One of Mumbai’s earliest Tamil rap crews, Dopeadelicz weaves its South Indian upbringing into new album Mapulz
Never had Tony Sebastian imagined himself rapping his way out of a Mumbai police station. But that’s what life had planned for him, back in 2013. “I was coming back from a performance and the cops picked me and my friend up because of our appearance. To prove that I’m an artiste, I had to rap in front of the cops at the thana (police station),” he recalls.
Tony, aka Stony Psycho of the Dharavi rap crew Dopeadelicz, revisualises this experience in his song, ‘Ai shapath saheb me navto’, a catchy rage rap number against police bullying. The song, released as a single, has crossed 11 million views to become one of the most liked songs of the crew’s upcoming album, Mapulz.
Releasing on December 27, Mapulz (from the Tamil slang, ‘Mapul’, meaning homie) is a 10-track album, of which four singles are already out. The tracks have been worked on by a host of producers, from California-based Sean Jean to Mumbai’s Captain Fuse.
The crew has been going experimental with the tracks. ‘Daddy’s Daughter’ by Rajesh Radhakrishnan aka Dope Daddy, the other arm of Dopeadelicz, is a softer melodic piece dedicated to his six-year-old daughter. “People generally have a stereotypical gangsta image of hip hop; I want to change that,” says Rajesh.
Meanwhile, ‘Wake Up’, shot in Chennai and Mamallapuram, opens with a sample of ‘Suprabhatam’. “We always try to keep an Indian element to our music, whether it be using instruments like the sitar, veena, or shehnai, or Bollywood and Kollywood samples. And still, at the end of it, it has to sound international,” says Tony.
Origins of multilingual rap
Giving their music a unique, cross-cultural, pan Indian sound has been possible because of the crew’s diverse backgrounds. Though Tony belongs to a village near Tirunelveli, he grew up in Dharavi. “My father came to Dharavi looking for better work, and we settled here. Dharavi is a big place with a lot of Tamil population. I met Rajesh in college; he’s part Malayali. We shared the same interest in hip hop and music,” says Tony.
Between the two of them, they were fluent in Hindi, English, Marathi, Tamil and Malayalam. A collaboration between them and Agnel Avinash Benson, aka Ben Z, led to the creation of this genre of multilingual rap in 2012. The crew often raps about what it was like growing up in Dharavi, coupled with their own personal South Indian culture.
“My roots are down South, so I can’t forget my identity. But at the same time, I also want to connect with the people around me who speak Marathi and Hindi. Though I’m most comfortable writing verses in Tamil, I choose the language according to the issue we are talking about, and whom we want to reach,” adds Tony.
The song ‘Mumbai City’ from Mapulz is Rajesh’s Tamil rap love letter to the city and its grind life. In a detailed blog for Red Bull, Karan Amin, the crew’s manager, writes about the different spots in the city which saw the crew evolve: from railway tracks and tea shops on 60 Feet Road, where they would sit and write, to the ‘Dope Compound’, an area near Tony’s house, home to multiple cyphers. “Earlier on, police would come by to chase us away from here, but our ‘Gangsta Grannies’ always had our back. They would drive the police away so we could chill here,” writes Karan.
“We knew our music was serious business when I got a call from [composer] Ram Sampath in 2015 to appear on Coke Studio, for ‘Rangabati’,” says Tony. As recognition snowballed, Dopeadelicz eventually worked with the film industry as well, most notably for Rajinikanth’s Kaala and Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy.
Paying it forward
Wanting to give back to the hip hop scene, the crew founded ‘Dharavi United’, a group with 7Bantaiz and Enimiez. “We started mentoring the new generation of rappers on how to produce tracks, shoot music videos, and market themselves. We are more like brothers than crewmates,” he says.
Wherever Dopeadelicz would perform, they would make sure Dharavi United got some stage space as well. The group also contributed to Mapulz’ final multilingual track, Cypher. They are now working on another album, ‘Straight Outta Dharavi’, in an ode to Crompton, California.
This collaboration with the new school rappers extends to Tamil Nadu as well. “We are working together on some tracks right now. So in 2021, you will see a major Mumbai-Chennai collab between OG hip hoppers from both cities,” says Tony.