For hip hop to have been successful outside of the boroughs of New York, it had to be elastic, emerging as a contemporary iteration, and continuation, of The African Diaspora, it adopts and adapts in ways that encourage and allow for its rooting into local geographies while maintaining a kind of transnational, or transnational-ist, language.
Hip Hop is the revolutionary, and commercial, communicative language and cultural force that has brought more young people together than any movement in the history of the planet rock. It lives and thrives, still, across every United State, where it has transitioned from counter or underground to pop culture, arguably in the early 90’s, when record companies, and others, learned how to commodify the sound and style, in ways familiar, i.e. Rock & Roll, and in ways we have not seen before because of the mind-numbing (dumbing) quickness of technologies and globalized capitalism.
But as a result, this export, and the case should be argued, that although hip hop, as we have come to know and call it, perhaps “started” in New York in 1973, its antecedents are global, diasporic and numerous, hence the profundity and brilliance of hip hop as an evergreen platform to showcase the genius of young creatives across the globe. This export, trickling out of New York in the 70s, became a worldwide phenomenon in the 80s, 90s and 00’s and continues to help shape dynamic, youth creative cultures forming around the world to this day.
I met Pakistani b‑boy Taishi, in an exchange between Chicago and Karachi, the summer of 2019. i knew then was a visionary. He was the ringleader of the crew, Anarchy, a talented hip hop collective of dancers, emcees, and other artists fusing the inheritance of hip-hop cultural practice with their own languages of idiom, rhythm and style.
We stayed in tune over the internets and, flash forward a few years, now Taishi has become a prominent organizer of hip-hop cultural space in Pakistan. We recently spoke, via zoom, about his entry into the culture, the rise of the Pakistani scene and his upcoming festival, Our Culture Volume 5, taking place December 19 in Karachi.
Of course from jump, he had to help me with the tech. i was trying to record on zoom, but all electronics conspire against me. He calmly, graciously guided me through the process.
Taishi: I got to know a lot about zoom because of this new job I’m doing. I work for an online design agency, and a lot of our clients are in the US. There’s this platform called Bark and people post inquires looking for website or graphic design services and I’m kinda like the front salesman who talks to them and gets them on board. There’s a lot of research and knowledge involved. It has its perks. I just got a car from the company. It’s a good paying job.
KC: If your clients are mostly US based, I imagine the hours are pretty wild.
Taishi: The shift, in Pakistan time, is 6 in the evening until 3 in the morning. Most jobs in Pakistan cater to the American business day. Call centers in Pakistan mirror the American workday. A lot of people in the Pakistani hip-hop community have these kinds of jobs. Mostly at call centers, in these odd shifts. Most of the dancers I know, including me, get off at this time in the morning and meet up to train, because this is the only time we get to train. The rest of the day we are busy with other things.
Nowadays I wake up and might have a few meetings with brands or sponsors. I go to work and finish at 3. I hit the gym, get free by 5ish and then come home, dance, sleep and repeat. I normally get about 4 to 5 hours of sleep.
I have a battle in 9 days and joined a gym recently to train with a coach who knows more about how the body works. I thought just dancing wasn’t going to cut it, so I joined the gym to work on mobility and core strength
Taishi is going hard because of a jam he’s throwing, December 19, called Our Culture: Volume 5. I do have the impression that although this might be a uniquely busy time, the constant hustle and juggling is an everyday reality for the twenty-five-year-old, who seems to live and breathe his love for the culture, as a practioner and organizer. I asked him where this profound love originated and how he got first got involved in hip hop.
Taishi: I always like dancing. more than just a b‑boy, I’m a dancer. I was always athletic. I used to play cricket. Cricket is booming Pakistan, but we just lost the semi-finals against Australia today, so Pakistanis are sad as fuck. And when I was a cricket player, I got this opportunity.
I lived in this apartment complex, called The Empire Center, for ten years and learned a lot over there; how to be street smart, how to dance. The basic things you learn in life. In those apartments there used to be a few dancers, who used to dance back in the day throwing handstands and doing the baby freeze. The first time I saw them I was like “Yo! What the fuck? Is that humanly possible?” They caught my eye. This was about 2010.
I used to be the kind of kid, technology used to be not around so much, so I was that kid, always outside playing cricket, playing hide and seek with the homies… Until these three cool kids in my apartment, busting handstands, popping and locking… they introduced me to b‑boying. They would show me and my homie Tabriez, rest in peace, he passed away last year in a car accident, they would show us the handstand. They could hold it for like three seconds. We used to live on the top floor of a nine-floor apartment building, and we used to meet, because load-shedding is a thing, that’s when a power breakdown happens, in most areas, and in that apartment it used to happen like four times a day, for an hour or so, like clockwork. So whenever the power was down, me and my homie would go out and practice handstands. This is 2011, I’m around 13 or so. Until one day the kids who showed us the moves came in and said, “Yo!, Unknown Crew is in the studio”. And I was like “what is Unknown Crew, why don’t they have a name” And they were like, “Yo!, the name is Unknown Crew.”
The Pakistani b‑boy version of Abbot and Costello’s, “Who’s on First?”
Taishi: I searched Unknown Crew on YouTube and Facebook. They had some videos posted and I was like, “Yo!” At that time Step Up 2 was already out, You Got Served, was a thing as well. I saw these head spins, and shit like that, in those movies but for the first time in my life, I saw a Pakistani dance crew doing those things and that turned out to be my inspiration.
There were three crews back in the days, Unknown Crew, EXD Crew (Evolution Xtreme Dancers), and The Chemistry Crew. I used to be a fan boy. I used to add and message them on Facebook like,” I’m a big fan. How do you do this?”.
As the years went on, I started hanging out with the Unknown Crew. They taught me the basics of this dance form. Two years after I started hanging with them, they invited me to be part of the crew. I started to rep, as the new generation of the Code Unknown Crew. And that is when I fell in love with hip hop because I was doing my research. I got to know who Kool DJ Herc is, who KRS-ONE is, who Afrika Bambaataa is and the Zulu Nation, the New York City Breakers, Beat Street and I was like, “Ok, this is history”.
KC: And you felt like that history was your history in a cosmopolitan, transnational, cultural-type of way?
Taishi: Growing up in Pakistan, there was a lot of people that say this is Pakistani culture; you want to wear your kurta shalwars, you gotta do things a certain way and ME, I wasn’t always like that. I always liked to try something new. Ever since I fell in love with hip hop, I felt like hip-hop was my lifestyle and culture. The way I talk, the way I walk, the way I’m rocking on the dance floor, the way I dress. Everything.
I fell in love with hip hop jams (annual, international festivals) like IBE (Netherlands), Battle of the Year (Germany), Sole DXB (Dubai). All festivals where I would see graffiti artists, DJs, dancers, beatboxers, emcees and I was like, “Yo! I wanna bring that culture to Pakistan”.
We used to have jams in 2015–2016, but they were all separate. B‑boys would only throw a jam for b‑boys, emcees would only get together with emcees. Same with graffiti writers and beat boxers. But I always had a collective vision. In 2015, most of the breakers and hip-hop heads in the first generation, stopped breaking. The scene was rising and then it collapsed. For three years, until 2018, we had no events, no get togethers, a lot of breakers stopped dancing, a lot of people stopped doing what they did.
KC: And that’s around the time you started your collective, Anarchy?
Taishi: Right, because I wanted to throw jams and never had the confidence. But in 2017 there was an emcee Polymath, who used to be a metal head, a full-on growler, and apparently he was an old-school hip-hop fan who liked Wu Tang, Nas, J Dilla and all that. He reached out to me initially because he was doing this event, Rhymeistan, and it was technically an event just for emcees, but me being me, I had my boys with me. We were going to come through to Lahore and try to do something. We went on our own expense. We had a football freestyler, me and a few dancers and a couple of emcees from Karachi.
KC: You said football freestyler? Is that a performative part of the culture in Pakistan?
Taishi: It used to be a part of all the hip hop jams, back in the day…
KC: Oh shit!
Taishi: I’m thinking about bringing it back and trying to incorporate BMX freestylers and football freestylers in Our Culture Volume 5.
KC: That would dope… but I interrupted… you were saying.
Taishi: Yeah, in Lahore, there were not a lot of people there. People were hesitant to show up. It was like 10 performers and 15 people in the audience. But we had a good time and explored Lahore and came back to Karachi like, “Yo, we gotta do something as well”. So I started throwing hip-hop jams. It was 2018 and I threw two that year all on my own dime.
The first jam I organized on my own, we booked in four days. We booked the space, and I called all the homies. The first few jams there was always progress. We had 30 people show up and then 40. And then the name Our culture came to me. Our culture is hip hop, our culture is dance. I thought Our Culture could be a thing that we, as Pakistanis, could really embrace.
Initially my crew was scared to do it because in Pakistan, the thought is, you have to be famous to do something. You have to have a lot of Instagram followers. We’re not role models. But I was like, “Fuck it, let’s do it”. It started off with people gathering up in one room, doing their thing for the love, and now it’s become a festival where people can enjoy good food, see rap performances, dance battles, live graffiti and DJs.
We started Our Culture and many dancers who stopped breaking, came back in the scene and now they’re throwing jams and people are doing their thing in different cities, in small cities like Rawalpindi or Multan or wherever. Even the emcees these days are getting dancers on board for their events and music videos.
KC: For hip hop to take root in a place, it has to find its own voice. It happened in LA when the west coast started to incorporate local streets, slang, sound and style into their rhymes and really embrace the music and culture that was indigenous to the that city. Atlanta as well and so on. What does Pakistani hip hop sound like?
Taishi: Overall, I would say the hip hop scene in Pakistan is premature, but it’s headed in the right direction. A few years back people would gravitate toward mainstream, commercial hip hop. They didn’t know about dancing in general but now the audience is learning about underdogs and underground artists. We are getting new talent, new emcees, new graffiti artists. it’s amazing.
There is this terminology, Desi hip-hop. Desi is what we call local in Urdu. Desi hip-hop is booming. People are understanding what emceeing actually is and adding their own twists to it. Emcees are talking about the streets of Karachi or what it is to live in Lahore, their own struggles they face, in their neighborhoods, different areas of the city. A lot of the songs have a Bhangra or Desi touch to it.
Originality is something emcees are starting to understand in Pakistan and not focusing on the beefs or focusing on drugs, money and sex. They actually want to create their own style. Emcees are experimenting and it’s really nice to see.
KC: What acts should we be looking out for from the Pakistani underground?
Taishi: If I talk about the emcees; Moji, Big H, Mannaub Mani, EXD crew, Chemistry Crew, Street Dreamers Crew, Anarchy. So much raw talent here. There is this kid Rapologist, who rhymes in Urdu, who has the freshest bars and is into full-on old-school boom bap kind of shit.
Given the right opportunities and the right platform, these people could be booming.
KC: So what’s happening and what can people expect at your upcoming jam, Our Culture Volume 5?
Taishi: For the first time ever, in Pakistan, we’re bringing an international dancer from the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to judge and give workshops. It’s a hip hop festival where we’ll have emcees from different cities, from Lahore, Islamabad and from Karachi as well. We’re gonna have graffiti artists flying in. We have b‑boys coming in from Oman and it’s gonna be the best thing Pakistani hip hop has ever scene. This will open a lot of windows and doorways for future events.
On the 18th, there is a dance workshop with Tornado (the UAE b‑boy). He’s like a big brother. because when I went to Dubai in 2019, he took care of me. I didn’t have a lot of money back then and he was like, “take what you want, eat what you want”, that kind of homie. He’s gonna be teaching a workshop.
On the 19th of December, there will be all style dance battles. Some of the finest emcees performing. Dancers, DJs, live graffiti, food, clothes, shoes, overall hip-hop culture.
KC: Finally man, before you head to the gym and dance rehearsal, you are young guys still, living a life that that I’m sure is out of the ordinary for many folks period and in Pakistan in particular. What do your parents/your family think about what you do?
Taishi: For the better part of my life I grew up with just my mother, because my father left when I was very young. So it was my elder brother, my mother and me. When I started dancing, initially, they thought it was just a hobby and it will die off. They wanted me to be a doctor or wanted me to be an engineer but that wasn’t me.
It wasn’t until 2014–2015, in one random dance session, where I was really stressed about my exams and I was like, “Fuck, what am I going to do?”. And I just went and danced in the living room and after, I was so light. I felt so peaceful. And it was at that moment where I understood that this is what I want to do in life. I want to dance. I want to share this experience of hip hop.
And in the early days, it was a lot of fights in the house where they’d ask how long I was going to do this for.
But after a while, my crew, we started building our brand, from the logo to our approach to what we do and how we do it. We started representing ourselves, as a crew, as a brand and that opened opportunities for commercials, for choreography, for performances and workshops and travels. And that’s when money started flowing in. And the typical Pakistani parent mentality is that they are worried about how you are going to get money. So when I started putting food on the table, because as long as you put food on the table, they are fine with it.
My crew and I paved a way for a lot of dancers to get more and better earning opportunities in Pakistan. Dancers are used as daily wage laborers. They grind you for 16 hours a day and then pay you shit money. So me and my crew rebelled against that and now when we get opportunities, it’s a good payment. It’s respect and proper credits. We’ve come a long way and have a long way to go, but looking back five or six years, where we were and where we are right now, I think we’ve made good progress.
Most of the parents are happy, expect for two of my crew members. One’s father doesn’t know that he still dances. He’s to hide it from his dad. But with me, my family understands. I’m hustling for the right reasons.
You can support Taishi, his crew Anarchy and their upcoming jam, Our Culture Volume 5 by visiting them on Instagram.
Taishi is still raising funds to cover all the expenses for the festival. A little goes a long way, so please holler at him about ways to support the hip hop movement in Pakistan.