Rap music in India has gone a long way from being just an underground scene. Today, the genre has gone truly mainstream, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that fans of rap music are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking their favourite artists.
But where are the women rappers, you ask? And what about female rappers who rap in regional languages? Apart from a few names like Raja Kumari, Meba Ofilia, Sofia Ashraf, the world of female Indian rappers offers slim pickings.
And this is why East Side Queens deserve your attention.
Rising from the underground cyphers of Kolkata, the region’s first all-girl hip-hop collective ‘East Side Queens’ is generating a wave of rap music and inspiring women to pick up the microphone and let their voices be heard.
Their new Bangla rap track has over 100,000 views on Found Out’s official YouTube Channel. Found Out is one of Universal Music Group’s new labels promoting upcoming artists in the country. The track produced by one of Bengal’s most renowned rappers Cizzy (Master of Waves), features MC Disha, KDiva, Sukanya, Rialan and Saku₹O, rising female rap stars from across West Bengal.
“I used to go to the cypher and take part in underground hip hop jams. I happened to know the producer Cizzy, one of the finest Bengali rappers in West Bengal. He and Riddhi contacted me about this all-girls thing. I said I was not a rapper, but I agreed later because I didn’t have to ‘Rap-rap’, I could give my singing flavour, and the five of us didn’t meet till the day of the recording. We spoke to each other over video calls and even finalised the song through WhatsApp,” Sukanya Majumdar told EastMojo.
Thankfully for them, Universal Music loved their video and decided to promote their track, informed Sukanya. It was challenging for them, because, “all this while we have only seen boys make such videos. In West Bengal, the traditional classical music is very well accepted, but the moment you want to do something western unless you come from a progressive family or progressive environment, it’s not something that is looked up to.”
The girls came up with the idea of the track, and it’s been two years since they’ve been discussing it. Gradually, everyone got in touch and decided to be a part of this. Next, they asked Cizzy to produce the track, after which they sat down to brainstorm ideas.
“Initially, they produced an experimental form of music and then thought they should probably go with something that easily connects with the masses. They sampled the track from Mahishasurmardini, played during Mahalaya, to give it a mystical and devotional feel, while sticking to the roots of Bengal, but at the same time giving it a modern feel,” the rap producer who goes by the stage name Cizzy told EastMojo.
“We tried to arrange for a very modern-day Hip-hop feel to it. We wanted it to look classic, but still give an international vibe. We worked closely on the lyrics also. The girls wrote the first drafts, and I sat with them. We tried to refine ideas. We then came up with a hook that sounded ‘banging’ so we went into recording,” Cizzy told EastMojo.
After two years of collaboration, the song was recorded in a day and shot in another two days, including both indoor sequences and one outdoor sequence. “When the first draft of the video was ready, I pitched it to Universal Music, and they loved it and were interested in placing it in their newest record label, Found Out.
Talking about how their work was perceived initially, Riddhi Mondal, who goes by the stage name Rialan, said the video received backlash when they began promoting the track. “People were not happy as we had the Mahalaya theme beat in the song,” she added. People were taken aback, believing the song was meddling with religious aspects of Bengali culture, she pointed out.
“They said, ‘it’s devotional’ and that ‘they are playing with it’, such as the reactions, but I think their opinions changed after the release and people showed a lot of love to us, and we didn’t receive any more negativity. We saw enormous support from within the scene and outsiders as well,” Rialan added.
“People are religious, I am very religious but the negative response was very much possible but now that the track is out, people have understood it and we are now getting good response on our video,” opined Koel, another member of the group who goes by the stage name KDiva.
“This project liberated me and helped me express myself even better. The persona I had for this music video introduced me to a new side of myself,” MC Disha told EastMojo, hoping their group and the new track marks a new beginning for hip hop culture in Bengal. They also hope they inspire talented young girls to come forward in pursuit of Rap music.
The team had to delay the release, initially scheduled for Mahalaya, but they waited till they got the video perfect. They still released the video during Puja to keep the festive mood intact.
There are so many female musicians across the east side, but there has been no rise of any other female group before the East Side Queens.
Watch the East Side Queens video here.
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