“My dream is to play in front of 100,000 people”
In the house of 100RBH, a music career was not on the table. Growing up in a traditional Indian household, the aspiring rapper was tasked by his father with finding a “respectable” job that would earn him a daily wage. But the 24-year-old, born Saurabh Abhyankar, had other ideas.
For most musicians, dreams of global success seem exaggerated. But in 100RBH’s rural hometown of Amravati in the western state of Maharashtra, few people knew what hip-hop was. “People didn’t know anything about this industry,” he tells me in his local Bambaiya (Mumbai Hindi) accent over the phone. He had to scramble just to persuade locals to come to his shows. However, over time, “since the money started coming in, other [parents] told my mother that they wanted their sons to have a career in the music industry as well.
100RBH is a ravine, form of Indian street rapper mixing traditional folk sounds with modern instrumentation and an attitude to match. Originating in Mumbai, gully – an Indian term for a narrow street – has since spread across India, taking inspiration from American hip-hop giants such as The Notorious BIG and Tupac. The lyrics tend to delve into issues such as politics, social reform and lifestyle, as opposed to the more superficial themes of alcohol and women that often transpire in mainstream Bollywood music.
Before releasing their first solo tracks, 100RBH was a ‘proud’ member of Swadesi, India’s first multilingual hip-hop group, whose philosophy is ‘music with a cause’. In their single “Khabardar”, the controversial band addresses “society’s slaves” and corrupt rulers who forget their responsibilities: “Na karte khud ye kuch, na accha kisiko karane dete (They do nothing themselves and don’t let anyone do right),” raps 100RBH. He says his time at Swadesi was one of the most “dangerous” things he’s ever done, due to the band’s outspoken views on government reforms and the right-wing politics. “When I first heard Swadesi’s music, I was impressed,” he says. “They were talking about the same issues that were close to my heart. In fact, they were the only ones have the courage to talk about the local problems of the country.
For his solo work, he draws heavily from Mumbai-born rapper Divine, considered one of India’s most successful ravine rappers and the inspiration behind the hit Bollywood film. Ravine Boy. “Like me, Divine comes from the ravines of Bombay,” he explains. “I thought if someone like him could be successful in life, so could I.” Like Divine, it thrives on puns and lyrics that drip with double meaning. On his 2022 hit “Zanjeer,” constructed from hyper-intensive beats, he delivers a succession of sharp socio-political critiques and witty humor in Hindi and Marathi languages: “Purane daur ke zanjeer ko mein todhta (je break the old chain) / Laakhon masoomon ki awaz mei akela bolta (I speak on behalf of a hundred thousand innocent souls.)” Shortly after the track was released, 100RBH dedicated it to the late Indian social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Now signed to his idol Divine’s label, Gully Gang Entertainment, 100RBH hopes he will one day be invited to perform at international festivals such as Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza. Maybe even Glastonbury. “My dream is to perform in front of 100,000 people.” Until then, he will continue to make music and speak out against “politicians who don’t take their jobs seriously.” He wishes to draw attention to issues such as the recent floods in Maharashtra, caste discrimination and other human rights violations in India. As for his family, his father in particular, they now proudly tell the world who their son is and what he does. For 100RBH, this in itself is a major victory.