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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Kevin Coval

Kevin Coval

Kev­in Cov­al is an Emmy-nom­in­ated, award-win­ning writer whose work has been fea­tured on/in The Daily Show, Nation­al Pub­lic Radio, The New York Times, Source Magazine,, Chica­go Tribune and four sea­sons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.

About Kevin Coval

Kevin Coval
Kevin Coval is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning writer whose work has been featured on/in The Daily Show, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Source Magazine,, Chicago Tribune and four seasons of HBO's Def Poetry Jam.