Divided by Gullys, United by Hip-Hop: The Story of Two Gully Boys

Two ‘gullys’, two stories, one common factor: hip-hop. Here are the inspiring stories of two of top hip-hop artists.

Short DoQs
4 min read

Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui

While ‘gully rap’ found its way to the centrestage courtesy of Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, the same ‘gullys’ are home to a larger ambit of India, specifically Mumbai’s hip-hop culture that is still struggling to find a way out.

This is the story of two of India’s top hip-hop artists — a b-boy and a graffiti artist, coming from some famous gullies in Mumbai’s underbelly.

Despite the fame and the exposure that comes along with it, they are still struggling to earn a living doing what they love, to escape the “gully life”.

‘Money or Not, I Can’t Quit Breaking’

B-Boy Tornado at the Red Bull BC One 2019 Last Chance Cypher, Mumbai
B-Boy Tornado at the Red Bull BC One 2019 Last Chance Cypher, Mumbai
(Photo: Debayan Dutta/ The Quint)

Meet Ramesh Yadav, stage name B-boy Tornado. Living in Mankhurd, located in the outskirts of Mumbai, Ramesh is a set-top box technician by day and one of India’s top b-boys by night.

“When I had started out, I used to look at stunt boys at DJ shows and wanted to be like them. But when I started spending time with them, I realised that breaking is a part of hip-hop. I saw seven-eight breakers at a birthday party and everyone who was dancing at the party encircled them and watched them perform. So I approached them the next day to teach me. They hit me and shooed me away saying that they won’t teach me. There’s a big open drain near my house. They would practice on the other side of the drain and I would stand on the other side and follow them. This went on for one and a half months, after which they invited me to teach me.”
Ramesh Yadav, B-boy

But despite being one of the best in the country, making a life out of b-boying is difficult because “there’s no money in b-boying”. Ramesh has seen several b-boyers give up that life and take up a desk job to support themselves and their family. For him, it is working as a technician.

He works during the day, uses his daily wage to travel an hour to a train station in the outskirts of Mumbai where he practices along with other b-boys from the area. Whenever he has to attend a competition or an event, he requests Rashid, his employer, to hold the fort while he’s gone, and Rashid has been supportive of that. Now, he wants to quit the job and take up breaking full-time in the hopes of getting a sponsorship contract or clients who want to hire him for feature videos through which he can earn money.

“Most b-boys end up becoming background dancers in films and ads,” he says, then goes on to say that if he can manage to rope in a sponsor or clients (read: brands) who are ready to feature him in commercials, then he can monetise his art.

That’s the only way he knows to make money from b-boying. Competition prize money is not enough. 

With a profession so unpredictable comes several doubts. Ramesh’s parents, despite supporting his passion, constantly ask if there is a career in this line of work or not. With a Monalisa-like smile, he says, “My parents have never seen me perform live.”

‘I Don’t Know How to Speak Well, So I Paint”

Zake, a graffiti artist, painting one of the walls near Mumbai’s bird song cafe. 
Zake, a graffiti artist, painting one of the walls near Mumbai’s bird song cafe. 
(Photo: Debayan Dutta/ The Quint)

Meet Prathamesh, aka Zake, one of the biggest sources behind the outburst of graffiti across the country’s financial capital, and now, one of the biggest names in the country’s graffiti scene.

They say inspiration can be found anywhere, and for Prathamesh, it lurked on the walls of a public toilet which he used to frequent for 16 years of his life (his home didn’t have its own toilet). It was the writings and the doodles that people would scribble on the walls of these toilets which led him to take interest in graffiti.

From tagging streets late at night, getting chased by cops and the lack of self-confidence to becoming a full-time graffiti artist, the journey has been long and not-so-smooth for Prathamesh. With no support from his parents and no one to guide him, it was just him, the spray cans he managed to collect and YouTube as his mentor.

“I used to sneak out at night to go paint since my parents would lock the door. They constantly asked why was I wasting my money painting others’ walls, until they had given up hope.”
Prathamesh, Graffiti Artist

He took a pause, lit a cigarette, then continued, “I did not know I can make money from graffiti until someone commissioned me to paint their walls.” Since then, he has been contacted by several clients to paint for them, and he has had a steady income. But that hasn’t stopped him from going out on the streets at night to paint. He smiles as he adds, “I have troubled my parents a lot.”

Prathamesh and Ramesh’s life, despite being mutually exclusive to each other, share several common elements -- the influence of hip-hop being at the top of that list. Similar struggles, similar experiences, similar dreams...and this doesn’t end at these two individuals but extends to most born in Mumbai’s underbelly. For the millennials, hip-hop is an escape -- from crime, drugs and every other stimulus that define the so-called “gully life”, because their biggest dream is to escape it.

For the kids, they look up to the likes of Divine and Naezy and dream of making it out of the “gully”, dream of making it big some day.

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