Series / 5 min read / by Dysco / Jun 26, 2018

Meet Smokey, The South Indian Brahmin Rapping to Spread Socio-Political Awareness

In conversation with Bangalore-based rapper Sumukh Mysore, aka Smokey the Ghost. He became the first Indian rapper to perform at Boiler Room, and was the first rapper to perform at Magnetic Fields last year. On World Music Day this year, Smokey released ‘Her Name Is?’ a concept-mixtape written in personification of the statement ‘She is my world.’ Like most of his work, this mix is also brimming with socio-political innuendos and is aimed at spreading awareness amongst people. He’s looking to collaborate with UI/UX designers, graphic designers, and agencies (basically fields very very far away from rap!) Chat with Smokey on Dysco App if you want to know more. 

We were lucky enough to nab a performance by rapper Sumukh Mysore aka Smokey the Ghost at the Open House in Bangalore. He rapped of one our favourites, Breathe, which was heavy with underlying political connotations about imbalances in the hierarchical structure of the society and white supremacy, and we heard an artist sitting next to us say, “Man, this guy is woke!” and we unanimously agreed. 

Based in Bangalore, Smokey is originally a writer who likes rhyming, so rapping came fairly naturally to him. Inspired by artists like Eminem, J-Cole and Jay-Z, he tries to break away from the “black guy rap” style by fusing in his own South Indian background into the songs he writes and performs. Being an Indian rapper is hard, Smokey says. “I have discovered that being a rapper in India and maintaining cultural relevance to my art form is not as easy as I expected it to be. Mainly, because rappers before me have taken rap to “troll” culture and have tried to imitate western black culture, which is where rap came from. My music hopes to change this and I intend to sound like a South Indian brahmin and experiment to find the source of Indian Hip Hop sound.”

He became the first Indian rapper to perform at Boiler Room, and was also the first rapper to perform at Magnetic Fields in 2017. Dabbling a bit in Bollywood, he has created music for films like Chennai Express, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy – but says that ultimately he enjoys writing music for himself, rather than creating it for the Indian film industry. “I am not really someone who seeks the approval of an audience, so my music is created purely because it is a release/vent out from daily frustration for me,” he adds. His experience is quite regional as well; Smokey joined a music group called Machas with Attitude formed in 2008, and has since worked on various Tamil and Telugu music tracks. He’s very much in touch with his roots, and uses it to pull out deep cultural and community references in his work. “I want to work with filmmakers to push the boundaries of making music videos more interesting and economic,” says Smokey, who is open to collaborations.

I hit a moment of realisation in 2016, and did not want to be black or white anymore. I realised I always wanted to be me: a cultured South Indian brahmin religiously-atheist boy from Bangalore.

Constantly working on building a good repertoire of Indian music in the international music scene, Sumukh says, “Do not support poor quality just for mass appeal. Dhinchak Pooja, Honey Singh, Baba Sehgal and other commercial music of similar kind. It is currently on a throne because of how the Indian audience is not exposed to quality rap music. Again, remember that the music you support portrays your culture to the rest of the world.”

In a world where creativity in being commoditised more easily, digital media and social tools are making art less attractive even for artists. Making something go viral or get it trending is the prerogative not just for a new generation of creators, but for platforms and agencies as well – beats for the sake of beats. Smokey’s approach is undoubtedly refreshing because it lies true to who he is – his culture, his accent, his priorities, his passions and his roots. Whether or not that sells on Instagram, Spotify and Youtube is secondary – but what matters is that is has a message, and getting that message out there in its rawest form is what he’s here to do. Traffic, congestion, political power struggles, environmental conservation, respect and equality; nothing’s off limits when Smokey’s writing rap. 

How did you develop the passion and talent for music, and pursue rapping in particular?

I have no idea really. I have tried to quit music many times, it just does not happen, I keep coming back to it. I was a really lonely and angry kid so I started rapping because it was a vent out for me, all my frustration and feeling come out on tracks. Somehow rapping is therapeutic for me and helps me keep a level head. I rap everyday and all the time, I write when I’m travelling, walking on the road, eating food, there are no restrictions towards hip hop and it almost feels like its a part of me. It almost feels like I am meant to do this and I am happy to have recognised that at a very early age, so yea, rap is my calling.

How does rap allow you to express yourself, both creatively and emotionally?

There are some things I can never discuss with anyone in conversation. Not because they aren’t open, but because I can never describe fully what I feel to anyone in its entirety. Its a flaw, I could never tell a girl how I feel, or tell my parents their actions could be harmful for me, or a political message about my country. Songs are the only way I can fully convince you. Songs are the only avenue where I don’t need to explain to you and you will still understand. Music and rap and hip hop means a lot to me and I enjoy doing it, its not about appreciation or external validation. I just love to rap and show you what I got.

I have tried to quit music many times, it just does not happen, I keep coming back to it.

Rapping is often stereotyped and typified around certain styles and connotations. How and why did you choose to go for a more socio-conscious approach?

Simply because I am not that kind of a person. Although I was like that before, I tried to imitate the west for a long time. Thankfully, I hit a moment of realisation in 2016, and did not want to be black or white anymore.I realised I always wanted to be me, a cultured South Indian brahmin religiously-atheist boy from Bangalore. Once I let go of the need for external validation and appreciation from “people”, I was not insecure or scared to express myself anymore. I think that has been very liberating for me and with that perspective, I felt a lot of people could benefit from knowing what I know. So the socio conscious approach makes me more me.

Who are your greatest inspirations? which rappers both domestically and internationally do you admire?

My greatest inspiration is probably my mother, I don’t know how she does what she does. I am also deeply influenced by simple things around me, some of my friends have sacrificed a big deal for me to be here, doing what I do. I take a lot of pride and inspiration from that. Rappers like Chance the rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Tyler the Creator internationally. In India, rappers like diefferent, EMF, Prabh deep, MC Bijju, Hanumankind and many other inspire me as well.

How do you choose the themes and topics that you rap about? Where do you get your inspiration and information?

I read a lot of nonfiction and poetry. Books make me see things around me that I never saw before. They give me the knowledge and information that I need. Most of the topic that i revolve around are vent outs and opinions, they are things that piss me off. I very rarely write a happy song. However, that doesn’t mean I am negative or something… maybe I’m just too critical of the life around me. I also get attracted to topic that have not been done before in rap, therefore, intent and concept becomes the centrepiece in my raps rather than flashy shit or self praise.

Do you have a specific target audience when you write your pieces? How do you think you influence your fans and supporters?

I am not really the type of rapper that thinks about the audience when writing. Its independent of my audience, I owe them that, cause it isn’t my job to spoon feed them realisation or angel dust. I believe I do music because I love doing rap and experimenting with it to make it consumable by an audience. I also believe, I should make my music dissolvable for understanding without compromising on its flavours. However, people have been extremely nice to me and a lot of people have supported what I do. I think I should let the audience decide if they want to listen to me or not. I nevertheless will keep putting out music.

What kind of collaborations and opportunities are you looking for at the moment? 

I don’t know, most collaborations happen out of thin air. I could collab with a piece of wood happily. Most of the time I need to know the other person to collaborate with them. Further, I am looking to collaborate with UI/UX designers, graphic designers, agencies etc, basically fields very very far away from rap. Its always fun like that, the more further a field is from my focus field, i feel an interesting outcome may come from it. Just looking to do stuff with beautiful minds really.

If you’re interested in knowing more about rap and social awareness, or want to discuss unconventional collaborations in the realm of rap and creativity, chat with Smokey The Ghost on Dysco App or email us on info@dyscoapp.com for a personal introduction.