From Kavis to Rappers: The Transformative Power of Hip-hop for Sikhs

The hip-hop movement started in the South Bronx area of New York City and was essentially a creative response to the harsh living conditions of society’s forgotten. Revolutionary poetry was seen as a tool to free people suffering under patriarchy, and from drug abuse and oppression. Hip-hop music now plays an important role to help people develop self-knowledge, get social justice to counter state propaganda, and to deal with traumatic events. Hip-hop has also come to the fore in Sikh circles during events such as ‘When Lions Roar’ in Toronto, Canada, and now holds a firm position in the modern lyrical voice of Sikh culture.

This paper will explore how hip-hop artists are contributing to the rich history of Sikh poetic expression developed by kavis (poets) and dhadis (minstrels). Qualitative research from interviews with influential musicians, such as Humble The Poet and Seti X, will be used to explore Sikh artist’s creative motivation, how they choose to engage with Sikhi, and how they try to heal trauma from events such as the 1984 Sikh genocide. Lastly, this paper will illustrate how the diaspora can continue to learn from the Sikh renaissance, and use hip-hop as a tool to combat their social plight, and be inspired to harness the poetic power from the Guru Granth Sahib.

This paper was presented at Sikholars 2016 conference at Stanford University, California.

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