When Delhi-based emcee and record producer Dhruv Rajpal a.k.a. DRV released his infectious sophomore LP ‘Nakshatra’, he elevated his stature in Indian Rap music to the highest level. A 13-track testament to his remarkable eye for rap, bass, provocative drill and grime, the young emcee manifested a hard-hitting and intensely personal record. However, DRV didn’t just get to this point with ease. A debut LP, collaborative EP and an insane amount of studio time set the stage for what he still calls a “bridge” for everything forthcoming.
We caught up with the emcee, who often stays low-key about his business, for a far-reaching conversation.
What pushed you to have a career in Hip-Hop music while growing up? How complex has that gradual process been for you personally?
I didn’t plan on having a career in Hip-hop or even music while growing up. I grew up playing and listening to many different kinds of music, heavier metal/rock sounds dominated my soundscape. Early years of university were when I discovered the beauty of Hip-hop culture. The turning point was when I first discovered DIVINE, Prabh Deep and the Azadi gang, and Loka and the Mumbai scene (c. 2017-18). I felt relatability like never before which turned my life upside down. For the first time ever I knew exactly what I needed to do. It was like the universe talking to me.
Any experiences in and outside of music which has influenced your sound and perspectives towards this genre?
Life and travels are the most important inspirations in all of my music. Everything I see, hear and feel makes its way into my music in some form. It’s not always literal.
You’re two LPs deep in your career. As an independent artist, how difficult is it for you to continue your artistic pursuits without much commercial backing?
I’m thankful for being blessed enough to be able to sustain my life through music. Navigating the music business and creating value is something I enjoy. It was definitely challenging initially but overcoming that is something my team and I pride ourselves in.
Your recent LP ‘Nakshatra’ is a psychedelic reaffirmation of your unique sound. However, ‘Nakshatra’ is a solid departure from your self-titled debut. While the debut LP relied heavily on classic snares & 808s and auto-tunes, ‘Nakshatra’ sounds like a multi-faceted record which is sporadic yet put together so well. Were those creative decisions deliberate or it just came about naturally?
Most definitely deliberate. I wanted to do things differently for Nakshatra. The first one was the type to have just happened. After this, I knew I had to top it mostly in the context of writing but also the production. I wanted more grit. Less flash. More real. More raw. The only reason there was a gap of two years and a half between the first and the second LP was that I wanted to really go in on the writing and break that glass ceiling. It wasn’t about melodies it was about the stories. It wasn’t about autotune as much as the first record. Matter of fact, the Nakshatra era is when some tracks won’t even have autotune on the vocal chain.
The track list on ‘Nakshatra’ is outrageous. Having ‘Sapne’ right after ‘Zaaya’ is a controversial artistic decision to make. Almost similar to when Kendrick Lamar put ‘We Cry Together’ right after ‘Rich Spirit’ on ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’. No one saw the passive-aggressive(ness) coming. Was the provocation intended?
As with every journey, provocation comes unannounced. It’s made to make you feel uncomfortable but if you truly think about it, the album only seeks to mirror reality.
The self-titled opening track on Nakshatra is a deeply personal record. You introduced your sophomore album with rare vulnerability and rapped about the lack of affection for you from your own home. What compelled you to express yourself with such honesty?
It had to be a layered writing style which delivers the concept as impactful as it can. The vulnerability is not necessarily my own but depicts the vulnerabilities of the human experience. That line was about the vulnerability of the young Prince who left home and set out to find god. It had to be vulnerable.
Nakshatra felt too big for an underground rap LP. However, when you put out such an extraordinary record independently and it doesn’t come close to commercial rap and big label-backed artists in terms of numbers, how does it make you feel? Do you feel bothered by the gap in recognition in the scene?
No, bro like not at all ’cause before this LP, we dropped ‘Hot Sauce’ with Universal… that’s a major. So, I’ve been doing those record deals and making money off of this music shit for a while now. So, I didn’t feel like it didn’t come out like it was supposed to. It was more like, Nakshatra was the record for me that sort of bridged the gap from ‘underground’ to fuckin’ mainstream. This is the record that people are going to look back to and the impact is already there. Now, there are kids who listen to Nakshatra and get inspired to make music. This is that record.
However, I do get what you’re saying. The album dropped on the same day as Divine’s Gunehgar and might instil that feeling in any artist. But obviously bro, it won’t pull the same number as Divine or a Raftaar album. They have been doing this shit for over ten years. So, they drop records from the above on platforms. Artists like me, who are just coming up… we drop it from below and push it forward. But at the same time, the audience would put Nakshatra in the same conversation as Gunehgar.
How have you grown as an artist over the years creatively? Do you’ve some role models that you still look up to when writing and performing music?
I actually finish projects now. (laughs) Consistently dropping music is also something I feel more responsible towards now. Artists who’ve walked this path before me – the OGs are the closest to role models in music. Many outside of music as well.
Does making music begin to feel taxing and a liability at some point? How do you deal with the mental health aspect of having a rap career in India?
I never force it. I’m comfortable with the idea of not making music if I don’t want to. I genuinely feel like this rap career is good for my mental health. It gives me purpose and drive.
How did the lead single ‘Fark Nahi Padta’ for ‘Farzi’ come about? How did you put together your vision for the project? This was, perhaps, the first big project with artists outside of rap music.
Well, I just got a call from my team that Sachin Jigar sir wanted my voice on a track and they wanted to do a dope rap record. A couple of producers were on board already and they had an in-house team in place. They had listened to ‘Coco’ before and they wanted a new school Hip-Hop record for an Amazon Prime series. I didn’t know which one it was at the time but I was amazed.
After that, I got on a call with Jigar sir who sent me a record from scratch. He gave me a great lyrical brief which totally went with my vibe as an artist. He briefed me about how my creative perspective about the record should be that I don’t really care and nothing can affect me. They sent a demo across with someone else’s voice on it… I think it must’ve been Nikhil Paul George at the time. So yeah, I just got on the track. It took me, perhaps, two hours to get the whole thing together. I’m glad it turned out so well. That was cool.
Can you please speak to us about your recent single ‘First Time’ with Qaab & Darcy?
For sure. So, that’s the track with me, Qaab and Darcy on it. The record is produced by Skyie Beats… he has been a longtime collaborator and produced a lot of beats on Hot Sauce EP. It’s more like an easy in-and-out record. Qaab and me saw this collaboration coming. We’ve known each other for a while now and I fuck with his music. He has been releasing music since 2017 and that’s how I know of him. It was a long time coming and we just wanted to start with a single and see where it goes.
Is this single fresh or you and Qaab had been sitting on it for a while and sort of just taken a backseat amidst ‘Nakshatra’?
No, no it ain’t like that. I was supposed to be on Qaab’s record ‘Violette’ as well. However, that couldn’t happen since I got busy. I really wanted to get that verse in but we just had a week before the album was released for distribution. I was at the album release party and we just knew that we had to have a record together. So yeah, he just pulled up to my studio and we made this record. It was easy bro and Skyie sends me beats regularly. I know him as a producer and understand his perspective way before anyone else when we’re working together. It was dope.
More often than not, you choose to stay away from public appearances. Our publication has taken note of it several times. You’re either on the streets of Los Angeles or putting in studio time for days in Delhi. Why is it so?
Most of my days are at my home studio in Delhi, I love to travel and go everywhere life takes me. As for public appearances – I’m not invited as much as you would think haha.
Well, about studio time, you’re just fresh off a dope record. Are we looking at more from you in the coming times or you’re just takin’ a back seat for a while and watch where Nakshatra and two massive singles go?
It’s a collaborative mixtape with Boyblanck, a young artist from Noida. I’ve been listening to his music for a while now. His work for an upcoming Anurag Kashyap film interested me and we made ‘Court Kacheri’ at the time. A collab tape only felt right. It’s at the mixing stage rn, coming in hot.
You must be familiar with what’s going on between MC Kode & Encore. There have been scathingly personal comments which do impact Rap music to a certain degree. For many, it even sends a concerning message about Indian Rap music as a whole. How do you feel about it?
I think addiction should be taken more seriously. Not just within the underground hip-hop scene but… I mean it’s real life as we know it… it’s real people and not just people who listen to Hip-Hop or are part of the culture. It’s something that we gotta be careful about.
About Kode and Seedhe Maut, they obviously share a legacy and props go to Kode for what he has done for the battle rap culture here. At the same time, it’s sad when brothers fall apart. That’s where differences come from and some people just choose a different path.
Any words for your fans and everyone who is reading this?
All of this is possible because of you – the fans and listeners. I’m thankful we were able to build a community around this, it means the world to me.
Playboi Carti or Lil Uzi Vert – if you had to choose one, who would it be?