In what is yet to be written in the pages of epic Kashmiri Hip Hop history, there will forever be a Kashmiri Hip Hop scene before PSYCHO (Prod.by Prophecy – SOS ft. SXR & Imaad) and one after it. The song that gathers some of the most important figures of Kashmiri Hip Hop is perhaps a tribute to the genre itself, as well as a commemoration of all that has happened since a group of adolescents wrote some rhymes, got on a mic and gathered on their street corners to spit verses. Since then, Kashmiri Hip Hop has gone through multiple and exponential transformations that ultimately created a dialogical connection between Kashmir’s Hip Hop artists and their international contemporaries. From its inception, Kashmiri Hip Hop has had to play a monumental catch-up game with the Hip Hop genre and its subgenres that had been developing with a head-start of over forty years around multiple cultures across the globe—starting with the American scene. In the same timeframe of four decades, Kashmiris were struggling with mass militarization, widespread violence, curfews, shutdowns, institutional decay, and all sorts of negligence—much like they do at multiple levels and degrees in present day.
Within the limits set by such unchanging conditions, Kashmiri Hip Hop artists—in their makeshift rap labs at home, in the first commercial studios and on street corners—took whatever they had learned from the international music scene to forge a complex genre of Hip Hop that has gained traction to the extent that it can no longer be ignored, and much less undermined. Adopting and innovating upon modes of elocution and delivery, with developments in rhyme schemes, bar cadence, beatmaking and music-scoring particular to specific subgenres—from Old School, New School, Gangsta Rap to Trap and more—the Kashmiri Hip Hop community has heard it all, seen it all and produced music far exceeding expectations and at a record-setting pace—with a massive nuclearized geopolitical conflict hovering over their everyday lives.
In over a decade or so, Kashmir’s homegrown artists have been coming up with various styles of rapping that are culture-specific to their birthplace, remaining true to their troubled streets and their alleyways. The scene set by Kashmiri Hip Hop artists over the last decade has produced a musical interchange that can be identified by avid listeners of this art form in such a manner that one can comparatively link a variety of songs produced by homegrown Hip Hop artists to the work of some of the greatest Hip Hop artists who globalized the music genre as it became popular as well as global. Beyond the influences or shared musical sensibilities, thematic content, and styles that connect Kashmir’s Hip Hop scene with a broader worldwide tradition of Hip Hop, there is the mode of expression and elocution paired with compositional styles and lyrical creativity that distinguishes Kashmiri Hip Hop from any other as singular, irreplaceable, and non-replicable. Add to that the fact that the scene is multilingual by default, with Kashmiri Hip Hop artists spitting verses in Kashmiri, English, Urdu, Hindi and even Punjabi—perhaps again a reflection of Kashmir’s larger history in being a point of convergence between multiple civilizations and cultures far beyond the limited scope of newly-born nation states.
Needless to say—and without a mainstream audience even noticing it in all these years—Kashmiri Hip Hop artists through their music-making have covered the last forty years of international Hip Hop in the last decade to consistently remain contemporary, current, and in sync with the world of Hip Hop music beyond the Valley in what concerns style, creativity, and innovation. To elaborate further, whatever innovation in the realm of urban contemporaneity is musically taking place within the Hip Hop scenes in multiple cities and countries around the world, is also happening in the Kashmiri Hip Hop scene—which like the rest, has developed its own vernacular, space of articulation, and networks of exchange and creative collaboration.
It is within this greater timeline that PSYCHO arrived a year ago, showcasing the inter-generational ensemble of the duo SOS (Straight Outta Srinagar, formed by Aatankki and Tufail Nazir) and Hip Hop seniors SXR and Imaad. The music video also features cameos by Kingg UTB, Ahmer and MC Kash, making it a symbolic track for Kashmiri Hip Hop where those who early on emerged from the underground are seen in the same frame with the next generation that has meticulously carried the torch forward. In doing so, each generation has brought in new styles, innovations and levels of artistry that set new standards by which Kashmiri Hip Hop can be seen at par with Hip Hop produced in other cultures. All this within a decade of growth and development that marks this specific track as a milestone, with commemorative undertones given the congregation of some of the most recognized names in Kashmiri Hip Hop—from senior figures to apparent newcomers who had been training for years in the shadows of the underground. In sum and in plain and simple terms, one could call PSYCHO and its music video a congregation of Kashmiri GOATS—not the animals, even though these artists are absolutely savage in their delivery as is aptly clear from the music video, but GOATS as in “Greatests of All Time.” While a few others are missing from this starting lineup, they stand represented by this assembly of “Koshur Wu-Tang [Clan] in the making.”
In thematic terms, the song from its title refers to the type of alienation and othering Kashmiri Hip Hop artists along with members of the contemporary art and music community are subjected to in the face of judgements and stereotypes passed by societal scorn and expectation. Along with such contempt and othering come labels like “Paagal”, “Psycho” and “Kalle Kharaab” for all those who are misunderstood or deviate from the norm to seek an individuality of their own beyond society’s dictates. Hip Hop has typically been associated with the streets and the underground, such that the artists who work in this genre are often perceived as outcastes and misfits, and more so in a society that privileges traditional career paths in administration, governance, and gives more validation and respect to conventional professions in the fields of medicine, engineering, business, academia, education, and journalism, among others.
In certain segments of Kashmiri society, a judgement prevails where contemporary music-making, and more particularly Hip Hop, is considered within the framework of ‘entertainment’ as opposed to an artform—to be discussed, studied, and critiqued in intellectual circles—given the influence of Bollywood culture on Kashmir. On the other hand, the world of Hip Hop beyond the confines of the militarized Himalayan territory has taken an academic and critical turn, where the genre is studied in academic terms and critically engaged with just like any other art form supported by consistent and significant critical reception.
Such global reception to Hip Hop from a wide variety of people was perhaps best felt within the Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri intellectual community with the release of Until My Freedom Has Come (2011), a book edited by Sanjay Kak that took its name from MC Kash’s song I Protest (2010). A year later, Rana Ghose’s documentary entitled Take It In Blood (2011) arrived to document the first meeting between Srinagar’s own artist and Parveena Ahangar, Founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons and in the process presented the larger story of its two protagonists. Both such works center around MC Kash’s rise as a young Srinagar-based Hip Hop artist who popularized the genre by dropping bars in the most accessible language on the global scene. However, the story of Kashmiri Hip Hop is vast and contains within its trajectory a variety of figures, contemporaries, and rising stars, who over the years have emerged to define the course of the genre within the Valley in contact with the diaspora.
Coming back to the meanings of the song, PSYCHO is also a menacing title because it represents standing in the realms that go beyond what is considered sane in society. However, there is an obvious inversion at play here that could be summarized by one of the most popular quotes taken from Friedrich Nietzsche’s work: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” In a brief textual description that accompanies the video release for PSYCHO from SOS’s YouTube Channel, the artists state:
We make music, we are musicians and the people who don’t understand why we do it call us psychopaths and what not! So this is us, we put our passion first, we come from a place where there is no mental stability at all you can call us psychopaths, we are better that way.
Through this statement, the artists own the word or title “PSYCHO” and take it back, flip it around and throw it back to those who use such labels, especially since throughout history it has been the case that those who exist beyond the understanding of the many are often times considered mad. In this, yet another popular quote comes to mind when thinking about the greater significance that the song and its title hold for its listeners, again by Nietzsche: “Madness is rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.” Whether resisting the habit of falling in line, conforming to what is trending, or widely popular, PSYCHO remains a track that has stood for asserting difference, as an affirmation to being unapologetically different—and in that, PSYCHO is a lyrical declaration of war.
Another important factor to consider is that PSYCHO arrived at a time when Kashmiri Hip Hop of yet another kind was gaining greater traction online, particularly on social media, with songs containing verses that had gone to the extreme of celebrating the substitution of liquor with breastmilk—WHAT? At the time, the notion of “real Koshur Hip Hop” also started to appear in various songs providing momentum to a still ongoing “real vs fake Koshur Hip Hop” debate while certain figures in the broader genre claimed to be the innovators of Gangsta Rap in Kashmir. With that, a series of diss tracks started emerging with greater force, even though the Kashmiri diss track had already had a subtle history of its own. At the same time, the Hip Hop community in Kashmir has maintained its decorum and etiquette to a large extent by focusing on the performative aspects of the genre, wherein diss track culture is performative by itself, setting one artist or group of artists apart from one another instead of diametrically opposed to each other.
As a result, PSYCHO not only became a collective self-affirmation that took a stand in favor of being different and far away from what had become mainstream, it also became a reminder of what Kashmiri Hip Hop stood for since its early days. In a natural progression, the convergence of the most recognized figures of the scene with the newcomers brought with it one of the most iconic songs, armed with some of the strongest elements of the diss track taken to a collective level. In this mode, not only were these artists (SOS, SXR, Imaad and Prophecy) reclaiming the name and label of “Psycho”, they were especially taking back Kashmiri Hip Hop with such an all-star lineup from those who are the unnamed targets of certain verses in the song.
Musically, lyrically and stylistically, PSYCHO maintains its singular presence in Kashmiri Hip Hop as a track that could only become a reality within a Koshur Hip Hop fan’s dreams. It brought together the progenitors of the genre and placed them side by side with the newer generation of artists. It also brought back Roushan, who had disappeared from the limelight at the peak of his game. In the process, PSYCHO as a song, and as a music video, represents the unity, support and solidarity that give strength to the Kashmiri Hip Hop scene, in a society where hyper-individualism, egotism and self-interest have built barricades between people in a Kashmir already barricaded in countless ways. While being a group effort featuring some of the greatest voices in Kashmiri Hip Hop from day one to the present, the track showcases the individual styles and lyrical craftsmanship of each artist, without ever breaking the flow of the song as a whole, or as one singular composition. Regardless of how well it is tied together, the song exhibits the diversity and dynamism of Koshur Hip Hop and at times sounds like four songs in one tied together in a natural progression like four chapters of a novella or like a Quentin Tarantino film.
The 2020 track also showcases some of the greatest leaps and developments in music video production, revealing that behind the scenes there is a considerable amount of teamwork taking place to bring such quality productions to audiences. At the center of such teamwork is a solidarity between multiple artists and professionals from multiple genres and mediums who converge to produce such quality and standard. Although this leap in quality and production value was seen in earlier videos by the same artists releasing music videos and songs individually, it is with PSYCHO that we get a clear image of what such solidarity-driven teamwork can facilitate at a creative and artistic level when an entire collective of highly motivated musicians, producers, filmmakers, editors, and post-production professionals can do. It becomes safe to say that if the world were to have a competition akin to the Olympics of Hip Hop, Kashmir would easily be able to send its representatives, many of whom are featured or cameo in the music video for PSYCHO.
If one considers the fact that mainstream Indian Hip Hop artists who make Bollywood music are backed by multimillionaire studios and funded in crores for each track to be featured in a popular film, the type of work that Kashmiri Hip Hop artists are doing at the present is vastly remarkable—given that they are left to fend for themselves and support their projects independently. At the same time, with tracks like PSYCHO along with its music video, it becomes clear that its creators compete not only with big Bollywood production houses and music studios, but with the rest of the Hip Hop world in terms of quality of production, proper editing, mixing, mastering, filming, cinematography, and post-production work. All this in addition to the lyrical, stylistic, and creative aptitudes that each of the artists featured in the track bring to the table while being entirely limited in terms of resources, audience reach and the substantial financial backing that is required to produce such high-end work.
With Ahmer—called “The Revivalist” of Kashmiri Hip Hop by Kashmir Music Live—having gained traction and great critical acclaim in 2018 and 2019, with SOS appearing to show what a Kashmiri Hip Hop duo can do, and with SXR and Imaad appearing as permanent and irreplaceable to scene, PSYCHO marks the Renaissance (meaning “rebirth” or “resurgence”) of a Kashmiri Hip Hop scene. A Kashmiri Hip Hop scene that has struggled beyond all means to keep on going, forging new solidarities, and encouraging teamwork culture with an ethos of artists supporting one another. The song also exemplifies shifts in how artists such as SXR went from having to do it all by themselves (from beatmaking, composition and production to mixing, mastering, filming, and editing) to relying on a newer generation in this second coming where there are a greater number of technological resources through which artists can hyper-specialize with extreme efficiency—instead of having to be jacks of all trades in an already complex and challenging creative process.
In consideration of the aforementioned, it is not overstated or much less a surprise to conclude that in what is yet to be written in the pages of epic Kashmiri Hip Hop history, there will forever be a Kashmiri Hip Hop scene before PSYCHO and one after it. As such, the song and its music video set that in-between space from where listeners and viewers can recollect and appreciate all the time that Kashmiri Hip Hop has been around, because many of its primary figures are either delivering their verses on Prophecy’s beat or are featured in cameos to represent the genre as a whole.
The views, opinions, and perspectives presented in this piece are the author’s own in their entirety and do not represent any position or stance by Inverse Journal.
Performed by: SOS x Sxr x Imaad
Produced by: Prxphecy
Artwork by: Ohoabhilash
Cinematography: Rayees Rumi
First AC and Gaffer: Suhaib Mushtaq
Edited by: Aatankki (Syed Arslan)
BTS: Danish Maqbool
Distributed by: Roomi Records
Studio work: Logic Studios Zero Bridge
Special thanks to Mc Kash, King UTB and Ahmer for the cameo!
Stream / Download https://lnkfi.re/FjWY0AoN