Naezy with his fans at a live performance

Naved Shaikh aka Naezy: Through hip-hop, as a Muslim, I can express how I feel

By Shunashir Sen

Updated: Feb 16, 2019, 14:50 IST

Hip-hop star Naezy opens up about his bond with his grandfather, his conflict as a Muslim rapper and apprehensions about Gully Boy

The last scene in Gully Boy, released two days ago, shows the lead character Murad's father teary-eyed with joy while watching him debut as a rapper on stage, as an opening act for Nas, the American hip-hop legend. And this one image itself should dispel any notion of Murad — played by Ranveer Singh — being a true-to-life cinematic avatar of Naved Shaikh, aka Naezy. He isn't. Yet, when we were walking into the hall to watch the movie, we overheard a boy saying, "Yeh toh woh DIVINE aur Naezy ke life pe story hai, na?" "Haan," his companion answered. But she'd got it wrong. The plot is only a "shout-out" to the two musicians, and the misperceptions doing the rounds have made Shaikh jittery ever since his name came to be associated with the big-ticket Bollywood film.

But before we get to the reasons behind his apprehension, let's clarify why that scene reveals how this movie isn't a biopic. Let us place Shaikh in his Kurla home in his childhood years. Here we have a boy whose father left for Dubai when he was only eight months old. His granddad, thus, assumed the role of the male parental figure. "I used to follow everything he did, and saw how he always raised his voice against injustice. There was this typewriter he had on which he'd write a letter to the corporator if, say, a water pipe burst in our gully. And he was also the guy who sent me to a convent school and taught me Urdu at the same time. So, I'd say my music became possible only because of him — I'd listen to all these English rhymes and then have the ability to translate them to fit our own culture," Shaikh says sitting at the mid-day office, adding that the politics in his verses, too, are a result of his grandfather inculcating the habit of reading newspapers like Inquilab in him.

Naved Shaikh. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

When he did start writing poetry around 2013, however, his family would have none of it. Rap music is considered haram in Islam. Shaikh is a practising Muslim with devout relatives. And his parents — his father, especially — were hence dead against his chosen calling. "They are really scared of the hip-hop world because of its image," he says, pointing out that others in their community also started tut-tutting about how, in pursuing his music, Shaikh was failing his religion. It's an unavoidable conflict, really, which is the reason behind his father having mixed feelings about the 25-year-old's profession even today, despite all the fame and success he's achieved.

And that's where Murad differs from Naezy. The former ultimately found acceptance at home. But the latter is still waging a battle that's far tougher than any rap cypher he's ever taken part in.

So, partly to resolve this existential crisis, Shaikh took off for Dubai in 2017 (which is when people started speculating about his disappearance from the "scene"). There, he started a journey of self-discovery. He read as much as he could. He listened to rap incessantly. And crucially, he met Islamic scholars with a progressive bent of mind who helped ease the internal struggle that hip-hop had saddled him with.

"I asked them how, being a Muslim, I can also be an artiste, a rapper. And they were like, 'If you want to pursue this career, you can. But you also have to manage the negative things that come your way. You have to be like a blinkered horse, just focusing on your work. The industry isn't clean. So choose good people, stay wise, and keep your image neat,'" Shaikh says, adding, "But at the end of the day, they also said, 'You can't keep doing this forever because the money coming in from music isn't halal. There's no solution since it's written clearly in the Quran. So if you want to obey it, do so. But if you don't, it's between your God and you.'"

In the same breath, he asserts that he's not an orthodox Muslim. And he says, "Futuristically, I think it's really important for a Muslim guy to come up with the sort of thoughts I have and spread this message through music. What's happening with all the Islamophobia around us is that people perceive Muslims in a [negative] way. But through hip-hop, we can express what we feel and talk about the suppressed emotions that we face as a minority community."

Now, that voice that the musical genre offers the marginalised has been catapulted into the mass consciousness thanks to Gully Boy. The film has received rave reviews. But, Shaikh remains concerned about the impact that it will have on him in his immediate surroundings. He isn't Murad, after all. Yet, like the boy walking into the hall with us, people are assuming that both share the same story. "The plot hits personal chords; it shows my dad marrying a second woman, for example. So, if people assume it's my biopic, it will be a problem for me in my locality, and among my friends. That's something which makes me feel really negative [about the situation] and even though I am not talking to people about it, I am really stressed about the issue," Shaikh reveals about a film that, at the end of the day, is a fictionalised story about gully rap in Mumbai that really is nothing more than a mere "shout-out" to DIVINE and Naezy.

Also Read: Did rapper Naezy take offence to Zoya Akhtar's 'hardcore feminists' statement?

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