on India’s coastline. For them, it’s the backdrop to the fantasies of debauchery they’re intoxicated on. They’re not torn at the state of the nation, fighting a war or in the grips of an idealist fever. They want to party, and Badshah is the Pied Piper leading them to the Promised Land. It’s not a comment on him as much as it is on us.

So it’s not been a total crap week after all. I got over my dire hate for Badshah and overall levels of hate around the nation seem to have abated (or then simply drowned out by the returning monsoon) and we don’t seem to be heading to nuclear war. Those are all good things. Now all that remains is for Donald Trump to shut his mouth for a while and maybe open it when he has something sensible to say.

Who am I kidding, that last one’s never going to happen, is it?