Her first Indian rap song, Ek Glassy, in 2007 is considered an alcohol anthem in India. She is gutsy, bold and free-spirited. Meet India’s only female rapper, Hard Kaur. Born Taran Dhillon in Kanpur, Kaur moved to the UK with her family after the 1984 Sikh riots. As a young girl, Hard Kaur was fascinated by dancing more than music. So how did rap and hip-hop happen? “I was 12-years-old when I first watched hip-hop on MTV,” she recalls. “They were saying what they wanted to say. This is how I wanted to express myself and let off steam. There was a lot of pain after my father’s death. Moving to a new country was not easy.” In school, she drew a lot of support from the African-Arabic girls, who least expected an Indian girl to rap. “This was a genre of music that wasn’t considered respectable by the Indian community,” explains Kaur, who considers Queen Latifah her biggest inspiration.
The turning point in Hard Kaur’s life came when she turned 16 and was ready to release her first single. “Haay! Kaaliaanda music! Tenu darr nahi lagega? Log kya kahenga?, (Music of the Africans! Aren’t you scared? What will people say?)” was her mother’s initial reaction. She received a lot of flak from the Indian community in the UK. “Music is not what you should do. Why don’t you get married, open your legs to your husband, make babies and be in the kitchen. That is what Indian women should do,” the Indian boys, in the UK would scorn. Initially her brother Fatz co-authored lyrics and rapped with her but he couldn’t endure the rejection from his Indian friends. Taunts and disapproval forced her out of her passive skin. So was born Hard Kaur.
Hits and Hypocrisy
She went on to perform her first show in the UK, at 17. She was garnering respect among non-Indians at rap battles in Israel, Russia and Europe. But Indians would gather outside her home, knock deafeningly on the door and threaten her, “Apne aapko kaali samjhti hai? (You consider yourself an African?!)” Shows were being cancelled as male counterparts would ask show organisers, “Why are you booking a girl? Book a boy troupe.” Unexpectedly, her mum didn’t let Hard Kaur give up and suggested that she compose an Indian fusion song. Hard Kaur resolved to write a song that would be banned. Surprisingly, Ek Glassy was a huge hit with the Indian community, “Here I am, showing cleavage, talking about alchohol and you think I am good,” she laughs.
Rapping for a Cause
Hard Kaur now faces challenges of a different kind. “Indian male rappers don’t want a female rapper to top music charts. It’s a man’s world, after all,” says Hard Kaur. Two successful albums and several Bollywood hits later, Hard Kaur spits confidence, “I wanted to educate India about rap.
Today even a rickshaw-wallah knows to rap. My job is done.” Hard Kaur has composed a rap song for MTV Coke Studio’s upcoming season where she jams with music director Ram Sampath and folk singer, Bhanwari Devi. The track emphasizes women empowerment and the need for women to rise above. “Believe in yourself. Be tough, never quit,” she shouts out to her species.