Sumukh Mysore aka Smokey the Ghost, began rapping when he was about 10 years old and hip-hop was not very well known in India. His venture into the world of hip-hop and rap music began by participating in online rap battles on Orkut. Since then, his music has come a long way, from working in commercial movies like Chennai Express and Byomkesh Bakshi to conceptualising the idea of a concept mixtape, Smokey is now going to release a new concept mix-tape called Her Name Is?
Sumukh began by explaining to us what Smoke the Ghost represents by calling it “an ambit moniker of monikers”. Since his raps emerge out of his observation, Smokey the Ghost is a culmination of his various alter egos and thus is open to interpretation. Smokey’s inspiration by far, for all the projects he has worked on, have primarily come from observing things around him -- he recalls a project in which he used the Indian Shlokas as part of the raps -- and the work of Western rappers like Eminem and other old-school rap artists like Rakim. His current project, Her Name Is? Was inspired by an incident he witnessed while travelling back from Kerala to Karnataka with a friend of his (a girl). While travelling they were subjected to the filthy behaviour of some unruly boys on the road who kept making obscene gestures at them. While Smokey himself did not feel enraged by it at first, his friend was deeply disturbed and reacted which made him realise that he could never understand how she felt like in that situation, because of his conditioned perception as a male. It led him to recognise that many other women faced more subtle forms of violence like this everyday which finally culminated itself through this concept mixtape, aptly named Her Name Is?, indicating the numerous unnamed women who are subjected to such undignified behaviour and are disrespected.
Smokey then elaborated upon the unique idea of a concept mixtape. While an album is generally called so because all the singles on it follow a coherent theme, a mix-tape is a combination of different kind of songs in terms of beats and music taken from different producers. A concept mixtape then, is an amalgamation of different kinds of music and songs, but they are based on different ideas emerging from the same concept, like the abuse of a woman’s identity in the case of Her Name Is? There is also an interrelation between the kind of beats he uses, for example, Smokey explains that “ In the first song called Love, I have used the sound of crickets, which signifies the nighttime, while in the song called Smile, I have used the sound of birds, which signifies the morning.”
According to Smokey, hip-hop/rap music is currently growing tremendously in India but he also believes that it is simultaneously spiralling down into a very niche space. He explains that hip-hop is a lot larger in terms of its implications than just the aspects of money struggles or the popular gully rap. As Smokey says, “maybe people will later realise that struggle exists more pan-society, and while hip-hop is struggle music, it is much more diverse.” He also pointed out the need for more managers and agencies to facilitate the growth of hip-hop in India in the right direction. With this interest he will soon be collaborating with other artists to begin a distribution service, also stating that more people should take responsibility of promoting their own art. Looking back at his own experience, Smokey rightly asserted that “ even about 5 years ago, my work wasn’t really looked at as a plausible career option”. He also brushed upon the importance of maintaining a balance between doing extremely commercial work, to gain money and working on more independent project as an artist. While in the West, artists like Drake can live off their royalties and work on independent projects closer to their artistic sensibilities, in India, such is not the case. He says that, “music as a whole in India needs something like a royalty system or a society that at least unifies the musicians’ point of view”
Having worked as a scientist for about four years, the importance of team work reflects in Smokey’s work with his collaborations. He points out that in India, individual musicians tend to remain individual, but behind every self made musician’s work there is a team involved, as he gave the example of Michael Jackson having Quincy Jones. Smokey even went so far as to say that it is the initiative that other people took in his music that really made all his projects become a reality. With collaborations, Smokey gets to learn a lot because different artists around him specialise in different kinds of music, like his collaborator Different is great at mixing songs. Even the album artwork is a collaborative project as the artist Abhishek Chowdhury listens to a lot of lo-fi music from where the artwork for Her Name Is? emerged.
Smokey the Ghost
Our conversation with him ended by him telling us about how live performances have now taken a precedence over recording music for him because there is actual connection between the artist and the audience and instant feedback is received by the former. Smokey the Ghost has continually been performing some amazing live shows. He recalls one in particular at a place called Cloud Nine in Shillong which has proved to be the most memorable one for him so far. He also told us that his personal favourite track from Her Name Is? Is Smile, that is based upon the nervous smiles that people exhibit to avoid the times when they are made to face some sensitive issues related to women’s identity. Since the Bangalore Electronic Scene is really flourishing, Smokey the Ghost is now looking forward to incorporate concept rap into the electronica scene and has many projects lined up after Her Name Is? with other artists like Aerate Sound, Malfunction and Sandeep Madhavan.
TEXT NIDHI VERMA