A place to shine for young Nephop artistsSabda Sangram, an upcoming virtual rap battle show, is making sure aspiring rappers have a voice.
There’s something about watching rappers battle with each other—the aggression and the swag sweeps you in immediately. It’s imposing and undaunting. And on Sabda Sangram, as rappers bash one another in a heated passion for rap, the rendition is compelling and the beats cleverly compulsive.
And over the months of the pandemic, the virtual rap battle programme has been amassing a lot of attention on the internet, especially on YouTube and Facebook.
“It’s been an incredible experience so far and quite different from what we expected,” says Ktm Souljah, the hip-hop artist who is one among the people behind the show.
Sabda Sangram manifested over the lockdown as a group of ardent hip-hop followers decided to do something to bolster the underground hip-hop scene. The idea was to bring together rap artists from across the country and engage them in intense expressions of themselves in a rap battle.
The programme seeks to help artists exercise their wordplay and understand the beats and harmony of rap. And following up its first season that started in June with its second one in October, the show has been perking up the rap culture in the country. For the organisers themselves their programme’s traction has been unexpected—and overwhelming.
“When things were quiet during the lockdown, Souljah said let’s do something together for the hip-hop scene. With the initiative we hoped to provide a platform for aspiring rap artists and keep the youth productively engaged amid a distressful time,” says Nita Pradhananga, the co-founder of the show, who is also the host. “We had not even expected a lot of participation—the programme was imagined on a small scale,” she says.
“It wasn’t an ambitious project to begin with. It was more like—let’s bring people together and let them experience something,” added Souljah. “But after seeing people’s expectations, we had to buckle up,” he said.
To their surprise, Sabda Sangram’s open call received over 200 application videos on their first season, with Nepalis participating from different corners of the country to India, Japan, the US, the UAE, Malaysia and Australia. Their second season saw over 300 applications.
Today, for the organisers, things have been moving quickly and with more significance than they had imagined.
“I think the listeners of rap and people interested in being rap artists are gradually growing in the country. For us this realisation of people’s interest has been very motivating,” says Souljah.
“This battle show also aims to encourage rappers to recognise rap battle as a genre they can explore themselves in. It’s not necessary that every rapper has to have a rap song, this genre too can have a scope and that has also been one of the ultimate goals of the show,” said Souljah, who has been promoting hip-hop for over a decade and he is also the vocalist of Tumbleweed Inc.
The culture of rap battle originated in the 1980s in the East Coast hip-hop scene and it emphasised complex lyrical wordplay and delivery than the beats itself. “Rap battles are known for expressing aggression and are confrontational. The genre of hip-hop itself originates from revolution and rap battles, a subgenre of it is expressive, defiant and even explicit,” says Souljah.
Sabda Sangram’s format, however, discourages the use of explicit words to encourage the participants to be more creative with their confrontations in their battles.
And because the battles are online, the programme has had a wide reach in terms of participation—from participants who are above 25 to people who have been closet rappers, Sabda Sangram has managed to give something different to participant’s experience. For many participants, the programme has allowed them to explore their interest in rap more deeply.
For 24-year-old Ankush Adhikari, aka WLF Kush, Sabda Sangram has been a memorable experience to enhance his rap career. “Before Sabda Sangram, I had participated in cyphers and freestyle battles as well and I thought the platform would be a good exposure,” said Adhikari, who won the first season.
Besides Adhikari, Sharmila Ghimire aka Everest Queen has also sweeped many people’s curiosity. The only female MC in the second season, Ghimire has cooly brushed her opponents with her feisty and frisky delivery.
“Sabda Sangram for me was a platform to express my aggression, emotion and stress. I also had sought participation to connect with people with whom I could work on my skills,” said Ghimire who is also one of the current participants of season 2 and a former participant of the season one of the show.
For both Adhikari and Ghimire, platforms like Sabda Sangram have been important for their exposure in the rap scene and for significant experience that contribute to their career in rap. “Programmes like these help us grow as artists, as it expands our horizons and gives an opportunity to artists like us. Moreover, it helps to foster the underground hip-hop scene,” says Adhikari.
Over the years, although the hip-hop scene of the country has gained firmer foothold, many artists and young hip-hop enthusiasts believe people still don’t get what rap means and that the hype has been more around celebratory rap figures. And for much of the time, the hip-hop scene is underrated and for emerging artists the journey to making a name in the rap scene is still challenging.
“But that is also why platforms like these are important to us, it helps us to explore more and break the set notions of how hip-hop is uncultured and freaky," said Ghimire. "For me, the exposure has also helped me find an audience and people to work with."
After Raw Barz, a freestyle battle league that brought together many Nepali rap artists like Laure, Uniq Poet and Sacar, the online rap battle programme in a music industry devoid of platforms for aspiring rappers has been a silver lining to test and work on themselves.
“The title I won in the first season means a lot to me and I believe it will open me to more avenues,” said Adhikari.
For the organisers, however, the programme still looks challenging for they have not received the support they wished they had. Despite the popularity of the battles—they are still struggling to find sponsors. “After the success of season one, we were hopeful about getting more support but that really didn’t happen. The fault could be on our part as well, on our outreach. But while the audience reception has been overwhelming, we can’t say the same in terms of the funding we hoped we would get for the programme,” said Pradhananga.
But Pradhananga, Souljah and the entire team of Mero Mazzako Karyalaya, who is behind the production of the rap battle, is hopeful that Sabda Sangram will mark a significant movement in the underrated hip-hop scene of the country. “I think it’s still very early to say we have become a platform already, but we do want to make Sabda Sangram an influential platform for aspiring rap artists,” said Souljah. “And we look forward to expanding and growing the rap scene.”