Hip-Hop in India: Growing Influence and Culture


Hip-hop in India has rapidly grown into an influential genre of popular music, with its roots in the mixing of global hip-hop influences and the rich cultural heritage of the Indian subcontinent. This fusion has come to be known as Desi hip-hop, with the term “desi” referring to the South Asian diaspora. The evolution of Indian hip-hop serves as both a celebration of cultural identity and a tool for addressing social and political issues faced by the nation’s youth.

The emergence of Indian hip-hop can be traced back to the 1990s, with Punjabi rapper Baba Sehgal paving the way. Over time, the genre has expanded and diversified, leading to an increasing number of artists opting for a hip-hop sound incorporating Indian classical music and folk traditions. These unique blends of styles have caught the attention of not just local audiences but also international ones, showing the versatility and adaptability of Indian hip-hop artists.

Additionally, Indian hip-hop has been used to protest and raise awareness about pressing societal issues. Like its global counterparts, the genre leverages powerful lyrics and energizing beats to advocate for change and uplift marginalized voices. Through the continued development and growth of Indian hip-hop, the genre remains a significant force for cultural expression and social commentary in today’s ever-changing world.

History of Hip-Hop in India

Origins and Early Influence

Hip-hop in India has taken a unique trajectory in its journey. The roots of Indian hip-hop can be traced back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. During this time, international artists like Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, and Run DMC had permeated the Indian music scene, inspiring local musicians to experiment with this new genre.

The city of Chennai played a significant role in promoting the hip-hop culture in India, as it was one of the first cities where breakdancing, graffiti, and DJing gained popularity among youth. In the subsequent years, more urban Indian youth began embracing different aspects of hip-hop, from music to fashion.

Baba Sehgal and Thanda Thanda Pani

A turning point in the history of Indian hip-hop came in the early 1990s with the emergence of Baba Sehgal, who is considered a pioneer in the Indian rap scene. Baba Sehgal gained immense popularity after the release of his album “Thanda Thanda Pani” in 1992. The album was heavily inspired by Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and featured a fusion of Indian sounds with Western hip-hop beats.

“Thanda Thanda Pani” became a phenomenal success, and it inspired a new generation of Indian artists to explore the rap and hip-hop genres. Baba Sehgal’s success demonstrated the potential of rap and hip-hop music in India, paving the way for the growth of a vibrant and diverse hip-hop scene in the country.

Regional Hip-Hop Scenes

Mumbai and Gully Rap

Mumbai is known for its vibrant Gully Rap scene, which emerged in the late 2000s. Gully Rap refers to the street-style of rapping that reflects the struggles and realities of life in Mumbai’s urban slums. The lyrics often feature social and political themes, and the music is predominantly in Hindi. Prominent artists in this movement include Divine and Naezy, who gained widespread attention for their raw and authentic storytelling.

Delhi and Multilingual Rappers

Delhi is a melting pot of cultures, providing a diverse stage for multilingual rappers. Artists in this region rap in various languages, including Hindi, Punjabi, and Haryanvi, expressing unique perspectives and narratives. Rappers like Prabh Deep, Rebel 7, Sez On The Beat, and Yungsta play crucial roles in establishing Delhi as a hub for multilingual rap.

Bangalore and Underground Hip-Hop

Bangalore is known for its thriving underground hip-hop scene, producing many independent and alternative rappers. The Bangalore hip-hop community prefers a more experimental approach, exploring different styles and genres. This has led to the emergence of many talented artists, contributing to the enriching diversity of the Indian hip-hop landscape.

Chennai and Tamil Hip-Hop

Chennai’s hip-hop scene is primarily driven by Tamil rappers, who have merged the Tamil language with unique hip-hop beats. The rappers in this region often draw inspiration from Tamil culture, history, and literature. This local flavor distinguishes Chennai’s hip-hop scene from others, making it a testament to the adaptability of the genre.

Kerala and Malayalam Hip-Hop

Kerala has seen a steady rise in Malayalam hip-hop since the early 2010s. As one of the few regions that predominantly produces hip-hop in Malayalam, its sound is rooted in Kerala’s cultural heritage. The lyrics often deal with local issues, while the beats incorporate traditional instruments and melodies, providing an intriguing blend of the traditional and contemporary.

Khasi Bloodz and Khasi Hip-Hop

Khasi Bloodz, a rap group from Meghalaya, has played a pivotal role in establishing Khasi Hip-Hop in India. By rapping in their native Khasi language, they provide a platform for the unique stories and experiences of the Khasi people to be heard. They have gained popularity for their focus on social issues and channeling pride in their Khasi identity.

Punjab and Punjabi Hip-Hop

Punjab is an early adopter of rap music in India, with a unique blend of regional folk music and hip-hop beats. Punjabi hip-hop has experienced widespread success by combining catchy tunes and rhythms with raw and energetic lyrics. Notable Punjabi rappers include Yo Yo Honey Singh, Badshah, and Raftaar, who have contributed to the growth of Punjabi hip-hop and its influence on mainstream Indian music.

Eastern Hip-Hop: Bengali and Assamese

Eastern India holds a distinct and growing hip-hop scene, with Bengali and Assamese rappers gaining prominence in recent years. Rapping in their mother tongues allows them to express their cultural identity and connect with listeners on a deeper level. These artists often explore themes such as rural life, cultural pride, regional issues, and more, painting a vivid picture of the Eastern Indian experience.

Influential Indian Rappers


Divine, also known as Vivian Fernandes, is one of the most popular Indian rappers known for his hit songs such as “Mere Gully Mein” and “Kaam 25”. His music often reflects his experiences growing up in the slums of Mumbai. He gained widespread attention with the release of the Bollywood movie, Gully Boy, which was inspired by his life and the underground hip-hop scene in Mumbai.


Naezy, whose real name is Naved Shaikh, is another influential rapper in India. Like Divine, he also hails from Mumbai and gained popularity for songs like “Aafat” and “Asal Hustle”. Naezy’s music often talks about socio-political issues and navigating life in the city’s slums. He was also one of the inspirations for the film Gully Boy.

Emiway Bantai

Emiway Bantai, born Bilal Shaikh, is a Mumbai-based rapper who rose to fame with the 2014 track “Aur Bantai”. He is known for his energetic performances, rapid-fire flow, and sharp lyrics, earning him a spot among India’s top rappers.


Raftaar, whose real name is Dilin Nair, is a rapper, singer, and songwriter from Kerala. His unique style combines Hindi and Punjabi lyrics with fast-paced beats, making him a force to be reckoned with in the Indian rap scene. Some of his popular songs include “Swag Mera Desi” and “Dilli Waali Baatcheet”.

Raja Kumari

Raja Kumari, born Svetha Rao, is an Indian-American rapper and songwriter who blends Indian classical music with hip-hop to create her unique sound. She has collaborated with major international artists like Gwen Stefani and Iggy Azalea and is known for tracks such as “Mute” and “City Slums”.

Prabh Deep

Prabh Deep is a rapper hailing from New Delhi, known for his gritty lyrics and socially conscious songs. With tracks like “Seeds” and “Kal”, Prabh Deep effortlessly tackles issues like corruption, class divide, and life in the urban landscape.


KR$NA, formerly known as Young Prozpekt, is an Indian rapper and lyricist known for his thought-provoking songs and wordplay. With tracks like “Vyanjan” and “No Losses”, KR$NA has garnered attention from Indian hip-hop fans and has been praised for his lyricism and storytelling.

Brodha V

Brodha V, born Sumukh Mysore, is an Indian rapper, lyricist, and music producer known for blending elements of Indian classical music with hip-hop. His popular tracks like “Aathma Raama” and “Shook Ones” showcase his unique style and technical prowess.

MC Stan

MC Stan, or Altaf Shaikh, is a young rapper from Pune who gained fame with his track “Wata”, known for its catchy beats and raw lyrics. He is also known for his track “Tadipaar”, which reflects on life in the city and his personal struggles.


Pardhaan is a Haryanvi rapper known for his distinct style, which incorporates regional language and culture. His music often addresses social issues and showcases the Haryanvi identity, with popular tracks like “Haryana Roadways” and “Ghagre Ki Jhol”. Pardhaan has made a significant impact in the Indian rap scene, particularly in the regional genre.

Hip-Hop Culture in India

Rap Music and Poetry

Indian hip-hop culture has been significantly influenced by rap music and poetry. By incorporating elements of traditional Indian poetry with western-styled rapping, many artists have found a unique way to express their thoughts and emotions. One of the early instances of rap in Bollywood is Ashok Kumar’s recitation of Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s poem Rail Gaadi, featured in the film Aashirwad (1968). Today, desi rap music encompasses a wide range of themes – from commenting on the caste system to celebrating Indian pride.

Rap Battles and Diss Tracks

Rap battles and diss tracks have become a popular element of hip-hop culture in India, as they offer artists a platform to showcase their skills and compete with one another. Competitions like Rap Wars foster both friendly rivalry and camaraderie between different rap crews, while diss tracks allow for expression of dissent and protest. For instance, Street Academics, an Indian rap crew, gained popularity through their diss tracks and social commentary.

Graffiti and Street Art

Graffiti and street art have long been an integral part of hip-hop culture, and India is no exception. Many hip-hop enthusiasts and artists use graffiti as a form of self-expression and to challenge societal norms. This visual aspect of hip-hop culture has contributed to its vibrancy and appeal to young audiences in urban areas like Delhi and Mumbai.

Hip-Hop Fashion and Style

Hip-hop fashion and style is another vital aspect of the culture in India. The influence of global hip-hop trends has resulted in the emergence of a unique Indian hip-hop fashion that blends traditional garments with contemporary styles. As Indian hip-hop continues to evolve, its fashion and style play a role in defining the identity of the artists and their connection to the global hip-hop community.

Hip-Hop and Bollywood

Gully Boy and Mainstream Recognition

Gully Boy, a 2019 Bollywood movie directed by Zoya Akhtar, played a significant role in bringing Indian hip-hop to mainstream recognition. The film, which starred Ranveer Singh in the lead role, followed the life of a rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slums. It highlighted the rising popularity of the hip-hop genre in India and the potential it holds as a powerful medium for expression and protest.

The film’s soundtrack featured tracks like “Azadi,” which became an anthem for many, showcasing the talent and capabilities of Indian hip-hop artists. Gully Boy’s success at the box office and critical acclaim allowed for a broader audience to recognize and appreciate the genre.

Collaborations and Soundtracks

Bollywood has a long history of incorporating hip-hop elements into its soundtracks and dance styles. Collaborations between rappers and Bollywood movie productions have resulted in the creation of popular tracks that seamlessly blend hip-hop with traditional Indian music and sounds. These collaborations not only bring fresh sounds to Bollywood films but also expose a wider audience to the versatility and talent of Indian rappers.

In recent years, several Bollywood films have featured prominent hip-hop tracks that have gained both commercial success and appreciation from fans. The integration of hip-hop elements in mainstream Bollywood movies has played a vital role in the genre’s growth and broader acceptance in India.

Social Issues and Indian Hip-Hop

Indian Hip-Hop has become a powerful medium for artists to address social issues, creating awareness and sparking conversations about the challenges faced by the country. The genre, which has its roots in protest and resistance, finds itself resonating with the Indian audience as it addresses various social issues such as political themes, caste, and racism.

Political Themes and Protest Music

Indian rappers have been increasingly using their music as a platform to criticize government policies and voice their concerns. One such example is the song “Kaisa Mera Desh,” which addresses the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Artists draw inspiration from global hip-hop traditions, using the genre’s powerful lyrical abilities to discuss pressing issues that affect the nation.

In addition to tackling government policies through their music, Indian rappers are also showcasing the power of protest music. With online platforms like YouTube, these artists can spread their messages to a broader audience without the need for mainstream media. Protest music offers not only an alternative perspective but also gives a voice to the voiceless in society.

Caste and Racism

Indian hip-hop has also been effective in addressing issues of caste and racism within the country. The Dalit community, known as the “untouchables” in the Indian caste hierarchy, often experiences discrimination, oppression, and violence. Rappers from this marginalized group have turned to hip-hop to tell their personal stories and expose the hardships they face.

Through powerful lyrics, Indian hip-hop artists challenge the deeply ingrained caste system and raise awareness about racism within the country. By addressing these issues head-on, Indian rappers make a strong statement against the discrimination they face and promote a message of equality, unity, and social justice.

In conclusion, Indian hip-hop has proven to be an effective medium for discussing social issues in the country. By focusing on political themes, protest music, caste, and racism, the genre empowers artists to create awareness, spark conversations, and ultimately unite communities with a sense of unity and hope for a better future.

The Future of Hip-Hop in India

Emerging Artists and Styles

The Indian hip-hop scene is witnessing a rise in talented and innovative artists who are experimenting with various styles and languages. MC Prabh Deep and Shashwat Mishra, also known as The Quixotic, are two such emerging artists who bring emotion and depth to their lyrics. The Quixotic, in particular, delves into experimental-soul music, combining traditional Indian sounds with modern beats.

Another notable group is Swadesi, which uses Marathi, among other languages, in their tracks to give voice to regional identities. This multilingual approach reflects the diverse, rich culture of India, and further connects with a broader range of audiences. Additionally, groups like Machas with Attitude contribute to the growth of the underground hip-hop scene, gaining traction through viral music videos and skillful performances.

Global Collaborations and Opportunities

As Indian hip-hop gains popularity, the prospect for international collaborations and opportunities rise. These global collaborations will not only propel Indian artists to a larger platform but also contribute to the evolving sound and style of Desi hip-hop. The recent launch of Mass Appeal India, a joint venture with Universal Music and Nas’ record label, indicates the immense potential for Indian hip-hop to make a mark on the global stage.

Furthermore, as Indian music and beats continue to garner attention, it becomes increasingly likely that even more partnerships and cultural exchanges will take place between Indian and foreign artists. Such interactions will foster the growth and evolution of the Indian hip-hop scene, enabling it to establish its own unique identity within the global hip-hop landscape.

Possible connections between Indian hip-hop artists and global counterparts:

  • Collaborative albums or singles
  • Cross-genre collaborations (e.g., with electronic or pop artists)
  • Festival performances and international tours
  • Exchange of ideas, styles, and production techniques

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the top Indian hip-hop artists?

Some of the top Indian hip-hop artists include Divine, Naezy, Raftaar, Brodha V, Emiway Bantai, and Prabh Deep. These artists have made significant contributions to the Indian hip-hop scene with their unique styles and powerful lyrics.

What are popular Indian hip-hop songs?

Popular Indian hip-hop songs include “Mere Gully Mein” by Divine and Naezy, “Dilli Waali Baatcheet” by Raftaar, “Aazadi” by Gully Gang, “Asli Hip Hop” by Ranveer Singh, and “Let it Go” by Badshah and Andrea Jeremiah. These songs display the diversity of Indian hip-hop and resonate with audiences across the country.

Who introduced mumble rap in India?

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact person who introduced mumble rap in India, artists like Emiway Bantai have been known to dabble with mumble rap stylings in their music. The Indian hip-hop scene is continually evolving, and new styles and subgenres are being explored by various artists.

What is Indian hip-hop dance?

Indian hip-hop dance is a fusion of traditional Indian dance forms with western dance styles like breaking, locking, and popping. This unique hybrid dance form is characterized by its high energy, intricate footwork, and incorporation of Indian music elements. Groups like Kings United, The Danceworx, and Black Ice Crew are popular for their Indian hip-hop dance performances.

Who made hip-hop popular in India?

Baba Sehgal introduced Hindi rap in the nineties with his albums, like “Thanda Thanda Pani.” However, the hip-hop scene remained limited to the underground until the 2010s. Artists like Divine, Naezy, and Raftaar contributed significantly to the popularity of hip-hop in India, with the mainstream success of the movie Gully Boy (2019) also playing a critical role in amplifying Indian hip-hop’s reach.

Can you suggest famous Indian rap lyrics?

Here are some famous Indian rap lyrics:

  • “Aafat waapas, Aafat waapas, Aafat waapas! Naezy!” (Aafat Wapas – Naezy)
  • “Kaun bola mujhse na ho payega? Kaun bola? Kaun bola?” (Kaun Bola – Divine)
  • “Super Sony khelun tu nirali, chhote” (Super Sonic – Emiway Bantai)
  • “Dilli Waali Baatcheet, Dilli Dilli Waali Baatcheet” (Dilli Waali Baatcheet – Raftaar)
  • “Azaadi! Hum leke rahenge, Azaadi! Tum Kuch Bhi Kar Lo, Azaadi!” (Azaadi – Gully Gang)

These lyrics showcase the diversity and impact of Indian rap and reflect the energy, emotions, and aspirations of the growing Indian hip-hop scene.