The friendly neighborhood rapper from Chepauk, known for his politically-charged songs, has recently released his debut Tamil album, 82 D Block
K Nigavithran was in Class XI when his teachers punished him. He was asked to leave the classroom and made an example of in front of his classmates. He never felt a sense of regret; instead, he turned this familiar high school episode into a rap song called ‘Against My School’. That day, a rapper was born.
“When you listen to rap, you invariably become a writer. That is how addictive and accessible the genre is,” says Nigavithran, 25, who, like many hip hop artists from the city, was ushered into this world via Malaysian rappers Yogi B and Dr. Burn — “I chanced upon them on Facebook and used to listen to their songs on loop. We had a rap competition among our friends. They were my biggest influences.”
Nigavithran has been an unofficial rapper since school but became a name to reckon with, when his ‘Digital Moonji’, a song which was critical of the hydrocarbon extraction project in the delta districts of Tamil Nadu, gained prominence on social media.
He has been putting out a range of independent Tamil songs — on critical issues and from his personal life — on his YouTube channel since 2016, thanks to D Vinoth, a sound engineer who discovered Nigavithran’s talent and motivated him to write.
The idea to release a full-fledged album has always been Nigavithran’s goal. Growing up in Chepauk’s Lock Nagar, the D Block was where he discovered friendship and love.
It was also the place that awakened him to socio-political realities; 82 D Block was his address, the place that gave him an identity, “I wanted the place I grew up in, to be the face of my album,” he says, about his 82 D Block album, which was released recently on iTunes and other streaming platforms. He credits Rayappan Francis of Ray App Studio — which, according to him, is akin to an underground club where the city’s budding rappers got together — for letting him record for free.
Politics of art
The album is a mixed bag of eight songs, the work for which was completed a year-and-a-half ago. The first part is mined from Nigavithran’s boyhood; his schooldays, introduction to rap, life in Lock Nagar, the time he was offered to write for films, albeit without credits. The latter half is a sharp commentary on social issues.
For instance, ‘Machi Tea Sollu’ may come across as a seemingly innocuous song on tea, but it speaks of a larger issue: the hike in milk prices. “The job of an artist is not just to entertain. They have to be socially-aware and need to voice out for the commoner. This is my core philosophy,” he says.
That makes sense if you listen to expletive-filled ‘Don’t Touch’, an expression of his anger towards the Kathua murder case of 2018. Nigavithran says he was advised to trim the explicit content, “But I wanted to retain those bits because I didn’t want to dilute the anger. In fact, a female friend of mine said I shouldn’t even use the word ‘rape’ in the song,” he says, adding that he has been actively taking part and writing songs for protests against injustice.
Nigavithran no longer lives in Lock Nagar, though he has not lost touch with his friends. “I met a friend after a long time and we were discussing memories of growing up in the streets. That’s how much D Block means to us.” He has shot a video for the title track ‘D Block’, which will be out on YouTube on November 24.
A graphic designer, Nigavithran has not yet decided to take up rapping full-time, although he admits he spends most of his time thinking about it or writing structures, in his mind.
“Unlike in Mumbai, there is very little scope for artists who are into rap [in Chennai],” he says, “Though I have a job, it is rapping that gives me satisfaction. It’s like a balm.”