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Only talent will survive: Badshah

It isn't just about churning out party anthems and catchy lyrics. Rapper Badshah is a sharp businessman, who has been building his larger-than-life stage persona into a brand that now extends to apparel, content production, hospitality and TV

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Dec 12, 2018 09:38:20 AM IST
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 10:40:17 AM IST

Only talent will survive: BadshahImage: Amit Verma
Forbes India Celebrity Rank No.63

It’s almost impossible to attend a party or wedding in India and not be treated to one of Badshah’s ubiquitous chart-toppers. With hits like ‘Saturday Saturday’, ‘Baby ko Bass Pasand Hai’, ‘Tareefan’ and ‘Humma Humma’  pounding out of speakers across the country, Badshah, in his oversized sweatshirts, metal chains and the latest, rarest kicks [his sneaker collection is worth about ₹1.5 crore], has almost overnight built a sizeable fan following. In his six-year career, he has been on the Forbes India Celebrity 100 List repeatedly. But it isn’t just about his music.

Badshah, 33, born Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia, took on a stage name inspired by rappers in the West. And much like his Western idols, he has also sought to create a full-fledged brand out of his stage persona. He has a clothing line called Badfit, a resto-bar, a content production house, and a soon-to-launch all-Punjabi music channel on TV. The rapper speaks to Forbes India about what it takes to build brand Badshah. Edited excerpts:

Q. Your maiden album, O.N.E (Original Never Ends), has released recently after being in the making for years. Many of the tracks are a departure from your usual party songs. What took it so long?
It’s taken long to release the album because I was so consumed by making it big in Bollywood. The pop songs I have done for films have a certain feel about them. However, I have a side to me that is an artist as well. I wanted to do mellow songs about life and its struggles, songs that are more emotion-provoking. My album is a body of work where I had a chance to put all these aspects together. It’s got 17 songs, of which four have been released.

Q. The song ‘Heartless’ from the album has more than 100 million views on YouTube. The video shows a young, terminally ill girl whose final wish is to see you. What was the idea behind this?
The video is entirely the idea of Gurickk G Maan [son of Punjabi singer Gurdas Maan, who shot and conceptualised Badshah’s video]. I’m a huge fan of his father, and just like him, Gurickk has the quality of not compromising on his work. The video shows a different side to the perception people have of me, the charitable, reticent side. It took us a lot of time to make the video and put it out before the audience... the results are now for everyone to see.

The video spins a different interpretation of the song—I wrote it while I was still in college, and back then, it was about a troubled relationship I was in. I was struggling to become an artist then, and my partner was not convinced of my career choice. The song takes me back to when it all started.

Q. How have you evolved since those days?
Since then, I’ve become more confident, worldlier, if I may say so. I have a better sense of business and of dealing with people. Maybe that’s why I’ve tasted success. Of course, talent is everything, but ironically, what really matters is the way in which that talent is presented.

Q. You are more business-minded than many of your peers, extending your rapper personality into a full-fledged brand, across sectors. How do you define Brand Badshah?
Brand Badshah is all the things that I like, amplified. Many people think I’m a clotheshorse, but I have my own style. I want people to dress like me, drive like me, watch the sort of films that I like to watch. Whether it’s my clothing brand, my production house or my restobar, it’s all about making things for myself and people like me.

I have grown up watching Western rappers like Jay-Z—for me, he’s the businessman I admire the most. His quality and diversification are amazing. I follow him and try to be like him. My businesses are a step in that direction.

I’m extremely involved in all my ventures, to the level of losing my sanity. But again, this is the age for me to do that, to utilise the maximum potential of my mind and body. I believe that it’s a mental game—fatigue is a state of mind—and as long as I can push myself, I will.

For instance, I’d love to design resorts and interiors too. I’ve been speaking with a real estate group about doing a health resort in the mountains. It’s so exciting to talk about things and see them actually come to life. I’d love to keep doing many things as long as I can afford to. When I think I won’t be able to do justice to all those frontiers, I’ll have to pack up and sell them off, maybe.

I am conscious about building ‘Badshah’ into a brand and using that as a platform to launch ancillary businesses, but I want all of these companies to go beyond me, and beyond Badshah. What use is a brand that doesn’t outlast its creator?

Only talent will survive: BadshahRapper Badshah with filmmaker Karan Johar (right) on the sets of a reality show
Image: Pramod Thakur / Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Q. Where does the businessman meet the creative side of you?
The advantage is the fact that I’m catering to an audience that I know, through my music and otherwise. My audience is middle-class people with great aspirations—people who are like me. I have a fair idea of who these people are; of course, there are analytics and market research teams involved. Once we find out a little more about our target audience, the creative side of me can mould and modify my products to cater to them. Each of my brands must do that.

Q. Tell us a bit more about Dragonfly, set to launch in India’s hyper-competitive hospitality space.
Dragonfly [in partnership with First Fiddle Restaurants, which is behind bar chains, including Lord of the Drinks and Tamasha] is ready to launch any day now. Everything is in place, and we’re working on the final touches. The idea is to create an experience, and that experience is huge. It’s not just a club, it’s a seven-day space. You can come and hang out in the day, and it converts itself into a high-energy vibe at night. Depending on your mood and personality, you can use it as you like, in a very organic way.
Hospitality is a competitive space, and I’m aware of that. Even if it doesn’t become the No 1 club in India, I want it to have its own semantics, its own place in the market, its own fans and identity. And I’m confident that it will.

Q. Even as someone who is integral to India’s party scene, you have stayed away from alcohol and smoking. What inspires you to create party songs?
I have never been into drinking or smoking. It’s just the way I’ve been brought up—at the back of my mind, there’s always a voice that believes smoking is a bad thing, for instance.

My inspiration are the people around me, people who go to these parties. I often say that I’m like a reporter—I just report what I see. I like it, I write it, I rhyme it. I’m not stopping anyone, nor am I encouraging anyone. It’s only now that I’ve made a song about alcohol—‘Vodka laga ke tere naal nachna’ [from Nawabzaade, released July 2018]. If my audience wants to have a song about vodka that helps them let loose, let them have it.

What really matters is the way in which Talent is presented.”

Q. You have been accused of objectifying women in some of your songs…
I think the perspective is important. Different people interpret my lyrics in different ways. As I said, I see what’s happening around me and I write it. But having said that, I know that any artist who is being heard is glorified, and is in some way, reflecting the thoughts of the society or of the social strata he represents. I would never deliberately be party to anything that hurts women, because I’ve got a mother, a sister, a daughter. It’s probably because I’ve grown up in the North, which is a region that is more alpha male; somewhere down the line, that social conditioning may have trickled into my lyrics. But it’s all friendly and well-meaning, which is why I’ve got such a fan following. But I have never intended to hurt anyone. I cannot afford to do that.

Q. You said in an interview recently that you can no longer write songs like ‘Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai’. What makes you say that?
I can still write commercial songs, but with age comes evolution and more complexity. As an artist, you like to differ from what you were five years ago, and add more layers. This will sound funny but a party song can have a lot of layers as well, with a different sort of vibe. It doesn’t need to be this ‘free’ or simple, but it can still be commercial. That’s the spot I want to work in now.

Q. You’ve done a fair share of ’90s song remixes. What do you think of the trend?
As long as it’s done right, I absolutely don’t mind. In fact, we had shown our version of ‘Humma Humma’ to Rahman Sir [composer AR Rahman], who didn’t approve of it initially. But six months later, he called me to say, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong’. The remixed track took some time for people to warm up to, but then it blew up. When you’re working with such iconic tracks, you have to be honest with yourself and to the song you are working on. That’s what eventually translates to the public.

Q.  You have an unreleased song called ‘Andhera’ that speaks of your mental health struggles. Is it likely to see the light of day?
The song was supposed to be on this album, but it was too intimate and too dark, which is why I’ve kept it to myself for now. Maybe I’ll release it at another point.

There was a dark point in my life when I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. I had to visit a doctor, get medicines; that’s what really helped. I realise now that it’s important to just speak up. There are so many people suffering and when I speak about it, they’re like, “Tumhe bhi hota hai?” They can relate to you on another level, and it could help them overcome their struggles.

Moreover, when you speak about your own mental health issues, 50 percent of the job is done. It’s important for your own happiness. It can be to your friends, your family, anyone. You have to be around people who love you and worry about you. That’s also a reason why I make these party songs—there’s so much sadness and stress in society. I can provide an escape.

Q. What sort of content are you looking to create with your production company?
I want to make content that I would love to watch, to put it simply. For example, I really love the Ocean’s series of films. I love watching musical award shows in the West, which have a lot of credibility and legitimacy. I’d love to create a similar property here in India, where people come to see artists live, encouraging and glorifying them for their talent.

I am also working on launching India’s first national Punjabi music channel. It’s going to be really cool and hip. I backed a Punjabi film called Ardaas back in 2016, which had a powerful social message, but did great business too—those are the kind of films I’d like to make.

I also want to make more musical web series. With my previous shows [Lockdown and Dil Hai Hindustani] we experimented with collaborations and bringing forth unheard-of talent into public domain. It’s all really cool stuff, but with a lot of substance.

Q. Where is the rap scene in India at right now?
Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s definitely going to get bigger and better. It’s becoming more credible, more believable and more tangible. It’s amazing. There’s no divide between street musicians and big musicians now, thanks to platforms like YouTube. Only talent will survive.

Q With your hands full, where does Badshah end and Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia begin?
I don’t take my stage personality very seriously. Aditya and Badshah are the same. I’m very moody in real life, and that’s how Badshah is too. I can be cool at times, even rude, and that isn’t an act. It’s who I am.

Q. What can we expect from you in 2019?
To try and become No 1 on the Forbes India Celebrity 100 List, whatever it takes!

(This story appears in the 21 December, 2018 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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