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Decoding desi Hip-Hop: Street Academics

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Street Academics is an Indian alternative hip-hop group from Kerala, known for blending Malayalam, English & Tamil in their lyrics. The crew focuses on releasing singles with socio-political messages and familiarize their audience about the subculture. They collaborate with the collectives of Mappila Lahala and Palakkadan Dystopia, to release projects with cultural discussions and avant-garde backdrops.
After recording various demo tracks, they brought in Amjad Nadeem, Earthgrime & Pranav to form the group. Keyboardist & music producer Ruthin They worked with the group to produce a couple of singles, before leaving to pursue his career with Thaikkudam Bridge. Later Vivek Radhakrishnan joined the group as DJ/producer providing a bass-oriented sound. They started collaborating with a cultural music collective Mappila Lahala, led by filmmaker Muhsin Parari, to release singles with political undertones featuring veteran actor Mamukkoya and national award-winning composer Bijibal. The group formed avant garde Hip-Hop project Palakkadan Dystopia to release singles and went on to collaborate with experimental theatre acts which combined spoken word, theatre, Hip-Hop music & graffiti.

 

What was the origin of your band’s name?

The group was formed in 1999, as a small spoken word/slam poetry & pause-tape making community in the neighborhood at Palakkad, Kerala. It was basically some random dudes who had no musical or literary background, who just learn things from discussions, searching & experiences. Don’t really remember about why i named it “Street Academics”. But thinking about it now, we couldn’t have given ourselves a better name, which is in sync with our work ethics or style.

How was the band formed?

After experimenting and learning how to develop spoken word into rap and infuse it with rhythm, I, RJV Ernesto (Pakarcha Vyadhi), got introduced to digital platforms in early 2000s. I would convert my works from cassettes to digital form and upload on MySpace. Going through various communities in social platforms, I got introduced to a lot of artists who were passionate about Hip-Hop. And that’s where I met, Haris Saleem (Maapla) who was from Kerala itself. Since there were rarely any Hip-Hop acts from the state, we decided to move on as a group, pulling in Amjad Nadeem (Azuran), who was Haris’ junior in college. Then later Abhimanyu Raman (Earthgrime) who shared the same ideas on poetry, got added to group through mutual contacts. Ruthin Thej produced music for couple of our singles before pursuing his journey with Thaikkudam Bridge. Vivek Radhakrishnan (V3K), music producer, was the last one to join the group, bringing a glitch/bass soundscape to crew. Even though 5 of us are regarded as a group, there is a huge group of people from our neighborhoods, whom we see as our family, who support us in every way possible.

What inspired you to make music? 

It was mainly because of the amount of words and concepts, that could be put into a frame of time and sound. Simply said, poetry & rhythm were our biggest influences.

What are some of the common theme of your songs? 

All the songs of Street Academics are inter-connected and follows a non-linear timeline. All the characters/alter-egos in the group are basically from the street, who build wormholes and time machines, to talk about anything that comes under the Sun or any other star. Mostly contemporary & philosophical themes, which cover politics, protest, anarchism, consciousness, human emotions and psychology. Some of plots in our albums happen in post-apocalyptic world or alternate universe, where history is swapped to contain characters from our songs and exist within the same towns, streets or places we see today.

How has your music evolved over the years? 

Our music evolved all the way from making pause-tapes with a cassette, scissor, blade & cello tapes, to making studio quality outputs with synthesizers, turntables, orchestral instruments. First our music was majorly sampling oriented and had a raw, lo-fi, boom-bap influence written all over. But after years of sticking to the same equation made us think about possibilities of reaching out to the masses. So, we infused our sound with folk, ambient, glitch, bass, R&B, jazz, grime, soul etc., which gave us the tag of alternative Hip-Hop.

What has been your biggest challenge as a band? 

The first big challenge was, being responsible to create a blueprint for Malayalam rap, which has never been done before. Bringing the rap techniques to a whole new language with no prototypes or former examples, is very difficult. That too in a language like Malayalam, which is hard to bend, known for it’s rigidness & depth. I think we embraced that challenge and did our part to kickstart Malayalam rap.

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Abhishek Singh

Author: Abhishek Singh

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