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“I love the polarizing effect my music has on people”- In Conversation With Dhanji

There wouldn’t be a clear and descriptive way to tell of the musicality Dhanji, an amdavad-based rapper, practices. His uncanny yet brilliant style of music is quite enjoyed by his cult-like fanbase. His debut album, ‘Ruab’, was one of, if not the best project to come out in 2023. On the 9th of December, when the rapper came along with his friends to perform in Pune, I had the chance to have an In-Person conversation with him regarding his debut album, his thoughts on the different perspectives it had, the importance of representation according to him and his current tour.

How important do you think the audience’s interpretations or say, takeaways are from a conceptual LP like Ruab? Do you enjoy the different ways they perceive it?
Obviously, that is a big part of it. You know there’s a question that is going around and it goes like ‘If you really love something, would you do it by yourself on an island alone?’. I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t be doing Rap music there. Honestly, I would write down thoughts if I had to. Maybe I would write a verse to amuse myself. But, the point is, Rap music is something I do for the people. And, even though it is important to know what it makes them feel, it doesn’t mean I will always try to make pieces that are pleasurable. I will try and challenge you, question you. I’ll try to push your boundaries, just as much as I’m doing with myself. So, yeah, it is for the people. And the interpretations are a huge part of it. I do love all the right ones and the wrong ones.

Do you think that the DHH audience fully resonates with the idea of Ruab? Even though being one of the most critically acclaimed pieces this year, it did receive mixed reactions from the public, how do you feel about that?
I love the polarizing effect my music has on people. I would have hated it if I was just a boring artist who constantly makes good music, the type of music that everyone enjoys. I am really glad I’m not that and I strive every day to not be like that. This does not mean that I’m trying to make obtuse and esoteric kinda music. I’m trying my hardest to make it palatable, but this is completely me, and that’s just Ruab. This aspect is strictly with my solo LPs. I have tapes with people that will delve more into palatable sounds, but my LPs will be solely about me.

A lot of references to Ahmedabad and your past are made in the album. It’s almost like it’s a part of you and your intellect. How important do you feel the idea of representing your city and your roots in the album was?
Fucking important! The rappers I listen to taught me about representation. You know the way they go it was mostly like Brooklyn-Brooklyn, Queensbridge-Queensbridge, LA-LA, Compton-Compton, so I went Amdavad-Amdavad, because I have seen the OG’s represent their home. A person who is new there (Ahmedabad) might not like the place as much. And I’m not the guy to defend everything about it. You know, that each city has its problems. So I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of my city. I’m just saying what it is. And I’m representing where I’m from. “Gujarati culture Big on my shit. Gujarati sahitya literature big on my shit.” The city is going to be there because it’s the biggest city in the state and even though, my whole family background is from different parts of Gujarat, Amdavad is my home. Hence, a big part of the music, and it will be. It’s important.

You haven’t experimented with Funk or Jazz elements before. Ruab, being your debut LP and an important part of your career ahead, what made you play with sounds so new and fresh to the scene?
Ever since I started making music, I’ve been told that I’m offbeat. Like since way back in 2018-2019, I’ve been told over and over again that I’m off beat and I just kept telling them Mofos ‘I’m not, I’m really not!’ Y’all just too stu- uh, backward to understand what I’m trying to do with this thing. I told them people back in the day in 2018 that I’m a jazz musician the way I work with it. So it’s always been there. Jazz rap isn’t something that only I do, it’s present within the nation and outside of it too. But it was this particular sound done in a certain way. #Freejazz circle tone killed it! For me, funk comes from a lot of soul music, and all of that shit is just the DNA of hip-hop. Because when hip-hop was coming around, sampling was huge. And these are all the black music songs that people had back in their day to reference and sample from. So when I go back to these songs, I find them very much in the DNA of rap music. So like having my story as the backdrop and this sound taking it forward, the sonics are probably the most important thing. That is what equates to RUAB. The horns, the trombone, and the trumpets, you know, them going off, that’s what Ruab sounded like to me even before the album was made.

Tell us about the Bargaam Tour. How excited are you to perform it live in front of a crowd now?
It is certainly exhilarating, the bargaam tour. We started the company (TPC) by ourselves, released the album by ourselves, and will tour independently too. It is probably the biggest independent tour that a rapper has done yet, of course with all the legs being combined together. It is one of a kind. I strongly believe this has never been done before. The thing is, at TPC, we believe in striving for greatness, and we want to do things that have never been done before. We’re trying to one-up the whole industry. The goal is to be a precursor by ourselves.

Being an underground artist, in essence, you don’t cater to the mainstream audience, at least Ruab doesn’t. How do you come up with the bold decision of visiting the smallest cities in India?
I feel that is very in line with my grind. I’m from a tier-two backward city, that is still not as poppin’. So the big part of going to all these cities is because I relate, I understand, and I’m trying to talk the same shit. Maybe the language is different, maybe the medium is different and maybe the music is something you might not like but the hustle and the grind are the same. Shoutout to hustle 4.0!

What’s next? Now that Ruab is done, it feels that you have had a sigh of relief, multiple delays till perfection, and now we have the piece. What does Dhanji do next?
“Agla saal mai pakka bhailog!”. Honestly though, I feel I have set a scene for y’all. A convention to hold onto, but guess what? I am going to break it again. Then I’ll set another benchmark, It’s as old as time and it will keep going on. So, whatever you are expecting, won’t happen. I cannot answer as to what I am going to do, because I don’t know myself. I have a lot of MUSIC lined up though. I sort of enjoy that unpredictability about myself and my music and would like to keep it that way.

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