On That KTM Grime: The Rise of Nep-Hop
Image credit: Ronish Shreshta
Over the last two decades, Nepal has experienced political upheaval, civil unrest and devastation. From the outset of the civil war – christened the People’s War – by the Communist Party of Nepal in February 1996 to the catastrophic earthquake in April 2015, the erstwhile Hindu kingdom has witnessed a period of setbacks. Yet, the Nepalese people continue to survive, and in some cases, thrive. With a young, vibrant and ambitious population (88% of the population is under the age of 60), Nepal is seeking to chart a course that will leave a significant mark on the world – with hip-hop playing a pivotal role.
In 1994, Girish Khatiwada dropped Nepal’s first hip-hop track. The song ‘Meaningless Rap’, laid the foundation for what is now known as the Nep-Hop movement. The term was coined by the US based rapper and producer DJ AJ, and the genre now dominates the charts. Currently, there are at least 4-5 radio shows dedicated to promoting Nep-Hop on mainstream radio stations such as Times FM, Kantipur FM, Image FM and Radio Nepal. With all the hype that surrounds the South Asian hip-hop scene – especially with the rise of Indian and Pakistani artists such as Divine, Naezy, Prabh Deep and Adil Omar – the people behind the Nep-Hop movement have been quietly and steadily building an infrastructure that can support their endeavours and is now considered an essential part of urban Nepalese culture – often away from the limelight.
Born and raised in Kathmandu, Khatiwada, in an earlier interview with Kathmandu Post, spoke about how hip-hop always had a home in Nepal and he reminisced about people in Dharan – a city in Eastern Nepal – breakdancing to bootleg cassettes of Grandmaster Flash. Khatiwada, along with Pranil L. Timalsena, would later go on to form GP – one of Nepal’s pioneering hip-hop groups. In 2004, he formed Girish and The Unity, an act that dominated Nepal’s local music charts. Khatiwada’s work inspired groups like Rappaz Union (2000) – encouraging kids to speak about the socio-political issues that affected a conflict-ridden Nepal.
Nirnaya Shrestha, one of the founding members of Rappaz Union, became a youth-icon. Alongside his work with the hip-hop crew, he also hosted a popular radio show called Bring Da House Down on Image FM. At this time, Nepali rappers abroad were also starting to make their presence felt in the underground scene. Aroz ran the webzine www.nephop.com that captured the attention of the Nepali youth and played an instrumental role in promoting the movement to newer heights. While this initial spurt of popularity helped the Nep-Hop movement gain mainstream credibility, the number of unique and innovative artists were still low. It wasn’t until 2011, and the rise of Yama Buddha, that Nep-Hop got a platform that could help cultivate genuine and lasting talent.
Yama Buddha is the current leader of the Nep-Hop movement. Born in Morang to politician Ambika Prasad Adhikari, the Kathmandu-based MC has created an ecosystem that is helping Nep-Hop artists develop their skills and take the Internet by storm. He released his critically acclaimed debut mixtape ‘Ekadesh’ in 2011. He also played an instrumental role in creating Raw Barz, South Asia’s most-watched battle-rap league. Inspired by international battle-rap leagues such as GrindTime Now (USA) and King of the Dot (Canada), Raw Barz, which held its first event in 2011, has helped Nep-Hop artists such as Laure, Sacar and Unik Poet attract mainstream attention. It’s also helping guide the Himalayan country’s first stream of female-rappers such as Tsamyun, Rhythms Up, Cring and Pari, providing them with a safe space to hone their talent. In Nepal’s conservative society, the rise of these female-rappers has helped Raw Barz gain international attention from the likes of the BBC.
Nepal is still reeling from the consequences of a decade-long civil war and one of the worst natural disasters in current history, but, with the rise of Nep-Hop, its youth is creating and utilizing a platform to tackle these issues head-on.
written by Uday Kapur