Kathmandu: Prakash Neupane wrote his first song at the age of 16. It was, of course, a love song, written during the angsty haze of teenage. The song, titled Aaideuna (or “Please come over”), features energetic breakbeats and elements from the R&B, where the rapper-narrator wooes his girlfriend to come over, and sing and dance along with him. Though remarkable considering it was written by a 16-year-old aspiring rapper, the song was nothing different for Nepali hip-hop scene, or Nephop as it’s commonly called. It harkened back to an earlier, nascent period of Nephop when the songs usually revolved around girls and courtship. Today, the Nephop has moved on and so has Prakash Neupane.
Neupane, now 24, is one of the new crop of Nephop artists–and perhaps the most promising–who “diss” the country’s socio-political maladies in their songs. Neupane has taken aim at the corruption running rampant in the government and bureaucracy (Satta) and the unchecked police violence and discontents of parliamentary democracy (Bang Bang). In Arajak Niti, his subject is the brutal rape and murder of the 13-year-old Nirmala Pant, in 2018, the perpetrator of which, widely perceived to be protected by the bureaucracy, is still at large.
As most Nepalis would, Neupane professes that he has become “sick” of the country’s politics. As he raps in Arajak Niti, “Ma birami bhachhu/ yo rajniti ko gandha le/ Bagmati ko durgandha le” [I’ve become sick/ of this politics’ odor/ of the Bagmati’s stink].
If hip-hop emerged as a voice of disenfranchised Black youths in 1970s’ New York, in Nepal, it is mostly embraced by the urban middle-class youths and, initially, revolved mostly around girls, money, and marijuana. Nephop still remains the province of middle-class youths but the things the rappers choose to talk about has largely changed. Today, a large number of rap tracks revolve around politics and social injustice (though the deviations from this trend are not hard to find). Neupane’s catalog–of three albums and 40 songs–reflects Nephop’s turn to political awareness too well.
“The songs emerge from the frustration of observing political instability, rampant corruption, and social injustice rife in our society,” Neupane says. Neupane, as any artist would, hopes that his song would bring awareness among people and lead them to fight against injustice and inhumanity.
“For me, rap is an art of living and a source of inspiration for making life liveable,” he adds.
Neupane started out as a poet. He even bagged the winning prize at a national-level poetry competition. He turned to rap because it spoke to him more urgently, he says, coupled with influence from the renaissance in Nephop brought about by the Raw Barz, a rap battle league.
Artists like Mc Flo, Girish Khatiwada, and Manas Ghale were the early inspiration.
“The songs emerge from the frustration of observing political instability, rampant corruption, and social injustice rife in our society.”
Neupane says that researching is as important to him as writing the song. “Before writing any song, I pick up a certain theme, research about it and start filling words on it, then gradually provide beats to the words,” he says. His poetic past has helped, too; when Neupane faces a creative block, he turns to his diary, where he has a collection of poems, for inspiration.
The 2010s were the halcyon days for Nephop. A steady stream of promising talents have emerged and continue to. Neupane says he is happy with the “progessive” course Nephop has taken and believes that it will soon go global. But there are also songs and artists who create “meaningless” songs and vapid videos that undermine the scene. “I want to correct all those maladies and make a better version of them,” he says.
But the matters at hand now are more pressing. We are caught up in a pandemic and it has halted all recordings and shows and made many artists like Neupane financially weak. On the other hand, the pandemic also gave Neupane a quiet time and he has created a handful of songs for his upcoming album, ‘Mrityunjaya’ (literally, Victory over Death). He aims to release the album in a couple of months, if all goes well, he says.
Meanwhile, Neupane remains rightly angry with the status quo and political class. As he raps in Satta: “Janata ko ghau ma nun chuk nalagau/ janata lai aba timi dherai naruhau/ kanun boldaina yeha, bolchha rupaiya/ tara kina chhaina yeha aspatal ma shaiyya” [Stop adding salt to the people’s wound/ stop leading people to despair/ it is money that speaks here, not the law/ but why are there no beds in the hospitals here].