“Being genuine and raw can be a revolutionary act in itself”- In Conversation with Naqaab47

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Adi Radia aka Naqaab47 is a Delhi based hip-hop artist who released his debut 3-track EP ‘Paidaish’ in collaboration with Delhi based electronica duo Shoals. The EP is quintessentially Delhi in spirit. Crass but classy, depraved, frivolous but fun and a dense mixture of languages and cultures. We got in touch with Naqaab47 to find out more about his music, his journey and what he thinks about the society we live in. Read below.

Q.1 Where are you from? What do your parents do? Are they into music too?

I was born in Delhi and have spent the majority of my life here. My parents are divorced and live across the world from each other. While my dad is a lawyer in Chicago, my mom is the spiritual head of an ashram in Vrindavan. I have borrowed certain musical tastes from both of them, and they are both hugely supportive of my creative pursuits, but I wouldn’t say they are major musical influences in my life. The vastly different geographies that they belong to has definitely impacted me though.

Q.2 Tell us about your childhood. How did you get involved into making music?

After watching the film Khosla Ka Ghosla as a kid, I had a major epiphany and realized that I was born to be an artist. Initially, my dream was to become a filmmaker and that’s what brought me to the University of California in Los Angeles – which is known for its film school. Once I got there, I began taking interest in other forms and mediums, including music. I would go to a lot of concerts as well as music festivals and in my last two years of college, I used to live with musicians. These experiences vastly expanded my musical palette and gave me an insight into various facets of being an artist. When it comes to actually making music, that happened quite randomly. It started as a casual thing, but I knew this was something special when my first song ‘Ek Joint’ got an overwhelmingly positive response, without having put much effort into understanding the genre or honing my craft. It just came naturally. I became serious about hip-hop when I first heard Earl Sweatshirt’s second studio album ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.’ This was a time in my life when I had just had a break-up and was also unemployed. It was the perfect catalyst to put me in a deeply creative zone and facilitate my growth into the next level.

Q.3 How did your debut release come about

I have been making unsuccessful attempts to create something with Shoals since the very start of my musical journey. I have known Sidharth since college and he has been my foremost guide into the world of music since then. The biggest lesson I learned from him early on was to spend time finding my sound instead of seeking releases and public attention from the get-go. In other words, actually having something to show before going out to the world with it. I have spent more than a couple of years since then diving deep into hip-hop and honing my craft while having a day job in advertising. Paidaish came along when I was finally ready and just happened organically when the time was right. Once we had zeroed in on the songs, I realized that the lyrics mirror different phases of my coming of age years. That’s where the name comes from. It’s a journey into the universal process of growing up, voiced by a person from Delhi.

Q.4 What is your music all about?

I am fascinated by taking ideas that are seemingly opposed to each other and blending them together, which is why my songs can be kind of schizophrenic at times. What I mean by this is that my lyrics are simultaneously old-school and experimental, serious and whimsical, traditional and modern, crass and polished, juvenile and evolved – the list goes on. Just like the ancient concept of yin and yang, these polar opposites come together and complement each other in my work. The goal is to leave my thoughts and experiences at various stages in life out there for perpetuity. I want to be free to speak my mind and be true to myself, but at the same time be entertaining. With a unique personal twist, I use age-old elements of poetry to tell my life story. The subject matter keeps varying, but the tools remain the same. I like to keep the larger messages universal while sticking to the hyperlocal dialect of Delhi. For me, being genuine and raw can be a revolutionary act in itself.

Q.5 What is your music making process like?

It never stops. I’m always soaking in elements from the world around me – whether its from life experiences or other art forms. Whenever I come up with interesting rhymes, punchlines or one-liners, I make a note on my phone. Later, I form them into complete verses and hooks while listening to instrumental beat tapes from legendary hip-hop producers in the background. Freestyling every now and then is also an important part of the process. Once the verses and hooks are formed, I keep practicing the delivery across a wide range of instrumentation and this helps me edit and refine the lyrics further. The idea is to be prepared from before when the time comes to spit to a beat and create a song. It’s about having a variety in your arsenal so that once you enter the studio you can simply focus on structuring a song based on the mood at that moment. Sometimes the beat is so inspiring that the thought starters I have from before are improvised into complete songs right there, other times the beats are crafted based on the exact words I am looking to put together on a track.

Q.6 Which are your favorite lyricists/writers/philosophers?

I am hugely inspired by Eastern mysticism and the tradition of thought and poetry surrounding it. Some of these thinkers and poets that have inspired me are Amir Khusrau, Lao Tzu, The Buddha, Ghalib and Kabir Das. Within the realm of hip-hop, the artists that have influenced me the most are Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, MF Doom, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. There are a lot more though. It’s difficult to choose!

Q.7 What do you think about the society we live in these days?

I think we live in a very interesting time period as far this county is concerned. Our confused search for an identity as a post-colonial nation is both a curse as well as a boon in differing ways. Although we have much to rediscover from our roots, the globalized world that we live in has introduced many novel elements to our culture. The struggle is to find the right mix between tradition and modernity. Tipping the scales can lead to regressive thinking on one end of the spectrum and a neo-imperial takeover of the mind on the other. Culture is a constantly evolving landscape, formed by the neverending battle between elements of the established orthodoxy and incoming currents of change. This conflict is what will define our national identity going forward.

Q.8 Which Indian bands/artists do you admire?

To name a few:–

Zakir Hussain- Peter Cat Recording Company- Lifafa- Seedhe Maut- Begum Akhtar

Q.9 How do you think the hip-hop scene has become after Gully Boy’s release?

Although the underground scene was gaining momentum much prior to the release of Gully Boy, the film introduced this scene to a broader audience. A lot of these new listeners lack the ear to truly appreciate the genre at this stage though, which will only get better with time. One issue I have with the film, or rather the implications of its success, is that it depicts the scene only at a local level – while Indian hip-hop is currently showing promise at a national level.

Hear the EP here: