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Interview: Breakthrough Bombay Emcee Nazz On His Debut EP ‘Bathroom Singer’ With Mass Appeal India, Consistency And Impact of Lil Wayne On His Lyricism

Photo: Nazz

Within days after the breakthrough Bombay emcee Nazz, born Nihar Hodawdekar, released his debut EP “Bathroom Singer” with Mass Appeal India, Culture Haze spoke to the fierce rapper about his brief project. The flagrant “Gully Ka Sher”, recognized across Indian rap music for his lethal lyricism and versatility, opens up about his early struggles, his historic partnership with Nas’ coveted record label and his extraordinary journey.

Amidst the interview, the top-tier Mumbai rhymer opens up about his thoughts on mumble rap, the impact of Lil Wayne & Divine on his artistry, his growing relationship with Mass Appeal, the sprawling collaboration “Godfather” with KSHMR & more.

Read our far-reaching conversation with Nazz below.

We’ve so much to talk about. However, before we begin, how’s everything in Bombay?

Hey man. Ah! So, I don’t live exactly in Mumbai but in Virar… its suburbs. It’s a little outside Mumbai. Everything’s well, brother. The EP just came out… I’m observing everything and sort of plotting my next move… more music and everything. While I always keep a batch of unreleased records with me, I’m also on the lookout for what my fans truly want to hear from me. So yeah, man. That’s what’s happening. 

Oh, wait! Are you already gearing up for new music?

Not exactly, but yeah. Haha. When I released “Kaale Kaarname”… in fact every single coming from me was in a different zone. Hence, I’m just observing the response from people on “Bathroom Singer” and I’ll work as per that. If people want me to experiment further… bring another distinct sound, I’ll do so. You’ll be surprised with the unreleased music I’ve at my disposal right now. There’s R&B… there’s drill… even jersey club too! So yeah, I’m just waiting for the reactions of my fans to come in… I want to make sure that I drop at the right time, you know?

Before we speak about your Mass Appeal debut, it would be interesting to reflect back on your rap career. You’re five years in now and have been making music even before that. When you started in 2019, did you anticipate this impact on Indian rap music? 

For sure, man. So, I started in 2015-2016… nearly 8 years now. I started emceeing at that time. In the earliest days of my career, I used to cover Bollywood tracks. However, I gradually shifted towards rap music. It was in 2018 that I released my first single… In fact, I have a lot of tracks on my YouTube which are kept private. So yeah, it was 2018 when the first single came out. 

I’ve been in talks with Mass Appeal since 2020 and was asked to share various unreleased demos at the time. It was an amusing struggle for me because I didn’t have any. Haha. At that time in my career, I was making music and releasing it every month and I have continued to do that for a very long time. Unlike other rappers, who released music once in three or six months, I was going back to back at it.

I didn’t have any unreleased demos to share with Mass Appeal back then. I did prepare and recorded some demos because I felt so strongly for the record label… you know, for its close association with Divine and Nas… but the partnership didn’t get through at the time. I further got involved with MTV Hustle and spent most of my time there. I was recognised by millions of people through my performances on that show. 

We’re going through your Spotify discography… it’s astounding. For us, 2020 felt like an interesting time in your career. Your first single was titled ‘Gaane Pe Gaane’, or ‘Tracks After Tracks’. You really meant it and went on to release 12 tracks that year. Speak to us about your mindset at the time. 

Since day one, I was damn clear about consistency. Not just music, I strive to be consistent in everything I do and it’s something I picked up from my ghettos and life experiences. In fact, “Gaane Pe Gaane” was released way later on Spotify because I wasn’t familiar with the streaming platform.

It was just YouTube for us. Even when you asked me about whether I’d come this far… brother, Hip-Hop itself was non-existent when we began. From 2016-2018, we just did it for the love we had for the art form. Nobody cared about money and just did it out of pure admiration for this genre. Hip-Hop as an industry didn’t exist back then and there were 3-4 rappers… Divine, Raftaar, Emiway… these were the guys who had the spotlight. Even Kr$na wasn’t as famous at the time and for us to perform lyrical rap music was purely out of love. 

So yeah, going back to our conversation, I just released music on YouTube and not on streaming platforms back then. I didn’t know much about Spotify or the streaming business. I thought musicians released tracks themselves and the platform picked it up. Haha! But as I got older and gathered more experience, I understood DSPs and began releasing music through Distrokid. That’s how “Gaane Pe Gaane” surfaced on Spotify and other platforms.

“Kya Bolti Public” was the first track that blew up. It was a collaboration with Bombay Lokal’s Shaikhspeare and I learned a lot through that partnership. Me & Shaikh live quite nearby… I live in Virar and he’s from Nalasopara as you must be aware. We never thought it would perform so well because rap wasn’t as big as it is today. At the time, a million views felt like a hundred million and only Divine or Raftaar would pull off such numbers. We garnered nearly 150,000 views on “Kya Bolti Public” and it was so organic. After that, I dropped “Naake Pe Aake Dekh” and it went through the roof! 

And brother, if you listen to “Gaane Pe Gaane”, that track isn’t even mixed or mastered. When we recorded that track, we didn’t have any gears and did everything we could with what we had. I was just so hungry and hardworking and I remember releasing it at 1:00 A.M. Even during those late hours, my fans reached out to me and told me they loved the track. I even edited my music videos… all the tracks which led to my breakthrough… “Gaane Pe Gaane”, “Naake Pe Aake Dekh”, “Maut Ka Kua”, and “Bakasur”… they were all edited by me. I didn’t know how to do it but I learned all of it. Even though the track wasn’t mixed or mastered, I was like “f— it” and released it anyway. The track garnered nearly 10,000 views in an hour.

It was so huge for me and my career. I’ve never looked back since then. So yeah, brother… we got so far.

You didn’t have the resources to make music in the earliest days of your career. Even rap wasn’t established as a genre at the time. How did you keep yourself motivated and continue to pursue this art form?

Oh, it was hard for all of us. I edited my music videos… and deeply involved myself in every aspect of the work I was putting out because I didn’t have money to pay for many things. None of us did. However, I love music and it genuinely made me happy. I just didn’t give up.

Since day one, I have had a gut feeling that I’ll get through everything and will get what I want one day. I’m still quite far from my goals but I’ve a firm belief system. Even to this day, I feel low when my tracks may not perform like I thought they would… but I always pick myself up and keep on moving forward. There’s no point in giving up.

Even when “Haqeekat” dropped yesterday, I was prepared for the worst. If the track received less recognition, I would still be in the studio and release a more lethal track next month. It doesn’t matter. I’ve seen so much by now, brother. Nothing affects me. 

It’s admirable to see how you still hustle like you just started. Even though you’re one of the top-tier rap artists in the game right now. Let’s talk about your debut EP ‘Bathroom Singer’. How was the process of making this project different from your other bodies of work? You’ve released 42 singles before releasing this EP with Mass Appeal. Since you’ve dropped so many singles, it must’ve felt like breaking a habit to you? 

“Bathroom Singer” isn’t my first EP in its truest sense. A year ago, I released the “Orphan” EP. But yeah, I wouldn’t call it a coherent project and it featured a few sporadic singles… they weren’t connected. 

However, “Bathroom Singer” was a whole other ballgame for me and it’s also very personal. Back in 2016, I used to cover Bollywood tracks as I told you.

At the time, my friends and loved ones often praised my work and covers but few people also criticised me. I remember someone commenting “Bathroom Singer” on one of my covers to mock me and that didn’t sit well with me. It was also my first experience with destructive criticism or trolling and I resolved to make a project like this and name it “Bathroom Singer”. 

I also reached a down low ahead of this EP. When I hit rock bottom, I went back to my melodic roots and just hit record. “Bakasur” was made then and amidst the phase I was going through. I had even stumbled across a subreddit which said that “Nazz is the worst thing to happen to DHH”. It hurt me and I was on the lookout for whoever started that conversation.

People often forget that artists are human beings too, you know? I felt very low and released tracks like “Nazariya”. Ever since then, I wanted to do melodic tracks and respond to trolls and their disturbing negativity with a project such as this. 

So yeah, both of these experiences led to “Bathroom Singer” with Mass Appeal. 

Stream “Bathroom Singer” EP by Nazz via Spotify as you continue to read our exclusive interview.

How do you take criticism now? 

Oh, I have always been okay with constructive criticism. I self-criticise often and find ways to make myself better. In fact, criticism is extremely crucial. It’s the baseless trolling and hate which truly bothers me. I mean, I’ve seen people who are good for nothing hate me or purposely try to bring me down. It makes me sick ‘cause I’ve worked really hard to be here. We, as artists, invest so much of our time and money into projects and these trolls try to unnecessarily discourage us. I ain’t okay with that. However, I admire honest criticism. It encourages me in so many ways. 

Ahead of the EP, you released three massive singles with Mass Appeal – “Gully Ka Sher”, “Kya Boltay?” and “Gulaab Aur Kaante”. Were you planning an EP with the label at the time or did you first let the partnership grow & evolve through singles and then lock in this project ‘Bathroom Singer’? 

In the very beginning, when we announced the partnership and decided to drop “Gully Ka Sher”, of course, I felt heavily pressured about the track’s performance. It would stress me out in the beginning since it was my major label debut and everyone had so many expectations.

For “Gulaab Aur Kaante”, I was a bit hesitant to release it with Mass Appeal at first. Initially, I kept it aside for “Rest In Beats”… every single which has surpassed a million streams… whether it is “Maut Ka Kua”, or “Agar Mai Hota Bhagwan”“Bakasur” or “Heavy Driver”… all of these tracks were once set to be a part of “Rest in Beats”.

I remember sending a bunch of unreleased demos to Ranbir (Mass Appeal Executive) and his team and it didn’t work out in the beginning. They didn’t dig them at first and wanted a lyrical track. I hit my studio and sent them “Gulaab Aur Kaante” and that’s how the track came about.

So yeah, I have a lot of unreleased tracks at my disposal… they’re my trump cards which can astound anyone. If I may self-criticise myself, I didn’t like “Kya Boltay?” but my fans wanted it.

The relationship with Mass Appeal just evolved itself. There were no plans for an EP at first but once the tracks took off and performed well, we thought it would be a great idea to release “Bathroom Singer” and we executed it. The project also captured my versatility and pushed me as an artist too. Even “Kaale Karname” is so distinct from what I’ve done in the past and the project built further on that emotion. 

You’re 7 tracks in with Mass Appeal now. Do you still feel stressed out about your major label releases? 

Nah. My relationship with Mass Appeal is rock solid and very honest. Ranbir is more of a friend to me than a music executive. It’s very rare and you may not believe it but I talk to him every day. We both discuss our problems and achievements like friends and it makes the entire act of releasing professional music feel so wholesome… and not just him, every member at the label is family to me. I used to be quite hesitant before but not now. They also remind me of my calibre and act as a crucial support. At times, Ranbir has shown more confidence in me than myself and I truly cherish that. 

Did ‘Bathroom Singer’ EP originally have more tracks?

Yes, I sent Mass Appeal a bunch of demos. We dropped the title track altogether. Haha. The process of finally choosing these four tracks was damn interesting. 

Please speak to us about your influences. Mumbai’s rap scene is massive and extremely diverse. Whether it’s Andheri or the Vasai-Nalasopara-Virar suburb – the home to Bombay Lokal, JB Nagar and Dharavi of course, the rap scene is so vibrant. How was it growing up among so many rap artists? 

If I may be honest, I’ve often been private. I met Gravity during MTV Hustle and we’re good friends now but I was always a private kid and didn’t attend cyphers or social gatherings. However, I’ve now evolved as a person… I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone now. Previously, I wasn’t even aware of cyphers in Andheri and other places and was just figuring out my music… what I wanted to do with it. 

Anyway, I was heavily influenced by Naezy and Divine. They were just like me… like all of us and it validated my ambitions in music. I derived a strong sense of familiarity from their music… you know, low-quality video & audio but with top-notch raps and style. It truly moved me… and not just Divine or Naezy, Mumbai scene in general has influenced me heavily.

Globally, I’m remarkably influenced by Lil Wayne. His rhyme schemes, and reference games…they’re astonishing and have impacted my lyricism and musicality in many ways. 

When did you discover Lil Wayne’s music? 

Oh, it was through “Mirrors”… and ironically, I didn’t like the track but I loved Wayne’s attire in its music video. I was shocked to see the tattoos on his body and the whole persona. I remember one of my friends telling me that he’s one of the greatest rappers alive and I disagreed at first because I listened to so much of Choppa Rhymes… I didn’t even consider Wayne’s flow as an actual rap flow.

However, once I dived into his discography and began understanding his lyricism, I was in awe. He’s a ghetto intellectual, you know? It was hard for me to not appreciate his music after that. I strive to match his lyricism and reference game whenever I sit to write music in Hindi or my vernacular. 

Disses are really out there in rap music right now. You’ve dissed mumble rap on ‘Dharmendra’ – the 3rd track on your EP. Why so? Please speak to us about that record. 

The jabs weren’t personal. Haha. I enjoy mumble rap myself and listen to it sometimes. It’s very crucial and I would say a modern side of rap music and it’s fine by me. I even listen to various mumble rappers in India too. So, I don’t condemn mumble rap because I’ve grown up listening to lyrical geniuses like Wayne… it isn’t the way I think. These are just shots, man. Hip-Hop is competitive, right? Even on “Agar Mai Bhagwaan Hota”, or “If I Was a God”, I’ve dissed mumble rap but it’s just wordplay. Nothing personal. 

Maybe the track title “Dharmendra” makes the listener feel like I’m giving a strong personal opinion on mumble rap but it’s not so. Dharmendra was my father’s favourite actor and I named it after my dad’s admiration for him. 

Or maybe because I was beefing with a rapper recently. Haha. It’s all cool, man. Mumble rap… or any other genre… just do your thing and let me do mine. However I would say one thing though, I don’t like corny mumble rap. I see one popular mumble rapper and hundreds of other rappers are following suit but they’re doing it so badly… it’s laughable and hurts my ears. Don’t do that, brother. Just ‘cause it’s easy to do mumble rap doesn’t mean that anyone can do it. We’ve to protect rap as an art form too.

You also worked with KSHMR on ‘Karam’. The ‘Godfather’ track went hard. What was it like working with him?

It was amazing to work on “Godfather”. It was so natural and organic. After KSHMR played the beat to me on a Zoom call, I started recording some raw vocals and the term ‘Godfather’ just hit me outta nowhere and everybody loved it. 

Interestingly enough, “Godfather” wasn’t the track that I was supposed to be on. It was ‘Zero After Zero’… the one with a feature from Kr$na. Originally, it was supposed to be me and another artist on that record. I won’t tell you who. Haha. So yeah, I wrote the verse for “Zero After Zero” and as KSHMR and Ranbir were putting together the album, he thought that it’d be great to have me on a separate record altogether. Even the songwriting was so natural and the references on that track were part of the humourous conversations we had… I remember it was me, & Ranbir just sharing a laugh about Jackie Shroff’s viral clip we came across and that’s how we got “In saare tigers ka father mai, scene ka mai Jackie Shroff” bar on that track. It was him who compelled me to write something around it and that’s easily one of the most notorious bars I’ve ever written.

I felt so honoured to have a track of my own on KSHMR’s album. 

We were surprised to see you Panther’s mixtape ‘Flying Towards The City’. That collaboration was not expected by many. 

Me & Panther met during MTV Hustle and I admire what he does. In fact, he sent me Bemisal’s beat around that time and I had written a brief verse too. It was a matter of time before the track came together. 

Your name is often misunderstood by Mass Appeal’s founder Nas. Now, you have a track with his label. Did you manifest this or foresee it? 

Oh, man. It’s a wild coincidence. I was named Nihar005 in the earliest days of my rap career though. However, my friends told me I needed a better stage name… like Raftaar, Badshah and all these big rappers have… and that’s how Nazz came about. Man, but it’s also hilarious how people often even confuse me with Nas.

On his debut album, Divine gave Nas his flowers and people thought that he referred to me and stormed my DM. Haha. It was so hard for me to clear the air around the whole confusion at that time. I often tell people about Nas and his impact on rap music. If you don’t know who Nas is, do you even listen to Hip-Hop? 

Any words for your fans who will be reading this interview? 

We’ll go so far together. My music is for you and is a way through which I thank you for your support. There are many big things left to accomplish… I haven’t even started. If you love my music, share it… if you don’t, tell me and never hesitate. Artists are human beings too and we do make mistakes. Also, keep listening to my music. I do this for you. 

Since you’re here, watch the exclusive “Haqeekat” visual cut by Nazz below.