© Ali Bharmal
A-Gan: Being mentored by the OGs of Indian hip-hop was best thing for us
The winner of Red Bull Spotlight 2020 talks about what he learnt in the competition, his plans for the future and his dream collab opportunities.
Red Bull Spotlight is a hunt for India’s next big rap star.
The 2020 edition of the competition was won by Anbu Ganapathy aka A-Gan, a 21-year-old MBA student from Chennai who raps in Tamil. He was announced the winner by a judges panel of DIVINE, Emiway Bantai, Naezy and Dee MC, after mentor sessions with reputed artists of India’s underground hip-hop scene like Sez On The Beat, MC Kode, D’Evil, Dopeadelicz, Brodha V and Sofia Ashraf.
As winner of Red Bull Spotlight 2020, A-Gan now gets a chance to record a full-length album in a professional recording studio, support to plan its release, a music video and more.
As he soaks in the adulation of winning Red Bull Spotlight, A-Gan reflects on his time in the sessions in Mumbai, his favourite moments from the series, his collaborations with other Red Bull Spotlight finalists, and his plans for the album and a career in music.
What were your first thoughts when you won Red Bull Spotlight?
It was quite a surprise because I never thought that I would win it. I just wanted to perform and enjoy the show. I wanted to give my best but winning was a big surprise for me, because the other contestants like Loud Silence, Siyaahi, and others were pretty good. So I just wanted to do my best and I’m glad I won.
How does a competition like this help young rappers like you?
It’s really great because the mentors like Dopeadelicz, Brodha V, Dee MC and others, they are the OGs of the Indian scene. So them mentoring us is a big thing for us. They have faced many struggles and they know what is happening in the music industry. So people like them mentoring us is the best thing to happen to us.
What did you feel about the format of Red Bull Spotlight? Did you learn a lot from the workshops and mentor sessions?
It was a dope competition. Before everything started – the shoot of the series and episodes – we knew a few details about what was going to happen. Once we got into the shoot, we just had to go with the flow.
Every single thing happened live and we experienced it [just as it was shown]. The mentors were very supportive and Seedhe Maut were very supportive. So it was pretty cool.
Can you give us a little bit of background on when and how you started rapping?
I started rapping in 2018. The reason why I started is because I’m a big fan of Eminem and I was inspired to rap. The song ‘Stan’ by Eminem really impacts me because I love the story, content, what he is saying in his rap. I really relate to it. I love hip-hop music so much, especially the old school era. That’s why I started writing rap. I’m an introvert. I’m always the most silent guy in the group. Rap helps me to show my other face, like A-Gan is another person inside me. I want to express that so rap really helps me to do that.
How would you describe your style of rap? How does it help you represent where you are from?
I talk about society because I’m in this society where I’ve seen a lot of things that really depress me. I feel bad about some issues and rap is a medium in which I convey my emotions. So I say whatever I feel in rap.
I personally faced some issues – related to my caste and religion – which really bothered me, and I didn’t know how to express them. So I decided to express them through my art. That’s what I’m doing. So my rap is more about myself, how I feel and view society as a whole, and how I feel in the world. So that’s what is A-Gan.
But I also do it in a more comical way. I don’t want to get into just a serious vibe; if I have to then I will do it. But I’m more of a chilled guy.
For example, how I feel about the rap industry in Tamil Nadu is expressed in this one minute song I did in which I trolled everyone. In the video I am a character who gives advice to young rappers; I tell them five rules on how to become a famous rapper. It was my way of sarcastically criticising some rappers in Tamil Nadu who say you have to make a commercial hit song, or talk about love, or accomplish this-and-that, or rap for movies, all so they feel people can recognize them as rappers. They don’t think there is a place for independent rappers. So I trolled them in a comical way with this song.
Are you working towards making music your main career?
I never thought I would win Red Bull Spotlight. So I don’t have a plan. I had thought that I’m going to participate in Red Bull Spotlight and give it my best. And after I finish my MBA, I’m just going to concentrate on my music.
In Tamil Nadu, as an independent artist, we can’t earn a lot in music right now because the hip-hop scene here is not that big. We do shows but we are not able to earn because we don’t get paid gigs. When I’m in Mumbai, I’m a little jealous because of how good the scene is. In Tamil Nadu, a lot of dope rappers are coming up right now so I hope in five years, it will get big.
Have you started working on your Red Bull Spotlight album? Have you thought of a theme or direction?
I think about this album all day and about what I want to do. Actually I’m going to drop an EP in April end; I was working on it through the pandemic so I’m going to drop a small EP first. And then I will work on my Red Bull Spotlight album. The album will be about who is A-Gan before winning Red Bull Spotlight and after getting the chance to shine, how A-Gan feels about it. So that’s what the album will be about.
Do you have any collaborations in mind that you want to explore in the near future?
Yes, definitely. I definitely want to collaborate with Seedhe Maut and already asked them for a collab because I’m a big fan. After I met them in Mumbai, I realized how cool they are. I really enjoy listening and vibing to Seedhe Maut’s music. So I want to collab with them. If I got a chance, I want to collab with Emiway Bantai. Since he knows Tamil, I really want to get him to spit a Tamil verse on a song with me. And definitely there are a lot more rappers I’d love to collab with if given a chance; DIVINE for sure, and Dopeadelicz, Dee MC.
I have some people in mind from Tamil Nadu also. Some rappers who are still underground and I want them to come in focus. I have a rap duo with my friend MC Devesh; for sure I want to collab with MC Devesh on the album. I want to collab with Asal Kolaar from Chennai, Thara Local Pasanga, a hip-hop group from Chennai, and Senthuzhan and Syan Saheer from Madurai.
Aside from when you were announced the winner, what was your personal highlight from Red Bull Spotlight?
There are a lot of moments. When I performed in episode 2, I wrote about struggles women face. When Sofia Ashraf explained the lyrics to the other mentors and Seedhe Maut, and when she said it was poetry, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear because that song is really personal to me. When she said she felt every word I was saying, that was a great moment.
Also in the fifth episode when Brodha V said, “If you perform this in Tamil Nadu, all of Tamil Nadu will go crazy.” When Brodha V says that, it is such a fucking legit moment for me.
And when Seedhe Maut said they loved me and they wished they understood Tamil just so they knew what I was rapping, that was also a huge moment for me. It was a big compliment for me.
You also did some impromptu collabs with other Red Bull Spotlight finalists on the side of the show. Can you tell us about those?
Yeah, there’s a song called ‘Night Show’ which Loud Silence, Siyaahi, MC Headshot, The Rhyming Man, and I did with another artist called Var!n. After shooting the fifth episode, we had a conversation and made this song. We came back to our hotel, came up with a concept, wrote the song, recorded it, and shot the video in the hotel, everything happened in one-and-a-half day. It is a bit of a dark, lo-fi beat.
And mostly the same gang, we hopped onto another track together when shooting the finale. That song is called ‘23’ and Var!n put it in his album. So that song has me, Loud Silence and The Rhyming Man, from Red Bull Spotlight.