Ahead of the release of his debut solo album, superstar rapper Badshah debunks a few notions
In the universe of mere mortals, Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia would have been your average engineering nerd. The 32-year-old from Chandigarh was admitted to St Stephen’s College in Delhi for a BSc in chemistry, but dropped out after a month and a half when he made it to the third list of Punjab Engineering College (PEC). “Engineer toh banna hi hai...[I had to become an engineer] that’s how the thinking was back then,” says the qualified civil engineer. Ironically, it was his stint at PEC and the group of friends that he made there that changed his outlook. “Unki soch waha se shuru hoti thi jahan mere khatam ho jaati the [Their thought process started where mine ended],” he says. As their out-of-the-box approach rubbed off on him, Sisodia ditched the normal—read, the job he landed after campus placement—and embraced what then seemed outlandish to his social milieu—making music.
Over a decade later, the pieces seem to be falling in place as Sisodia, better known as rapper Badshah, is turning out to be one of the most bankable stars in Bollywood and the music industry. He emerged onto the music scene in 2012 with ‘Saturday Saturday’, a ubiquitous party chant; it was adopted into a Bollywood number in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania in 2014. Consequence of Sound, an American online magazine, listed ‘DJ Waley Babu’, his debut solo release in 2015, as one of the 10 most popular non-English songs of the year. A multimillionaire by now (with a 300-plus sneakers collection that’s worth over a crore), his Bollywood repertoire is growing by the day with hits like ‘Kar Gayi Chull’ (Kapoor & Sons), ‘Abhi toh party shuru hui hai’ (Khoobsurat), ‘Baby ko Bass Pasand Hai’ (Sultan), ‘Kala Chashma’ (Baar Baar Dekho) and ‘Tareefan’ (Veere Di Wedding). In 2017, he ranked 35th on the Forbes India Celebrity 100 with an estimated earnings of Rs 23 crore. (“My aim is to be No 1 on that list,” he guffaws.) Ahead of the launch of O.N.E, his debut solo album (where he’s collaborated with Sunidhi Chauhan), on August 17, Badshah speaks to Forbes India. Edited excerpts:
Q. From Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia to Badshah, tell us a bit about what has changed.
When I was growing up, it was extremely difficult to think big. My parents have been middle class all their lives and my future was set on the first day of every month. It was difficult for me to break those limitations in thinking. Today, that has changed. There is no limit to my imagination. For instance, I want to be the first guy to have a concert on the moon. I want to make more possibilities. I was the first one to shoot a music video on top of the O2 Arena in England. Earlier, it was tough for me to get into a zone where I could say, “Haan bhai, yeh ho sakta hai [This is also possible].”
Q. How did music happen to you? Were you into rap right from the beginning?
I rap because I am good at rapping. I am good at storytelling, rhyming words. I’m not good at singing. But I had all sorts of music around me when I was growing up. I had music on even when I was sleeping. I listen to ’90s Bollywood songs the most. Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Anand-Milind, Jatin-Lalit, Nadeem-Shravan are some of my idols. You make me listen to any of the songs for five seconds and I’ll tell you the name of the song.
Q. Your debut solo album comes over six years after your first solo breakthrough with ‘Saturday Saturday’ (released first in 2012, and then used in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania in 2014). What took so long?
From 2012 to 2018, I was trying to earn money, make a name for myself, widen my audience and learn how to deal with people. So that when I would make my own thing, I need to get a sense of a lot many other things, like how to target an audience. My experience in the industry has now taught me that. But I agree I am late. Sometimes, things are out of your control.
[qt]I think [the nepotism debate] stupid. I think we are wasting our time talking about it. Talent finds its way. Look at me, I have no connections.”[/qt]
Q. Most of your songs and videos are about an aspirational and over-the-top lifestyle, of cars, bling, what have you. What’s Badshah like in real life?
In real life, I hate bling. If you come to my home, you’ll see me in a T-shirt and shorts. I wear a cap because I don’t like doing my hair. It bores me to sit through the process. It’s my job to put on a different persona when I am working. That part of me is an employee of Brand Badshah. It’s a part of life and I have to do it when I have to do it.
At home, everyone keeps me grounded. No one cares about who I am. Once, when I called my father from the airport and told him I was coming home, he said, “Aate waqt dudh leke aiyo, phuphaji aaye huye hain ghar pe [Bring some milk on your way, your uncle's visiting].”
Q. Some would say your songs and videos tend to objectify women. What do you have to say to that?
I feel sad about such statements. And also a little strange because these songs are so popular. I don’t objectify women at all. First, they contribute to the largest chunk of my database. And I have a family of a mother, a sister, a wife and a daughter; how will I objectify someone who’s dear to me?
I am a lot like you, like a journalist, I just tell people what I see. I just happen to rhyme it and add some music to it. I do take certain lyrical liberties for entertainment, but everyone does that. Like ‘Ladki nahi tu hai garam mamla’ (‘Kar Gayi Chull’ from Kapoor & Sons). It just happens to rhyme with ‘Dekh tera rang saawla hua bawla’. What is garam mamla? A hot topic. So, it’s basically girl, you are a hot topic. When you translate it into Hindi, this is what it sounds. Where am I objectifying women?
Q. What is the process of coming up with such lyrics?
Some years ago, I was travelling with my cousin from Chandigarh to Delhi and he was on the phone with his girlfriend, arguing. When he was done I asked him what was the problem. He replied, “Arey woh sirf Saturday Saturday karti rahti hai [She keeps saying Saturday, Saturday].” Even as he went on speaking, to me the phrase felt like a hook line and a tune came to my head. So, I don’t know how this happens, but it just comes to me. I pick up from what happens around me.
Q. So long, you have been identified with a certain type of music. Would you ever want to explore other genres as well?
Hence the album. Check out the variety.
Q. Recently, Bollywood has been abuzz with the nepotism debate. What is your take on it?
I think it’s stupid. I think we are wasting our time talking about it. Talent finds its way. Look at me, I have no connections. Who is Vicky Kaushal? What connections does he have? But he’s doing Takht for Karan [Johar] sir. Suppose you know I’m good at something and someone else asks you about someone with that skill set, you will tell him to come to me. Is that nepotism?
Q. You have a fashion label called Badfit and are collaborating with Priyank Sukhija of First Fiddle to start a restobar. You’re quite a businesshead, aren’t you?
Always. In school, I was selling comic books. In fact, comics was just a set-up to bring my friends to me. I actually used to sell them stickers at a premium price. In college, I was selling land. Five of us got some money from home, bought a small plot of land on the outskirts of Chandigarh and some months later sold it.
Q. But why the highly-competitive hospitality industry, where someone like Sachin Tendulkar floundered as well?
I am making music that nobody else is making. I am making clothes that no one else is making. With a restobar, I want to give you an experience that no one else will give you. But I know that 90 percent of these place shut down. The biggest places have shut down. But I still want to give you that experience. Once it shuts, I’ll move on. What’s the big deal? It’s a well thought-out risk.