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No! No! Honey Singh
Honey Singh has gone from Punjab's favourite rapper to megastar just in the last year. Will this controversy mar his cool quotient?
No wedding in Delhi, they say, is complete without Honey Singh's songs. Whether it's Dope Shope, High Heels or his latest floor burner with Jazzy B, This Party Gettin Hot, they all get uncles, aunties, boys and girls of all shapes and sizes and ages to move and groove with wild abandon.
For someone whose existence was unknown to most - except of course those who lived in Punjab or the Punjabi enclaves of Delhi - before 2012, Honey Singh's rise to national fame is remarkable. Even those who hadn't heard of him last week know him now thanks to the controversy over two extremely provocative songs which he denies having anything to do with.
Having started out as a session musician and a music producer, it was at the behest of friends and fans that he started rapping. When that clicked, Honey Singh became Yo! Yo! Honey Singh. Interestingly, Singh started out rapping in English. The video of the song Glassy with Ashok Masti shows Singh in his earlier days, dressed like the essential rapper - bandana and long, loose T-shirts - and even sounding like one. It was only later that he switched to rapping in Punjabi, but his main work was still as a producer.
Since 2006, he has delivered one hit after another, often working with well established singers like Gippy Grewal, Diljit Dosanjh and even stalwarts like Sardool Sikaner and Malkit Singh. He is no longer the sidekick, he is the star. The bandana and long sleeved T-shirts have given way to sharply spiked hair, blinding diamond studs and ganjis. The lanky look has been replaced with rippling muscles and the swagger could put Kanye West to shame. Gone are the days of the poorly edited grainy videos. In their place are snazzy productions that could very well be mistaken for a Flo Rida video.
Just like American rap stars, he too moves around with his posse of young singers - aptly called Mafia Mundeer - like Alfaaz, J Star and Money Aujla, who owe their rise to Singh. Little is known about Singh before he became Yo! Yo!. He calls himself a businessman's son from Hoshiarpur and his official website says he has studied at the Trinity School of Music in London.
In a musical landscape which revolved around folk melodies and Bollywoodesque arrangements, Singh's angst-ridden rap found favour with the young in Punjab. His first few songs spoke about guns, violence, and women but most importantly he spoke the language that the youth used. "I'm the voice of the youth. I sing what I see, " he said in an interview to a radio station in early 2012 when asked about the aggression and cuss words in his songs. "The pain, the anger, the expression, I just internalise it and it comes out in my music, " he added.
Gehri maarde nu lehna ajj chak ni/ Velleyan di akh ajj laal aye/ Koi banda bunda maarna taan das ni/ Mitran di akh ajj laal aye (I have blood in my eyes today, I have to kill someone). Lyrics like these have became a staple in Singh's songs, though in past year or so, he has been singing more about living the good life, partying and heartbreak.
So why did Honey Singh become successful ? Today his success is grander than the cumulative success of all Punjabi stars before him. He might be ignored by the highbrow types, but Honey Singh isn't looking to them for validation anyway.
Baba Sehgal, who was the first Punjabi rapper, has a simple explanation for Singh's success. "Using swear words is supposed to make you a cool dude, " he says. "So you have a whole breed of singers who emulate this model and glorify it to be 'cool'. "
Madan Gopal Singh, a much respected name in Sufi circles and an English professor at Khalsa College, Delhi University is no stranger to the phenomenon of Yo! Yo! Honey Singh. According to him, it was the peculiar combination of the sound of "rustic village and the underbellies of Bristol and London" that has made the 28-year-old the grand success he is today. "Honey Singh brought in a new sound, a new beat and especially at a time when the music scene in Punjab was vacuous. His skills as a music producer are not to be doubted. Rapping makes the beat heady and gives the songs an amplified sound, " Gopal says.
But more importantly, says Gopal, his songs catered to the archetype of Jathood, mirroring Sehgal's claims. "There's no caste greater than Jat in Punjab and all his songs are about celebrating Jathood, celebrating gun culture, enforcing a particular idea of masculinity. There are cultural and caste politics being played out in Punjab today, " says the 62-year-old film theorist and composer.
The recent controversy has taken some of the sheen off what would have been a phenomenal year for him, professionally and personally. He cracked Bollywood when his song Angrezi Beat from his 2012 album International Villager was chosen to feature in the Saif Ali Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer, Cocktail. He also got married in 2012.
Usually media shy, Singh came out of his shell to clear his name. "My lawyers are trying to find out who's doing this to malign me. I've sent notices to YouTube and other websites which have uploaded the offensive numbers. I'm being targeted for a rape of another kind altogether. What's being done to me is among the lowest of violation of human dignity, " he has said in an interview.
Gopal, though no fan of Yo Yo's rap, believes that targeting Singh alone for his misogynistic lyrics is hardly fair. "We've been objectifying women for 5, 000 years but now we're going beyond that. Singh is only representative of a larger problem. Songs like the Hunter and Keh ke loonga (both from the movie 'Gangs of Wasseypur' ) are completely obnoxious. Whichever way you interpret them, the literal meaning is very sexual in a boldly patriarchal sense, " he complains.
Honey Singh can often be heard saying, "Meri yadasht kamzor hai (I have a weak memory), " in his video diaries on YouTube. He must be hoping that the public suffers from the same affliction.
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