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MTV Hustle isn't just about rap battles; it's a cultural movement representing the country: Badshah

As the popular rap show returns for its third season, Forbes India speaks to Anshul Ailawadi, head, Youth, Music, and English entertainment, Viacom18 and Indian rapper Badshah about the growing hip hop and rap music industry in India

Naini Thaker
Published: Nov 25, 2023 10:15:55 AM IST
Updated: Nov 30, 2023 10:19:12 AM IST

MTV Hustle isn't just about rap battles; it's a cultural movement representing the country: BadshahWith Badshah joining the show once again for Season 3, along with four ‘squad bosses’ aka mentors—rap powerhouses Ikka, Dee MC, Dino James, and EPR—Hustle hopes to find emerging talent from all over India.

Indian hip hop and desi rap have found its own voice in recent years. Though there were only a few artistes, in the recent past there is a new crop of young talent that is emerging. And reality television shows like MTV’s Hustle plays a key role in taking these artistes to mainstream platforms. After two successful seasons, India’s biggest rap show is back with a third season.

With Badshah joining the show once again for Season 3, along with four ‘squad bosses’ aka mentors—rap powerhouses Ikka, Dee MC, Dino James, and EPR—Hustle hopes to find emerging talent from all over India. Recently it also tied up with T-series for a global partnership, which provides exclusive music rights for worldwide distribution. This partnership will help build the industry and also empower artistes journey at a global scale. Forbes India speaks to Anshul Ailawadi, head, Youth, Music, and English entertainment, Viacom18, and Indian rapper Badshah about the show and the growing hip hop and rap music industry in India. Edited excerpts:

Q. How has the show evolved over the last two seasons?

Anshul Ailawadi: If you look back at MTV’s journey, we’ve always managed to identify youth trends very early on. Like with most of our other IPs, with Hustle we managed to shine the spotlight on rap music early on. Over the last two seasons, Hustle discovered so many new and diverse artistes from all over India. But the biggest advantage we’ve had from day one was that we own our own IPs. Most reality music shows need to go to other platforms to get rights, here we own everything that is created on the show, and it makes a big difference. Now, the global partnership with T-series will help us get artistes’ work much more exposure.

Q. What attracts hip hop artistes in India to the MTV Hustle stage?

Badshah: It’s an experiential and educational institution that not just seeks out promising talent from the remotest parts of India but also enables their skill sets through practical and technical practices. A few decades ago, the industry lacked credible outlets where talent could showcase their craft on a more prominent scale and most artistes relied purely on management and record label deals for promotions. Today, reality shows coupled with streaming platforms have been a great facilitator for good talent.

Also read: Only talent will survive: Badshah

Q. What kind of artiste participation are you seeing?

Ailawadi: We have been seeing talent participation from all over India. But this year our theme is ‘Represent’, which means our team has gone deeper and wider, all over India, hunting for talent. This means the current season is a beautiful representation of what India truly is, in terms of language, dialects and diversity. We’ve got artistes who are Indian classical performers, but still can rap. So we are seeing some very interesting, fluidic forms.

Once our team handpicks artistes, we bring them to Mumbai for a 40-day workshop with the best rap coaches in the country and stylists. It can be quite a gruelling experience. If you look at some of the performances before these workshops and after, there is a massive transformation.

Q. What kind of an impact has the show left on the hip hop industry?

Badshah: MTV Hustle has made a mark on the international music map, and the potential of the platform lies in it going fully global in a few years, at par with music reality shows you see in the West. The show isn't just about rap battles; it's a cultural movement, representing the vibrant diversity of India and the burgeoning scene of desi hip hop and this show needs to embark on a global journey to put a spotlight on India.

Also read: Rapper's Delight as New York celebrates 50 years of hip-hop

Q. What has been your experience of mentoring young talent?

Badshah: Mentorship gives me a sense of purpose and direction. I always believe talent without guidance and direction is the hardest route. I never had a mentor when I debuted on the scene, and I take my role as a mentor very seriously. It's just about giving back to the community and the fans, being a valuable support system for industry peers and, most importantly, being accountable for something larger than oneself. It feels empowering to do that.

Q. What are the challenges within the rap music industry in India?

Ailawadi: Hip hop and rap have conventionally been seen as a genre that is too edgy to listen to, which means the audience has always been very niche. Through Hustle we have tried to grow the audience base. The other challenge is talent. Despite the team going all out, discovery of talent remains a pain point in the industry.

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