Agrita Dhawan aka Agsy, a rap artist, talks about why it is important to take the road less travelled.
When Canadian adventurer Nikki Misurelli’s boyfriend told her she couldn’t accompany him on a ‘guys-only’ trip because it was “dangerous and intense” and that she “wouldn’t be able to handle it”, her first move was to break up with him, after which she took the trip on her own, of course.
She rode for six months from Alaska to Panama, covering 12,000 miles, showing her by-then-ex-boyfriend she could do everything he could.
Although Nikki’s story is undoubtedly inspiring, new it isn’t. Every day, millions of women across the world are told what they can and cannot do. Every day, some of them take up the challenge and show what’s truly possible.
Back home in India, Agrita Dhawan aka Agsy was told she couldn’t be a rap artist because—surprise, surprise—it isn’t something for girls to do.
What Agsy did may not be the solution for someone else but it definitely is a reference point for anyone who wants to break the shackles in her own context.
Born and brought up in Haryana, a state infamous for its poor sex ratio and lack of education of women, when she expressed her desire to take up an unconventional path in life, she was discouraged.
While her parents and brother have been very supportive of her efforts, the extended family and a few friends held on to the orthodox line of thinking, saying, “You could take up something like other girls rather than becoming a rap artist.”
The one things she always gets to hear is: “Ladki rap nahi karti uski koi wajah hogi na” (there must be a legitimate reason why girls don’t rap).
Agsy says, “Every time I hear this, I start calculating in my head as to the number of girls in India and I start classifying them into categories: how many come from orthodox families, are unable to rap, take life for granted, so on and so forth, and still I don’t understand how all of this adds up. I come to just one conclusion: they don’t want to do it but I do, so let me.”
The 19-year-old, who is pursuing her B.Com Honours from Delhi University, got a taste of rap during a competition in her first year of college. “It was just an experiment, really. I tried it and found it easy. The response was so good that I decided to make it my profession.”
Agsy (her stage name) has been singing she was 10 years old and even learnt classical music for a bit. Her interest in Western music developed in her teens, after being exposed to the Internet and what her friends were listening to. For a few months, she even learnt Western music from Delhi School of Music.
Agsy has been performing in colleges and fests. “In India, the hip hop culture has just started growing and it is artists like us who are making it grow. We have a responsibility complementing our love for it. Girls here are not ‘supposed’ to do certain things, and rap is one of them.”
While you can’t count the number of emcees (male rap artists) in India, the number of femcees (female rap artists) is low. According to Agsy, there are about 25 or so in India, out of which she feels only 5 make the cut for her. “Everyone is trying to be a rap artist but for women, the challenge is about not being good or on the top—that comes only later—but about taking the road less travelled.”
With so few women in the industry, it is all about getting there and getting started.
With so many naysayers around, it so happened that one of the boys in her circle remarked that she was always looking to collaborate with others because she could not do anything on her own. While that hit her hard, it led her to make her own video. Written by Agsy, the video for the track—titled ‘Wasted Love’—was directed by Jay Sly and was released in February this year.
It took six months to get done. The shoot happened in two days but the biggest challenge for her was to find someone to edit it. “What I could have got done in a week took about two months.” Since the video editors she found didn’t have exposure to rap and such performances it made the editing difficult. “I would also say the lack of funds was a challenge but the support we received was immense. My brother, Gurpreet Singh, is a very big support to my music. He would go out of the way to help me. I don’t know if it would have been possible without him.”
Agsy hasn’t spent any money on the video, simply because, as she says, “I didn’t have any.”
A lot of people, especially her friends, supported her to get the video out. When I prod, she tells me that she did share the link to the video with the boy who had written her off but hasn’t bothered with him otherwise.
Back home, the reactions to the video have been mixed. There are still noises about her getting into short clothes and “exposing” to get hits but Agsy’s stance is clear—“I am not here to use my dressing style to get the hits. I am here to let my talent speak. Look at my favourite rap artist, Snow Tha Product (Claudia Alexandra Feliciano), a Mexican-American hip hop recording artist from San Jose, California. She doesn’t dress in a certain way to attract attention to her clothes or her body. She lets her talent talk.”
Agsy’s rap has become a means of getting herself heard. “Songs are my way of expressing what is going on in my life. The very fact that you can touch hearts through music keeps me going.”
Most of her raps are spontaneous and reflective of her mood. “I pick up a beat given how I am feeling and just go for it,” she shares.
Agsy says she is proud not to have succumbed to society’s diktats. She signs off with one message, hoping it will empower other women to take the road less travelled:
"Believe in yourself, stay strong, don’t bend yourself but RULE!! Because YOU can."
At this time I am reminded of another life, another success story, that of Sophia Amoruso, Founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, who in her bestseller, #GIRLBOSS, says, “getting shit done” is the best way to prove to anyone who says you can’t.