The Southern Whirlwind
By: Tirusha Dave
Photo Credits: Trae Wilborn
No matter what is being supplied, a hustler is only as good as his word. With the East, West, and South serving up some of the hottest lyrical product in the rap game, Kentucky-native Nikhil Datta, a.k.a. “Khil”, stands as one of the most exciting and promising of MCs to emerge in into the scene over the past year. Having done a lot of live shows at house parties and clubs throughout Louisville, Ohio, and Michigan, Nikhil has been around the art of music and freestyling since he was very young; but it wasn’t until he was at the age of 16 when he started to write his music.
Growing up as the only South Asian-Indian in his area, Nikhil was never fully exposed to the South Asian-Indian scene until he started to attend OSU – Ohio State University. It wasn’t until he moved out to Ohio that Nikhil was able to see the South Asian scene in full-form from parties to performances. Thanks to underground tracks such as Early in the Mornin’ and Getting’ Paid, Nikhil’s street swagger and authentic style has quickly made believers out of some the biggest players in the urban South Asian scene, from Raja Wilco to producer Kami K. In Kentucky, and throughout the mid-West, Nikhil has created nothing short of a movement.
What sets Nikhil’s music apart is his aptitude to bring color and spark to a story that has been told before. He’s an artist who doesn’t need 16 bars to construct a picture in your head. When he snaps off a verse the image is simple enough for everyone to feel it instantly
Tirusha: What’s up Nikhil! It’s finally good to sit down and talk to you! For all those who aren’t familiar with you or your musical styles, give us a quick lil’ intro on who you are and what you are all about?
Khil: Was goin on? A lil about me, well I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky . I moved to Columbus, Ohio when I was 20 years old. I’ve always had a passion for music since I was little, but it wasn’t till I was about 18 that I really took my music seriously and got on the business tip. I mainly grew up listenin’ to southern hip-hop from groups like Outkast, UGK (R.I.P. Pimp C), and Guerilla Maab. Those groups were most influential on my style and drove me to take my music to the next level. I like to think that my music is beneficial, meaning that it impacts peoples lives in a positive way. I’ve got a lot to say and I can only hope people will appreciate my viewpoints and thoughts through my music.
Tell us what your childhood was like musically?
When we were little, we used to freestyle in our basements, just messin’ around. In high school we started recording our freestyles using a cheap three-dollar stick mic and used Sound Recorder on the computer to record it. Even though the quality was horrible, everyone in our school still loved our music. Then we got better, and started droppin hits.
How supportive was your family when you took upon rapping?
It is hard because there are times when there is no support from your family. When it comes to family, they want you to be in med school or do something like that and they don’t take you seriously. The same thing happened with me, but now, the support is there.
What was the first song that you wrote?
Well I would always write rhymes, but the first track that I actually wrote with the incentive to put on CD and perform was “Get Em”. I recorded that track with my boy Izreal from Columbus, Ohio .
What about the first song which you recorded?
That’s kinda hard to determine. We used to record 4-5 songs in a night back in high school. All the songs we did were straight up freestyles though, so we never actually sat down and wrote our lyrics. We would think of a topic, cut on the beat, and just spit what was on the top of our head. We created over 50-75 tracks back then, so it’s hard to pin point which was the first song we recorded.
You’re always known for being in the studio and bangin’ out tracks one after the other. How easy is it for you to think of new material like that?
It all depends. I just gotta be in my zone. I mean there are times when I got a beat on and I can’t think of where I wanna go with the track. But once I get into my zone, it’s a wrap!
Most emcees usually write something down, whether it's just the chorus or a single verse, before they step into the booth to record a track. So what's a typical day in the studio with Nikhil like? And if I know you by now, you’re anything BUT typical!
First of all I don’t like a lot of distractions in the studio. I don’t like when there is a bunch of people just there to watch the recording session. If someone is goin to be sittin’ in on a recordin’ session, they better have some purpose for bein’ there. We work hard in the studio, so who ever goin be there with us, better be workin’ hard too.
Also we always try to memorize our lyrics before goin to the studio. It is very ineffective to try and read your lyrics off a piece a paper, so make sure when you record to remember your lyrics, don’t read them.
What inspires you the most when it comes to writing rhymes?
The ability to inspire others. I remember when one of my good friends told me that he would wake up, and the first thing he would do was bump my track “Early in the Mornin.” He told me that song inspired him to be as productive as possible. That’s the type of reaction I want my music to have.
Nikhil, tell us about some of the projects you’re working on right now? Is it just singles or is there an album in the works?
We are actually workin’ on a mixtape goin to be released through our label. The mixtape is called “Real Talk,” and should be released early March.
What do you think the public’s expectations are going to be when you release that initial album?
Those that have heard our music before are goin to expect it to be hit after hit. And those who aren’t familiar with our music will have to judge for themselves, but they won’t be disappointed.
Who are some of the producers you’re working with right now? What about artist collaborations?
We actually work with a lot of different producers. The main one we really work with is my lil brother SD, aka Sahil Datta. And right now the main collaborations I’m workin’ on are with two artists from our label; D Lowe from Louisville , Kentucky and Izreal from Columbus , Ohio . I also have my boy Riiime singin’ on some of the hooks for us. He’s a beast with the vocals and also does graphic designing. So any one need some professional graphic design or photography services holla at him, Riiime, aka Trae Wilborn at http://www.n2-itall.com!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve been quoted to say, “It seems like every Indian rapper I have met thinks they are the best ‘Indian’ rapper in the game. These artists need to concentrate on being the best they can be period. Not the best ‘Indian’ rapper, but maybe the best rapper.” What makes people want to label themselves as such?
I think that everyone wants to be considered the best at something in life. So a lot of these artists don’t have the confidence or drive to become the best artist. Instead they put themselves on a smaller scale, and label themselves as the best artist of their “ethnicity”. These artists that get stuck into that label are never goin to succeed in this industry. They need to understand the bigger picture, otherwise their goin to learn the hard way. I mean honestly what kind of accomplishment is being the best “Indian” rapper, since there ain’t even been any Indians established in the mainstream scene. These artists need to focus on bein’ the best artist they can be, not the best “Indian” artist.
How much of your culture is evident in your music?
My culture is very evident in my music. I didn’t grow up around a lot of South Asians nor did I have many friends that were South Asian. But I incorporate the culture I was brought up on. I am an Indian born in from Kentucky whose has a lot to say that will change peoples’ lives in some way, shape or form.
Do you feel Desi rappers taken seriously?
A lot of times people don’t try to take you seriously as an Asian rapper; and then a majority of the time people are skeptical to even feel your music, but then they change their minds when they hear me. You get a certain response when you’re the only non black rapper in the studio and then you get a difference response after you rip that sh*t. I know people are not goin to believe you can rap at first glance. But if you really can, they will take you seriously when they hear you.
With that said, do you find it shocking that none of the artists from our scene have been listed on Billboard or top 40 charts?
No, I do not. It takes hard work to make it in this industry. South Asians are definitely making their mark and coming up in the game. It’s only a matter of time before we are listed on the top charts. As long as we keep working hard with a goal in mind to succeed, we’ll definitely get there.
Are there any artists right now, who you honestly feel, have the potential to go mainstream?
Well it takes hard work, and I can’t speak for other artists. I know I have the ability, and it’s only a matter of time before I’m heard.
What do you see as the biggest flaw in the urban South Asian music scene?
One of the biggest flaws I see in other South Asian Hip-Hop artists is the stereotypes and labels they place on themselves. I’ve heard from numerous artists claiming that its hard coming up because no one can look passed their ethnicity. They say people can’t take them seriously as a rapper and they only look at them as another Indian kid. In reality, these artists music is revolved around their ethnicity and race. They incorporate choruses sung in Hindi, and even give shout outs to all their “Punjabi’s, Gujarati’, etc.” How do they expect the general public to raise their hands and give props to Punjabi’s and Gujarati’s when they don’t even know anything about them or what they even are? Now I understand that these songs do appeal to a specific audience, but if you want to earn the attention of the general public, you need to learn how to create cross-over records that can appeal to ALL types of people.
Now don’t get me wrong. I support the movement they are making 100%. I like the mixes and the different songs they are doin, and I definitely give them their props, but if that’s what your doin, then don’t complain about people not looking passed your ethnicity. How are they supposed to look passed your ethnicity when your music is in essence, about your ethnicity? If that’s the music you want to get into then be proud of what you do and realize what kind of fan base you’re goin’ to attract. You’re not goin’ to get a bunch of white kids bouncing’ their shoulders with their hands in the air shoutin’ “Bale! Bale!” It just ain’t happenin’.
Okay, now that we got the nitty-gritty done, time to get into what I’m sure all the female readers are waiting to read! Is there or isn’t there a lucky girl?
Well, I ain’t really the type to kiss and tell…All I can really say is I like to keep my private life, private.
So Nikhil, when are you taking your cool interviewer out…for drinks that is?!
We might be able to work something out.
Alright, I’m going to hold you to that! So what’s the life of a rapper like when he’s not writing or recording?
Right now I’m in the process of finishing my undergraduate degree in Business Econ with a minor in Music. I have very little time between workin’ at a restaurant, school, studying for my LSAT’s, recording, and trying to establish and market our record label D.O.B. Entertainment. There ain’t enough hours in the day and days in a week.
Why do you love music and rapping?
The reason I love makin’ music is ‘cause I feel like I got something to say that’s worth hearin’. I love to inspire and motivate other people to make better of themselves and that’s what I want my music to do. My favorite quote is ‘never let a day pass that you will have cause to say, I will do better tomorrow’ and I live by that every day.
What advice do you have for those who want to pursue rapping?
Keep it real all the way. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. And know that this ain’t a 9-5, you’re goin’ have to be on your grind 24/7.
Nikhil! Thanks a lot for taking the time out to do this interview! Can we head on over to the bar and grab those drinks now?! Are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave for the readers?
I appreciate your time. Much respect and thanks for givin' me this opportunity. Make sure ya’ll check out my MySpace, www.myspace.com/ndatta Also look out for the mixtape release Real Talk comin’ early March!