Interview with rapper Shakti
Whether you like it or not, hip hop has become a means of communication between people around the world. In this day and age this is important considering how after 9/11 the world became something of a clash of cultures. The problem with American hip hoppers is that they have a tendency to be very close minded about what real hip hop is. Depending on where some cats are coming from, they have a tendency to be very loyal, to think that real hip hop is from NYC, from the South, or from the West Coast. Then when you get into styles or subject matter, it all has to be presented a certain way or else its just considered fake or illegitimate.
What heads have to realize is that there is a big world out there beyond just their "hood" and people are rapping in Spanish, Arabic, French, and the list goes on. They are going beyond talking about hustlin' and ballin', they are talking about the way things are in far off countries. That is why I like Shakti. She is a female rapper from India, and she's hot too! Didn't think that people from India rap? Well, read on with an open mind and realize that hip hop is truly becoming a global movement.
First of all, where are your from, and what city, country or town are you reppin'? My parents are of South Indian decent; they immigrated from India and Singapore and settled in Detroit (Motown) which is my hometown. Just imagine a traditional Indian family living in the hood. I remember playing outside where kids were beat boxin, rapping, and break dancing while at home it was all traditional Indian. When people ask me where I grew up it’s always a long answer because I am very much like a gypsy. Even though I was born in Detroit for the most part I grew up in San Francisco and Chicago. When I was younger I also spent my summers overseas between India & Singapore. I’ve lived in New York for 5 years so now I’m reppin’ “hoods” from all over.
Tell us about yourself.... Shakti stands for feminine energy and power. I draw my energies from so many places and experiences. I’ve been in music since I was six years old. I eat and breath this passion I have for entertaining. I’ve studied a lot of different styles from R&B to classical Indian singing and it’s helped me to differentiate myself from other singers. I belly dance and hip-hop dance and integrate the east and west in all that I do. I’ve been called an innovator and that gift has been ever present in my life. I’ve always wanted to be different from what everyone else was doing and I’m fortunate to have music as my medium of expression to project all that is in me to the public. I have a great family support system with my mom managing me and being there for me since my first note.
What is up with hip hop in India is there a hip hop scene? Hip-Hop has influenced the world! India is definitely included in that hip-hop take over. Who would have ever thought Hip-Hop would be represented in a third world nation. It has reached over mainly through music videos. Music and film is a big deal over there with the “Bollywood” industry. I don’t think many of the Indian youth understand what Hip-Hop really is or how it started other than black folk speaking a crazy kind of English and rapping. They have crazy clubs over there and their own versions of Rap. I remember going to a club in Bombay a while back and they were playing the same records I heard in New York. I think music videos have shown that America has a poor side too and the glorified gangster thing is replicated even in the Indian movies. Much of India is extremely poverty stricken and the same time you have the very rich. Whenever I go over my cousins are always asking me if I get shot at in New York and all of that cause they kind of think it’s the way it is on TV. They also get shows like Oprah and Baywatch over there.
When I think of hip hop in India , I think of the bhangra form of music and Punjabi MC, the artist who did that song with Jay-Z. Is what you do along those lines? My single “Do the Thang Thang” is based on Bhangra which is a folk music style that comes out of Punjab . Punjabi MC is actually a DJ and not an artist. He crossed over from England in the US when they got Jay Z on the track. Some of my material is like that but I am doing the singing. We’re not using samples.
Who are your influences as far as your music goes? My musical influences range from Rakim, John Coltrane, Michael Jackson, Missy Elliott, Mary J, Beyonce, to the music of my own culture, and other styles of world music. I listen to music for different reasons, sometimes for studying other times just for enjoyment. My music is also heavily influenced by my travels. I try to share my life experiences in my songs.
Tell us about your music. What do you sing or rap about? Much of my record started out very sensual and party oriented. Most recently I’ve started writing more about what I was going in my life. I have subjects ranging from a track called “Jealous Bitch” about how woman treat other woman to a song called “Blame” talking about a relationship falling apart. I am primarily a singer. Every now and then I will rap in my language for fun. The rhythms in Indian music are really hot and the sounds or so distinct. So many producers like Timbaland have copped a great deal from Indian music. From Missy, to 50 cent, and lil Kim, its crazy how many Indian samples are being used in songs. There just hasn’t been an Indian artist out in the US that is from the US yet. That is where my project comes in.
What is the audience you are trying to appeal to with your music? I want to reach as many people as possible with my sound. My culture has not been represented in Americaand there are so many of us growing up over here. I definitely have strong a strong Asian support base and the urban audiences that I have been performing for have also been very supportive. People started calling me the Indian J-Lo in Europe and I think it was because she has her Latino roots but she is also “Just Jenny from the Bronx Block”! Musically I am like Mississippi Masala.
Where would you say most of your fans are, or where are you most popular? My campaign has been geared online and there are people from all over responding to the project from Italy to India to Australia . I’m on myspace and have over 100000 views. People have been reaching out to me showing a lot of love. My music has been released in several countries on different labels like Sony Australia , and Avex in Japan. What I am doing is international. The label I am working with has a focus that is world wide and not just in the states.(Global Soul Entertainment) You can hear some of my songs on a lot of mixtapes floating around. I am so fortunate to have the support of some of the hottest DJ’s.
How do people in India respond to what you are doing? The response is always incredible I usually perform there for audiences of 7-10 thousand. Fans screaming at my shows help create a lot of energy in the performance. It’s nothing in the world like giving all of yourself to a crowd and feeling it back from them. My single just came out on a compilation album over there. I’m planning to shoot the video in September. I am really excited about everything because the kids over there are able to relate to me and yet I’m still an American Desigirl.
A lot is going on in your region of the world, what with the recent bombings in India. Do you touch on that whole situation? Me and my producer “Bellringer” went over to record in India for four months and while we were there a bombing happened on a bus not far from where we were. We got calls from people back home checking to make sure we were ok, and the tripped out thing is that the people over there were telling us “oh that’s nothing it was just a small bomb!” It’s sad that wars are happening and the twisted politics behind them. It’s sad that innocent people die. My uncle rides that train that was bombed in Bombay every day. It’s a blessing he wasn’t on when the bomb hit. He just happened to have left work an hour earlier! My other family couldn’t get home that night because the trains shut down. In America you don’t hear everything that’s going on in the world. We have all this technology and advancement yet people still find reasons to kill. There is nothing sexy about blood shed. I have seen it on the streets, people getting their throat cut or shot. Music is a vehicle for change and I’m using all that I have within me to bring light and love and try to make a difference. Life is short and I take nothing for granted. (Note: The bombings referred to in this question took place in July 2006)
I'm very open minded and I will like your music, but for all the hip hop heads who are very selective and picky about their music, what would you say is the best thing about your music they will like? Take a chance on something different…you might like it…When something is real it’s real. Whatever I am doing is the truth and its coming straight from my heart and that’s what is at the core of Real Hip-Hop. I’m Indian over Hip-hop beats. It’s like putting hot sause on some mac and cheese.
Those are all my questions. Anything else you would like to tell the people? Any shout outs? The music industry is a hard game and there are so many artists hustling doing their thing. It’s important that these artists get a chance to get heard if they are hot they are hot. You can pay for plays and buy fame but no money in the world can buy genuine talent. I have been involved with the music industry since I was a little kid. It moves me when people support what I am doing and it makes the hustle worth it. Thanks Hip-Hop Politics for letting me share myself with you! Hope to see you at a show in your city or hit me online at www.shaktionline.com or www.myspace.com/shaktionline.