‘My dream is to perform in front of 100,000 people’

Amravati-based rapper 100RBH (Chinmay Deshpande/ Gully Gang Entertainment)

Amravati-based rapper 100RBH (Chinmay Deshpande/ Gully Gang Entertainment)

In the homeland of 100RBH, a music career was not on the table. Raised in a traditional Indian household, the aspiring rapper was instructed by his father to find a “respectable” job that would earn him a day’s wages. But the 24-year-old, nee Saurabh Abhyankar, had other ideas.

For most musicians, dreams of global success seem far-fetched. But in Amravati, 100RBH’s rural hometown in the western state of Maharashtra, few people knew what hip-hop was. “People didn’t know anything about this industry,” he tells me over the phone in his local Bambaiya accent (Mumbai’s Hindi). He had to struggle to convince the locals to come to his shows. But over time, “since the money started flowing, others [parents] told my mom they want their sons to find careers in the music industry too.”

100RBH is a Gully, a sort of Indian street rapper who blends traditional folk sounds with modern instrumentation and attitude to match. Gully – an Indian term for a narrow street – originated in Mumbai and has since spread across India, taking influences from American hip-hop giants like The Notorious BIG and Tupac. The lyrics tend to deal with issues such as politics, social reform and way of life, as opposed to the more superficial subjects like alcohol and women that often feature in mainstream Bollywood music.

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Before releasing his first solo tracks, 100RBH was a “proud” member of Swadesi, India’s first multilingual hip hop crew whose ethos is “music for a good cause”. On their single “Khabardar,” the controversial group addresses the “slaves of society” and corrupt leaders who forget their responsibilities: “Na karte khud ye kuch, na accha kisiko karane dete (They do nothing themselves, and neither do they let anyone do anything good),” raps 100RBH. He says his time in Swadesi was one of the “most dangerous” things he’s ever done because of the band’s outspoken views on government reform and right-wing politics. “When I first heard Swadesi’s music, I was impressed,” he says. “They talked about the same issues that were important to me. In fact, they were the only people who had the guts to speak up about local issues in the country.”

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For his solo work, he is heavily influenced by Mumbai-born rapper Divine, who is considered one of India’s most successful gully rappers and was the inspiration behind the hit Bollywood film manhole boy. “Like me, Divine hails from the glens of Bombay,” he explains. “I figured if someone like him could make it big in life, so will I.” Like Divine, he thrives on puns and lyrics that ooze double meaning. Built on hyper-intense rhythms, his 2022 hit “Zanjeer” offers a succession of sharp sociopolitical criticism and witty humor in both Hindi and Marathi: “Purane daur ke zanjeer ko mein todhta (I break the old chain)/ Laakhon masoomon ki awaz mei akela bolta (I speak on behalf of a hundred thousand innocent souls.)” Shortly after the track’s release, 100RBH dedicated it to the late Indian social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar.

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100RBH, who is now signed to his idol Divine’s label, Gully Gang Entertainment, hopes to one day be invited to international festivals like Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza. Maybe even Glastonbury. “My dream is to perform in front of 100,000 people.” Until then, he will continue to make music and raise his voice against “politicians who don’t take their job seriously”. He wants to draw attention to issues such as the recent floods in Maharashtra, caste discrimination and other human rights abuses in India. As for his family, especially his father – they are now proudly telling the world who their son is and what he does. For 100RBH, that’s a big win in itself.

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