The music scene in South Asia has been on the rise in recent years. Independent music is thriving with many talented upcoming artists who are producing high-quality work. Independent artists globally have been able to cast a wider net than before.
Every month we shuffle our playlists with new artists who are making waves in the music industry. While the Indian music scene continues to grow, the same stands true for our neighbours. In this article, we explore the myriad genres of hip-hop, pop and rap in Pakistan that range from Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi and English languages and across varying themes. These Pakistani hip-hop artists are redefining a new generation of music in their country and the following list showcases ten artists you should listen to.
1. Hasan Raheem
Pakistani singer, songwriter and rapper Hasan Raheem has set new standards in the hip hop and indie pop industry. His songs such as ‘Aisay Kaisay’, ‘Joona’, ‘Aarzu’ and ‘Sar Phira’ have garnered more than a million views. Hasan specialises in using acoustics and he is popular for his upbeat feel-good songs that are dance-worthy. Being an independent musician, the 24-year-old pop icon also holds a degree in dentistry and has lived up to his dream of creating music that stays. Hasan writes songs about things that tease him, he mends them into a song and fills the blank spaces with groovy beats and fashionable lyrics. Hasan was awarded the Breakthrough Artist of The Year in PISA 2020 and he has remained unstoppable ever since.
2. Shamoon Ismail
Multi-genre Pakistani artist Shamoon Ismail, known for his signature music style Punjabi Blues is the next pick for our list. His music is a blend of western tunes with Punjabi lyrics aiming to deliver a complete audio-visual treat. Shamoon rose to fame with his EP titled ‘Cookies’ that include record-breaking songs like ‘Marijuana’ and ‘Karachi’. Shamoon for his chill rap and Synthwave 80’s electric music is the most streamed artist in Pakistan. Although he has written songs in English and Urdu, he finds his expression most suited in Punjabi. The multi-talented artist writes, produces and releases songs by himself and flatters his audiences with performances often seen as a one-man act.
3. Faris Shafi
Popularly known for his sports anthem ‘Cricket Khidaiye’, Faris Shafi is Pakistan’s iconic rap artist who boldly addresses the religious exploitation in the nation through his songs. His rap discloses the harsh reality of the country and although his songs have sparked controversies, fans love Faris Shafi for his unflinching spirit. Earlier this year, Faris also collaborated with his sister Meesha Sharif for Coke Studio Season 14 release ‘Muaziz Saarif’ which was an immediate hit. His songs are characterized by social commentary and the commoners are able to relate to the injustice that prevails in society. It’s certain we will get to hear more staggering truths about society from this artist and his music is worth the anticipation.
4. Young Stunners
Karachi-based rap duo Young Stunners consisting of Talha Anjum and Talhah Yunus are quite sensational for their lyricism and refining the hip hop culture. Young Stunners rose to fame with their debut single ‘Burger-e-Karachi’ which was a satirical comment on the westernised urban elites of Karachi. They are widely known for their track ‘Why Not’ which was released as a promotional campaign for Pepsi. They are popular among the millennials for evoking interest to chase their dream and flow against the current. Young Stunners, owing to their Urdu raps and experimental music have gathered a huge fan following and continue to be significant figures in the music industry.
Maanu Rehman Afshar is a multi-genre artist from Lahore who’s gaining popularity for his progressive, alternative and catchy tunes. His music is broad-ranging and usually relies a lot on wordplay. His songs are about love, life and human emotions with stunning lyrics which are beautifully animated on his channel. Maanu experiments with electronic pop, hip hop and R&B music. He has been actively producing music for over four years and his diverse music style makes him an artist to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Bayaan is a five-member rock band from Lahore. They started their musical journey on the popular music show Nescafe Basement, following which they began producing their own music. They are the winning band of Pepsi Battle of Bands Season 3. Their music includes popular hits like ‘Teri Tasveer’, ‘Din Dhalay’, ‘Hum Nadaan’ and their decade-long presence makes them Pakistan’s one of the favourite bands. Their album ‘Suno’ released in 2020 was well received in India. The Urdu term ‘Bayaan’ stands for expression which explains their adept song making. The artists are affluent with talent and have attained prominence as a rock band and continue to elevate the independent music scene.
7. Arooj Aftab
Saudi-born Pakistani vocalist, music composer and producer Arooj Aftab stirs the soul with her flamboyant music style that uniquely explores Sufism and jazz. Based in the United States, Arooj has won the News & Documentary Award at the 2018 Emmy Awards and the Best Global Music Performance award for her song ‘Mohabbat’, at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in April 2022. Arooj finds inspiration from well-celebrated Sufi poets like Rumi and singers like Abida Parveen. Her album Vulture Prince was ranked sixth in Rolling Stone’s Best Music of 2021. Arooj also works on other classical Pakistani and North Indian forms of poetry like Khayal and Kafi. While the artist continues to merge the art forms and create a style of her own, her music represents pure talent.
8. Natasha Noorani
Lahore-based musician, festival director and ethnomusicologist Natasha Noorani is an established name in the Pakistani pop industry. Being a singer-songwriter, she has also won the Goethe Talents Scholarship in 2019. Her music is categorized into R&B, neo-soul and progressive rock. She entered the industry with her debut album ‘Munaasib’ and since then she has collaborated with artists like Hasan Raheem, Strings and Jamal Rahman. Apart from being a singer she also the founding member of Lahore Music Meet and has also been recognised by UNESCO as a creative entrepreneur.
9. Ali Sethi
Known for the viral sensation ‘Pasoori’, Ali Sethi is Pakistan’s beloved artist. Being a Harvard Graduate, Ali Sethi’s early life and career has been diverse. Before he pursued music, Ali Sethi also published his debut novel ‘The Wish Maker’ which was critically acclaimed for its political nature. He began his music career with ‘Dil Jalannay Ki Baat Karte Ho’ which was featured in a Mira Nair film. Since then, he has made appearances in several seasons of Coke Studio with ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’ being his second most famous release after ‘Pasoori’. Ali Sethi as an artist practices art in its purest form and he expresses his ideas through his impeccable song-writing. Ali Sethi has made his presence felt in the industry through his independent releases and one is never out of love for the artist.
The four-member pop-rock band Karakoram popular for appearing on the television series Nescafe Basement are creating a buzz in Pakistan’s music scene. They began their musical journey with their single ‘Toofan’ which was released in 2018. Neo-progressive and alt-rock is the band’s niche and they seem to have found inspiration from bands such as Foo Fighters and Linkin Park. Karakoram further gained recognition when they released ‘Ye Dunya’ which featured Faris Shafi and Talha Anjum in Coke Studio’s Season 14.