How New York-based Indian rapper Shiv bagged the track Hayati, in Mani Ratnam's Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
It WAS a movie that had a star entourage of the biggest actors from the Tamil film industry. With elements like adrenaline, action and betrayal, Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam was one of his most profitable film in the last 15 years. At the helm of its music was musical genius AR Rahman who brought in a mix of Western classical, traditional Tamil lyrics and even rap. Bringing in the rap element is New York-based rapper Shiv Vaishnav, who makes his Tamil singing debut with Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. The rapper, who just turned 30, sang the very Mediterranean track named Hayati, which soon became a club favourite.
“I have known Rahmanji for years, and have always updated him on my music and new projects,” says Shiv. “He is the ultimate king of knowing who will sound good on what track, so he called me up randomly one evening to ask me if I could rap on a song of his. Within two days, my portion of the song was recorded.” Born and brought up in Long Island, New York, Shiv’s initial influences were old school favourites like Jay Z and Eminem, who around the late 1990s were just establishing themselves. “I eventually started writing my own lyrics when I was 15 years old and then started recording in 2009. By 2015, I had released some material already.” Shiv’s sound is reminiscent of the late ’90s and early 2000s era of hip-hop, with melodic hooks, lyrical content and simple beats. He also loves switching between styles of rap within the same song, sometimes even within the same verse.
International or Indian, rappers are said to have a certain degree of swagger — something that defines their style and overall persona. Ask Shiv about the same and he says, “I think that’s an integral part of rap culture, to have a certain fashion sense that fits your style of music.” Shiv goes on to call himself as the ‘Dapper Rapper’. “(Laughs) What I mean by that is that I was raised in the suburbs, in a middle class family so I wanted to remain true to my roots so as not to be disingenuous to myself or others. I keep it simple, but I don’t leave home without my loafers!”
So has he met the legendary duo of AR Rahman and Mani Ratnam together? “Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Mani sir, but I have met Rahmanji many times. He is so sharp and has such a wicked sense of humour. The only thing he asked me to do was have fun with the song. That was really all he said before I recorded Hayati.” With rappers like J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kid Cudi and Russ on his top 10 rappers list, we ask Shiv what he understands of rap culture in Tamil cinema, given that last year has seen hits like Kabali which had a heavy influence of rap music. “I learnt a lot only after I had already completed this song, but what is happening in Tamil Nadu is amazing. I am new to the rap culture in Tamil cinema, but after the response to Hayati, I was curious myself! In that search, I came across the duo of Hiphop Tamizha, who I learned are the pioneers of Tamil hip -hop, and I love seeing how rap and hip-hop can be so different yet so similar in various parts of the globe.” Ask him what’s next on his list and he mentions producing music. “I plan to make my own compositions, and be a one-stop shop for my own work!”