In a conversation with YourStory, rapper Naezy speaks of his influences, and the long journey to recognition.
What is a gully? Is it a street, an alley, or a path to an unknown future?
Who is a gully boy? A boy of the streets or the boy-next-door?
So, why is this “Gully Boy” making a big noise in India?
And, will the real Gully Boy please stand up?
“Gully is not just a word, it’s an emotion; a feeling. It’s not necessary that the person coming from a gully is poor. It’s just that they have faced different situations in life, and I am sure everyone in India has had a gully influence in their life,” Naved Shaikh, aka Naezy, tells me over a phone call from Mumbai. Naezy is one half of the Naezy-Divine rapper duo, on whose lives, the Ranveer Singh-starrer Gully Boy is inspired by.
“I have always been the crazy sort, so ‘Crazy Naved’ became Naezy,” he says with a laugh.
The underground hip hop artiste and rapper shot to fame with Aafat in 2012. He was just 22, and the video was made on zero budget on an iPad. Since then, Aafat has raked up more than 4.7 lakh views on YouTube. The young boy from a West Kurla chawl became the poster boy of the underground hip-hop scene. Naezy and another popular Divine (Vivian Fernandez) then teamed up on the hugely popular Mere Gully Mein, which came up with a strong message. People stood up and noticed. The stars had arrived.
Now with Gully Boy, Naezy is happy that the rap scene has got its due.
“Underground hip-hop music and rap till now has been enjoyed only by a niche audience. With Gully Boy, we hope our music and message will reach the masses,” he says.
Naezy began life in West Kurla, a suburb in Mumbai, and grew up listening to East Coast-West Coast hip hop, gangsta rap, NWA, Tupac Shakur, and was influenced by stories and struggles that were similar to his. He idolised his grandfather who changed his life in many ways.
“My grandfather was well-educated and a school inspector. He was an activist who raised his voice against the injustice in the system. While most of my family studied in the Urdu medium, he made sure I got an ‘English education’. He fought against my conservative family so that I could do what I was passionate about. Unfortunately, he passed away before I entered the rap scene,” he recalls.
The West Kurla influence has creeped into Naezy’s music, especially his view of the surroundings and the environment in lived in. He points out that these were experiences from “a real world, and of an exciting childhood.”
Naezy is known for the unique mix he brings into lyrics - Urdu with tapori-style Hindi. Was it a conscious effort? “Many Indian rappers only rap in English, and I found that disturbing. I wanted to create something that is authentic so that people could relate to it as coming from the art. I did some research, got into the technicalities, and found that there are punchlines and words I could use in Urdu and Bambaiya and I started off with Aafat, and it soon became a new trend.”
The artiste has great expectations from Gully Boy, and believes Ranveer Singh is the perfect fit for the role. “He has put in a lot of hard work and has had many meetings with us to understand the language, the style and the music. He’s really a chilled-out actor,” he says.
Naezy’s collaborations with other artistes, especially Divine, have become huge hits. “Our backgrounds are similar, and our vibes perfect,” he adds.
Like most rappers, Naezy too is very conscious of social issues and how music can make an impact with the right message. What issues are close to his heart? “Everything,” he says, and adds, “atrocities against women, fight for women’s rights, rights of the underprivileged, the corrupt system, law and order - whatever we can raise our voice against, so that they become bigger and louder.”
While he has received much love from people all over the world, Naezy is still fighting a battle at home.
“My family doesn’t really understand what I do. They think I am like Yo-Yo Honey Singh and am in it for the girls and the alcohol, and the industry is a bad place to be in. They think I should continue my studies, get into a 9-5 job or help out with the family business. I am not a rebel, I listen to them and hope they can change their mindset someday.”
His advice for young people who want to take up rap as a career is the same advice he would give anyone who want to follow their passion: “Focus on making your passion a reality. Don’t rap forcefully, research well, work hard and then luck will be with you.”