“People can’t take a brown person seriously in hip-hop”
Read The Asian Destination’s exclusive interview with Iqbal from Desi Desciples.
Iqbal Chowdhury (IC) Co-Founder of Desi Desciples, is proving this misconception wrong. He feels frustrated that certain Bengali-Americans aren’t proud of their culture or roots and urges them to feel differently through his music.
I am a firm believer of making the most of every experience and what Desi Desciples manages to do is important. They are taking the pride of their Bengali roots but expressing it through Western hip-hop music and creating a mix between two styles and genres. Thus, they’re pushing boundaries of what we have known and in doing so, generate something great and inspiring.
TAD: Can you tell us a little bit more about Desi Desciples?
IC: When my brother and I started the group Desi Desciples, there was no significant meaning of the name. We were just two Bengali kids in the seventh grade trying to make music. But as the year progressed we became more mature and more serious with our music, and this time there was a mission behind it.
As Bengali-Americans living in Atlanta, we were observing other Atlanta based Bengali kids. Most of the people had just arrived from Bangladesh or lived their whole life here in America. But my brother and I came to a conclusion that Bengali people of our generation have lost their ways, are adapting the western culture and throwing away their own. Most people, if you ask if they’re Bengali, they’ll simply reply with either they are American or won’t answer.
I have a feeling most of them are disgraced of their culture and race. As time progressed, it wasn’t just Bengali people losing their culture but it was also Indians and Pakistanis as well.
From there I have come up with meaning behind the name ‘Desi Desciples’.
We bring the pride of our culture and express it through Hip-Hop music. My brother and I are the disciples of this beautiful Desi culture.
To keep people updated, I’m the one who raps, mixes and masters the music; my brother Gais was the singer and producer of Desi Desciples. Just recently my brother didn’t want to take music that seriously as he previously had done, so now has become a contemporary artist.
Whenever I release anything solo or if Gais would release anything solo it would always be Desi Desciples Feat. Barz or Desi Desciples Feat. Gais. We are more into promoting the name Desi Desciples as a group rather than promoting ourselves as an individual.
TAD: When did you start your YouTube Channel and why?
IC: We have started our YouTube channel around the beginning of 2009. It started off as regular vlog videos and keeping people updated with our music, regardless of how low our fanbase was back in the day. But honestly, it was D-Pryde who influenced us to make a YouTube page in the first place – if it wasn’t for D-Pryde, Desi Desciples wouldn’t be on YouTube.
TAD: What influences your sound?
IC: Our sound changes throughout every year. I remember we were remixing more songs than creating original ones. If people are listening to our new material now, you can hear a HUGE difference in our sounds. We are incorporating new sounds such as sampling very old and classical Hindi or Bangla songs and adding that Atlanta trap-feel to it -Basically taking a classic record and just flipping the whole style completely. Mixing Hindi samples with trap music isn’t something anyone’s ever done so I hope to pioneer this whole new style to upcoming producers.
To me, my lyrics have become more enigmatic and more mystic, taking the southern slang and changing it to pure poetry. My lyrical themes are really different from what other rappers rap about. My main themes are mostly about the desi people in America, religion, the world we live in, political, and extreme braggadocios.
TAD: Why do you think there aren’t more Bengali rappers out there?
IC: Well, there’s a good handful of Bengali rappers in Bangladesh, but in America, definitely not. From what a lot of people tell me ‘rapping isn’t part of us’ or ‘we’re Bengali, we’re supposed to do something else’.
-It’s like a lot of people put boundaries on themselves thinking that it’s not for them.
I know they’re some good Bengali dudes that know how to spit, but I guess they want to focus more on career based things, and their favorite quote
“People can’t take a brown person seriously in hip-hop”
But my question is: why not?
The only Bengali rappers I know are some folks from California. Gamble, Celestial, Shugga Shane, the whole Crown Family are dope Bengali rappers – I would consider them The Wu-Tang of Bengali hip-hop. But here in Atlanta, not only am I representing Desis, I’m always representing Atlanta. Atlanta is REALLY hot in the Hip-Hop scene so I guess I’m going to fill that spot.
TAD: How important is sharing your message with others?
IC: Really Important. My songs are real; real life situations, real life struggle, the real question is:
–Can these people grasp the message and apply it on themselves? What I mean by that is if I’m rapping about being a proud Bengali in America, I expect all the Bengalis to be proud of who they are.
It’s like nowadays many Bengali people do not like considering themselves as Bengalis or whatever they are, and my message is, look at me, if I can represent, why can’t you? I want people to be proud of our culture our roots and where we come from. You’re Bengali, You’re Indian, You’re Pakistani, whoever you are stay true to your roots and value it.
TAD: Do you find it difficult to balance being Bengali with living (and growing up) in a Western environment?
IC: I honestly don’t because I was born and raised in the Western environment. I’ve adapted to their culture but at the same time my parents brought us up in a strict Bengali household. At the age of eight, my brother and I had already mastered reading and writing in Bangla. We also go to Bangladesh every two years.
TAD: How have you found people reacting to your music?
IC: People would usually come up to my brother and me and tell us: ‘Your music helped me out a lot’ or ‘Your music got me out of tough times’.
Other times, they would say something bizarre but I do respect and appreciate every meaningful comment I get.
There’s always negativity as well. Since there aren’t many Bengali rappers out there I was told that:
‘Rap is only for black people, you’re Bengali’
But I tell them to listen to the music, not the person who’s behind it, just listen. I love mixed reactions because the style of my production is different from everybody else.
Others find it really hard to believe that it’s me rapping or my brother singing.
TAD: Your new release is featuring Madina Rahman, the ‘Bengali Chick’. Tell us how you became friends with her and how this release came about?
IC: We’re really close friends since around 2009. We became friends through a mutual friend and she really looks up to me as an older brother type figure. When she started to make her covers on YouTube we always talked about linking up and making something original. So I was listening to Drake’s From Time and I really loved Jhene Aiko’s hook on the song; it reminded me of Madina’s voice. I made the beat, I showed it to her she liked it, went to her house, my brother helped her on the lyrics to what it is now: our hit song ‘On The Edge’. My brother and her are currently talking about doing a cover to a Hindi song which will eventually come out in the future soon.
Take a listen to ‘On The Edge’:
TAD: Where do you hope to be in 5 years and what can we expect from Desi Desciples?
IC: In 5 years I see myself as someone that made a difference to a generation through his music. I see people in 5 years listening to Desi Desciples everywhere. And I definitely don’t want to limit myself as a whole ‘desi’ thing, but expand so my music can reach to everyone everywhere, and hopefully this year can lead to big moves, soon to be bigger in the future. And what can people expect from Desi Desciples? Nothing but good music so when people see us they know who we’re representing.
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If you enjoyed this Chai & Chats, you may also like to read Chai & Chats with: Madina
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