His father told him not to rap in English, but his father didn’t ask him to stop rapping. However, that does not suggest he did not rap in English ever again. The advice his father gave him turned his life 360º. Astoundingly, what worked well for him is still under speculation, and despite the tantrums that are thrown at him, he bags awards regardless and has a fanbase enviable to many artists.
Christened as Bilal Shaikh and/or Shahrukh Shaikh, he is more accepted as Bantai, Emiway.
An artist who coherently reminds me of a line from a Jimi Hendrix song,
“Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”
Four months ago, Emiway Bantai released a song called Freeverse Feast (Daawat) on YouTube. Today, it stands at 22 million views on the platform. The song was in English and Hindi which spoke of the artist representing India through his art. The choice of a bilingual song might have helped cross regional boundaries. Hence, on the 3rd of November 2019, Emiway Bantai was awarded the Best India Act at the MTV EMA Awards in Seville Spain for Freeverse Feast (Daawat). The Awards aired on VH1 India on the 4th of November. Emiway was contending against Prateek Kuhad, Raja Kumari, Parikrama, and Komorebi.
Congratulating him, Music Plus spoke to Emiway to ask him a few questions on the popularity he has gained making him what he is today
You know him, right?
The name Emiway has created for himself goes beyond a myth. In the current age of Hip-Hop, India has leapt right in, thus he addresses his ecstasy,
“To be able to represent India and get an award for my country has been nothing short of a dream. I had no idea that I would be awarded the Best India Act at the EMAs. It came as a surprise because I was watching the awards on TV that I got to know about it. Soon after my friends and fans started congratulating me. The way Hip-Hop is exploding in India is beyond anything that I would have imagined.”
As much love, Bantai has gained over the years, he has also been under the spotlight of controversy equally. Whether it is through the disses he threw against other popular Hip-Hop artist or his style of music. However, those that might have looked like hurdles at one point of time acted as stepping stones.
On being asked how he faces criticism, Bantai replied,
“All love to haters. Also, it’s necessary to have them but these haters are not my enemies. I am a very loving person so wish everyone well,” with a smile.
The guy who started as a fanboy of Eminem and Lil Wayne, which drove him to adopt a stage name of Emiway, definitely has come a long way. Through the journey, Emiway’s consistency in fetching awards has been consistent. In 2019 itself, Radio City Freedom Awards recognised Emiway as the Best Hip-Hop Artist (Jump Kar). He had already been awarded once in 2017 for Tadak Padak.
We asked Rachna Kanwar, Chief Operating Officer at Jagran New Media who is the Business Head & EVP for Radio City’s Digital business, on what she thought about Emiway’s success. Applauding Emiway’s potential and perseverance, she said,
“Radio City Freedom was the first online radio station in India to air Emiway’s songs. When we first heard Hateli Khopdi and Aur Bantai, we knew he would go a long way.We are delighted to see him doing exceptionally well. He is making the nation proud at a global level.”
Beyond controversies and successes
A few of Bantai’s most popular songs include Aur Bantai which he recreated on Eminem’s Lose Yourself track as a tribute to Eminem, Boht Hard, Samajh Mein Aaya Kya, and Machayenge. All these songs combined have more than 300 million views on YouTube all within a year’s time. His song Checkmate, from his EP No Brands, which came out three weeks ago is already looking at 10 million views on YouTube.
There are two truths about Emiway. One, he is an independent artist. He chooses to stay independent, release songs on YouTube and use Instagram as his mode for the official announcements. Two, his organic views.
The scrutiny and the infamous news about other artists who have been on the radar of buying views were sensitised on global news earlier. However, in all this hullabaloo, Emiway has risen above the situation.
Which in today’s age makes a very deep impact. The era of fandom that we all live in, thrive on the success and failures of artists and the like. Especially the importance of a dedicated fanbase holds the most strength in such instances.
Emiway responds to his need for views and the numbers that his songs garner,
“When I make music, I don’t think or plan about the numbers I am aiming at. I want to make sure that my fans and people who listen to my work, like it. There is no strategy involved. Baki apni Bantai ki public itni hardich hai”
We do not see brands and sponsors tagged on to Emiway but does that suggest no offers were ever made? Also, there is no label backing Emiway which interestingly acts as his biggest selling propositions. Although the artist has been open to working with others, there are very few collaborations you might see he indulges in.
For instance the latest one being, his collaboration with Australian-born Indian artist, Celina Sharma called Lean On. The song did tremendously well on both YouTube and Spotify, overlooking 8.6 million views and 500 thousand streams respectively. The licenses of the song are retained by Universal Music Group on behalf of Virgin EMI Records.
“I am still independent and I am focussed entirely on making music. I have come this far as an independent artist. Hopefully, if God wills, I shall carry the independent banner forward. If there ever comes a day for me to join a label, everyone will know it,” said Emiway on being asked if he planned on signing with a label
Emiway’s choice of staying independent is praise-worthy even amongst celebrated musicians and composers in the film industry. The course of Emiway’s successes seems to have started within a short span of time, however, this does not discount the amount of hard work he must have put in.
That said, Shamir Tandon, popular Bollywood music composer also corroborated with Emiway’s choices,
“I have had the fortune of working with him and I must mention he is very professional and very wonderful to work with. People simply connect with him mainly because he does not try to emulate somebody. His originality and his choice to make it as an independent artist is commendable.”
Bantai ki public
Who is this “Bantai ki public?” Do we have numbers precisely pointing at the strong fanbase he is so confident about? Bantai is a street lingo in Mumbai which translates to a dear friend or a “bro.”
With the amplitude of brotherhood, the artist manifests this strength into fetching awards, including an International one now. This speaks volumes for an artist who is not associated with any label.
Like all artists who wear their hearts on their sleeves, Emiway realises his fanbase is strong and powerful whom he recognises as his own. He also acknowledges that his fans are very different from the rest.
He finds the increase in his dedicated fanbase is due to an influx of new people who have either just discovered him or are exploring who he is.
“My public is my real fanbase. A large number of people are checking me out to know who I am while I enjoyed a dedicated fanbase from day one. That is also why I have not taken down any of my content from YouTube. People have the right to know who I am and where I come from”
Emiway’s success story starts from YouTube where the free platform encouraged him to release his first song, Glint Lock he made with Minta. The former skills of the rapper might be a shocker for some, nevertheless, the video has more than 400 thousand views on YouTube today. Also, the impact that social media has made on the artist’s career is commendable towards which he remains unabashed.
That said, Emiway’s no two songs sound the same. The sound engineering, mixing and the beat is where his focus has been. His music producer, Flamboy has made Emiway communicate well with his audience. This also proved well in his EP, No Brands.
The progression in Emiway’s sound could be a signal of a transformation in his personal life too. Also, the growth in his music is actually his real-life growth.
“My songs narrate my story. From where I come to where I am going is all in my songs. If you listen to my older songs, you will be able to spot the differences”
If people were asked about Emiway Bantai, six-years ago, a definite non-recognition would follow. The bonafide rapper that he has established himself today nullifies my prior statement.
However, the “public” has now swiftly transitioned from asking questions about who Bantai was before he became who he is from the horse’s mouth. As a social media icon too, the frenzy on his Instagram is worth envying and because he realises that, he affirms to answer all the questions in a song soon enough for his fans.