AMBICA NAITHANI | 20 JUNE, 2019
The Power Of Hip Hop with MC Kode
We speak to Aditya Tiwari ahead of our event on the indie music scene
TheCitizen.in is hosting a panel discussion on the independent music scene in India, on June 20th, 6 pm, at Oxford Bookstore, New Delhi. Aditya Tiwari, known as MC Kode to the world, is on the panel.
Find out more about the event here. We speak to Aditya about the underground rap battle scene in New Delhi. Read on.
Adtitya Tiwari’s first brush with hip hop was when his brother played a Lil Wayne track for him, but it was the movie ‘8 Mile’ that introduced him to rap battles and inspired him to start battling under the name MC Kode. Kode says, “The movie did inspire a lot of people, probably because at that time, you know the kind of music that was being made. There weren’t a lot of artists in the country that had something meaningful to say. But that’s the power of hip hop. That a middle aged white dude rapping about his problems connected with a brown kid across the world is beautiful.”
Aditya obsessively began studying hip hop. “I realised it was an ocean and most people had only discovered the first layer of it; that’s when I decided to completely drown myself in it”, he says.
Kode began battling in school in the 9th grade. He and his friends would gather around and start a cypher at recess or any free time they got. Remembering his school days, Kode said “I was going against 12th graders and I was the first one to step out there with a stage name. Back then the scene was so young that I had to create battlers to battle with because there was barely any one in the scene or a scene at all. Initially people didn’t really take it seriously but now I have a shit ton of messages saying they’re proud of me”
Kode informs The Citizen that the name MC Kode to him acts as a reminder of the ethical codes he has set for himself. He talks about how everyone has certain rules and how his name is a constant reminder to himself to stick to what he believes in. He says, “I like to think my codes are more ethical than the average entertainer. To me, they are like survival instincts. I also did a lot of coding back in the day so I guess it came around from there but turned into this.”
After having done more than eighty battles, Kode is a known name in the underground hip hop community. He is also one of the founders of Spit Dope Inc., a movement that organises battles to give underground hip hop a wider reach.
“There was a time when we were amateurs, wearing baggy clothes and battling it out on the streets. Anyone could put up a status on the internet calling people for battles. So I was at this cypher in Hauz Khas and there I met Encore ABJ and this other rapper MC Snub who invited us for another cypher and then we thought that if we’re meeting every week as is, why not do it under a name. That’s when we started Spit Dope and anyone could be part of it. All of it happened very spontaneously. Plus it was so unrealistic that something that started in Brooklyn was happening in an Indian context. I feel like it still hasn’t properly started because Spit Dope is not an entity, it’s a movement. It started with four boys battling it out in parks and then us having an event in Bombay that sold out.”
Reflecting on how things have changed Kode says, “We’ve all hustled. In the early years it was easier for me because I earned a lot through college competitions. I would win competitions and invest the money into the culture, in Spit Dope, to make it more efficient. I had a call centre job when it probably wasn’t even legal for me to have it. Calm was working as a promoter in Hauz Khas, so all of us struggled to make ends meet.”
Hip Hop has always been seen with a critical lens in the West and has been thought to have the potential to be detrimental to youth - a corrupting influence of sorts. However, in a purely Indian context, the same case could be made for Bollywood music which so outrightly propagates misogyny and violence. Rap, however, seems to be an easier target to criticise, because of how confrontational it is. Kode furthers this conversation by saying, “I don’t give a shit about recognition because we’re talking about hip hop. What I need is more disses more disrespect because that is what I compete on. My main job as a battle rapper is to make sure my opponent goes home and cries. But whatever is said in the battle stays in the battle; no one in that ring is taking it seriously. The ugliest things can be said and that right there is freedom of expression. The beauty of words is that at the end it’s just words and battle rap fans know that.”
Kode also makes music under different pseudonyms on his youtube channel named ‘Elevated Kode’. He describes his music as a way of letting out and expressing whatever he thinks is wrong around him. On being asked why he has not monetised his youtube channel, he answered, “I don’t want an algorithm asking you to listen to my music. In our times when everything’s bought, I don’t believe in paying money to put my content in the face of listeners. If anybody wants to listen to my music they will find it.”
Kode reiterates the value of being truthful and not getting carried away to cater to an audience for popularity. He says, “You see me with no makeup on. As long as the tomb stone says ‘artist’ - I don’t care about my CV or a job profile. And I generally have a problem with institutions because they slave us. When I stare at a notepad and listen to a beat I write what I want to. I want to make sure there’s no room for grey matter. I’ll only be vulnerable if I think of myself as vulnerable. If people are spending four minutes to listen to what I have to say then what I have to say doesn’t make me vulnerable; it’s only making me more powerful.”
MC Kode is currently working on a new EP and will be organising a Spit Dope Block Party very soon. You can follow his work on his youtube channel, Elevated Kode, or watch his battles at Spit Dope Inc’s youtube Channel.
Join us on June 20, 6 pm, at Oxford Bookstore New Delhi, as we discuss the independent music scene in India.