Fejo a.ka. Febin Joseph isn’t Murad of Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, an underdog from the slums of Mumbai who dares to dream to become a rapper and becomes one. Nevertheless, Fejo has had his share of struggles and setbacks, with Malayalam rap still in its nascent stages. But, now with many of his rap videos on YouTube getting noticed and a few films in his kitty, Fejo is on a roll.
“I have been rapping for the last 10 years. It has been a long wait to get noticed,” says the musician, a native of Vytilla in Kochi. Fejo (coined from the first two letters of his name), says that it was his brother, Vipin Joseph, who introduced him to the genre when he was in school. “He made me listen to some English songs and I was blown away by Akon’s ‘Smack that’ featuring Eminem. Initially, I didn’t understand a word (laughs). But, soon, I fell in love with the style and even attempted to create Malayalam parody of English rap songs,” says Fejo.
He started listening to rap singers in English such as Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, 2pac, Biggie, Jay Z and Kanye West and was inspired to try making songs in Malayalam. In 2009, he wrote and sang the Malayalam version of Lil Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’. Later he started posting lyric videos, encouraged by his friends. After many “amateurish attempts”, he wrote his first original song, ‘Private aravushala’, an attack on self-financing colleges.
In between, he completed his BTech and worked as a technician with Kerala State Electricity Board and a few construction companies before he became a full-time musician. “By then, I had started getting a steady viewership for my YouTube videos. In fact all those people who attacked me online earlier started appreciating my work,” he adds.
The big break was working in a music video with rapper Raftaar, who has his roots in Malayali, and actor Varun Dhawan, to promote Breezer Vivid Shuffle, one of the largest hip-hop dance festivals in India. “That’s what you call destiny. When he was in Kochi, it was sheer coincidence that while travelling in the car he listened to my interview and my songs on an FM channel. He posted about me on his Instagram page and soon we were talking! Later when they were looking for a regional rapper for the music video, he took me on board. As the saying goes, ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it’,” he says.
Duel of words
Talking about the creative process, Fejo observes that writing Malayalam rap songs is always challenging. “First thing is there aren’t any models before me. And then there is the inherent nature of the language, which makes it not as flexible as other languages, say Hindi, English or Tamil. So it is extremely difficult to blend rhyme and rhythm, especially in portions when you fast beats,” he says.
As for the content, like most rappers , Fejo also brings in a personal touch in the songs. For example, ‘Avasaram tharu’ (Give a chance) is about his struggle to make a mark. In ‘Bhoomidevi’, he laments about climate changes. ‘Onnennu orimuchu’ is about how Kerala stood together during the floods.
“People should understand that rap is not just stringing some words together. It is something real and raw, coupled with the right swag and attitude,” he says.
Way to tinsel town
- His entry in films was through Sushin Shyam, who gave him the rap number ‘Aparadhapangu’ in Tovino Thomas’ Maradona. The title track in Ranam, ‘Ayudhameduda’, composed by Jakes Bijoy, followed. Fejo will be heard in the forthcoming release Jeem Boom Bhaa, under PS Jayahari’s music direction. A couple of big projects are lined up, but he would prefer to keep it under the wraps for now.
He wants to try his luck in cinema, not only in music but in other fields as well, including direction and scripting. But his big aim is to take Malayalam rap to more people.
“We lag behind the Tamil music industry where rap has become integral to film music. However, it is a good thing that there are a few Malayalam rappers out there who are trying to make their mark,” he says.
So, as Murad sings in Gully Boy, Fejo likes to believe that ‘Apna time aayega’ (My time will come).