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Meet Moksh: The Rising Star of Shillong's Hip-Hop Scene Making Waves Nationally

Attaining Moksh through hip-hop in Shillong

By Prasanta Phukon

Music is his salvation and words are his medium to achieve it. For Indie hip-hop rapper Mrinal Paul, “writing has always

been the best form of expression” and this is why “hip hop was love at first sight”. The 24-year-old multi-lingual rapper, who also goes by the stage name Moksh, is one of the pioneers of the genre in Shillong and was the brain behind the city’s first rap showcase event at St Anthony’s College in 2014.

Mrinal Paul aka Moksh
Mrinal Paul aka Moksh

In the same year, he collaborated with Khasi Bloodz and other local hip hop artistes for a special project. It was the time when Shillong was witnessing violence over the demand for inner line permit and the city of music was bleeding. So the artistes came together to spread the message of unity and brotherhood. “As a newcomer, I was lucky to be a part of a song featuring Unique 7, Cryptographik Records and Khasi Bloodz. I am grateful to Kabir and Audio Galaxy Beats for supporting me,” he recollected. Paul’s hip hop journey began quite dramatically. He was receiving professional training in Indian classical music when he suddenly switched to rap music. This, however, did not go well with his family but “I still decided to go ahead and it is only because of hip hop that I am where I am today”. He studied the various technicalities of the genre. In 2016, Paul, who was still in college, programmed his first live Northeast Hip Hop Fest, which later travelled to five cities, featuring female rapper MC Manmeet Kaur alongside Sambok Mawnai and Martin Haokip, alias lojal. “Hip hop has always been about collective effort,” said the singer when asked about his multi-lingual performances and multi-artist events. After graduation in 2017, Paul worked as a journalist for Vibes Mojo and East Mojo and was also writing for Eclectic Northeast magazine. He finally decided to pursue a career in music in 2018 and released his debut single in November of the same year.

Shillong’s first rap showcase event at St Anthony’s College in 2014
Shillong’s first rap showcase event at St Anthony’s College in 2014

The rapper is among the artistes who contributed to bringing Shillong to the national hip-hop platform. In 2016, he watched the trailer of a docu-series on the Mumbai hip hop scene by 101India, a webzine, and decided to write to the portal. He also sent the link to his blog on local hip hop, which he did as a college assignment. Few months later, a representative from 101India came to Shillong to meet him and create the historic ‘Anthem for the North East’ as part of the docu-series ‘Hip Hop Homeland — Northeast’. Paul worked as a line producer. “It is a landmark moment in Indian hip hop where, for the very first time, the spotlight gets directed towards the likes of Khasi Bloodz, Stunnah Beatz and Cryptographik Street Poets,” said the rapper, who counts his name among talents like Borkung Hrangkhawl from Tripura, Khasi Bloodz and Meba Ofilia from Shillong whose songs were premiered on a national television channel. The bond that was built during the making of ‘Shillong Grand Collaboration’ strengthened with time and last year, Paul appeared on the set of Khasi Bloodz at NH7 Weekender. “It was a matter of pride and honour for me to share the stage and microphone with one of my idols, Big Ri, who was my senior in high school. I first saw Khasi Bloodz’s performance on PCN (local news channel) and I look up to them since the day. The performance at Weekender was all the more special because the message was that if we look beyond the limits of caste, creed or race, the world is a peaceful place to live in. I have learned a lot from them,” shared the rapper. “But I think my biggest achievement is my ability to engage people with my music. This is one reason why I will never stop making music. All my songs are multi-lingual and promise to rock from Aizawl to Mumbai because music has no language and as long as you create from the heart and connect with the soul,” said Paul, who was the judge at Edblazon 2020, the first rap competition organised by St Edmund’s College, held last month. Paul is also credited for starting ‘Movement of Expression’, which was initially a friendship jam among local rappers, in 2017. The hip hop artiste explained that the idea behind the collective was to curate hip-hop events featuring rappers from Meghalaya. “It was a do-it-yourself initiative where we were trying to learn new things every day through trial and error.” The movement is now a four-member team and all of them rap both individually and collectively. It is also the only collective from Shillong featuring a Bengali, Assamese, Nepalese and Khasi rappers. When asked about his stage name, Paul said, “I believe that heaven and hell are on Earth. Some days feel like paradise whereas some make you feel like you are rotting in hell. Moksh is the Sanskrit word for salvation. Contextually speaking, I do not intend to mean that listening to my music will help you attain salvation but I do help listeners to reflect on their conscience; I do encourage them to choose humanity above all. I am a representative of the population that believes in leaving behind all its misdeeds and growing each day to become a better human being.” Talking about the hip-hop scene in Shillong, the rapper pointed out that it s a close-knit family where “everyone knows everyone but there is very less interaction happening”. “We need stakeholders of the scene to communicate with each other. We need to have more collaboration among artistes. There is a need for more dialogues in the form of discussions, meet-ups and feedback sessions. We have abundance of talent and only we can push this scene and let it grow,” he asserted. Paul is in a restless pursuit of perfection and is in constant competition with himself. “I think I am getting better with each song that I am writing. There is always more scope for improvement and that is what is keeping me hungry. I don’t want to e the best rapper but the best version of myself… That’s how this music business works, there is no space for losers, you will have to keep learning and evolve with time,” he concluded.

Photo courtesy: Mrinal Paul

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