Home Arts & Culture How sneaker culture gives a platform to the underbelly of Indian music

How sneaker culture gives a platform to the underbelly of Indian music

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Sneakers and Hip Hop have long been touted as cultural identities often synonymous with each other. In Converse India’s “Connect with the Unexpected”, the two find common ground again, representing the rich tapestry of independent music in India.

Culture is a word that’s more often than not, lost in translation. Over the decades the word has amassed an identity of its own as an expression of art, and the beliefs of people. It can be loosely translated to, “the way of life for an entire society.” For Ahmedabad-based musician Dhanji, “Culture provides the backdrop and flavour to artistic expression, shaping the narrative and themes,” he tells us.

The worlds of sneakers and hip-hop both stand as individual pillars of culture and are yet considered dyadic entities. The relation can be traced to the 70’s in New York, where back-alley rappers would sport sneakers inspired by NBA stars. Since then, the two have been synonymous, with collaborations like Kendrick Lamar’s Reebok Ventilator and the Nike Dunk SB High featuring Wu-Tang Clan and MF Doom. LV creative director Pharrell Williams too has seen his fair share of sneaker collaborations as a musician, including the Adidas NMD Human Race collection.

With Converse India’s “Connect with the Unexpected” campaign, the sneaker spotlight now shines its light closer to home, on the underbelly of Indian Music. 4 unique tracks and 8 versatile artists noted for their contributions to the independent music scene of India – the campaign perfectly captures the zeitgeist of Desi Hip Hop through sneaker culture. In an exclusive interview with musicians Dhanji, Nanku, Pho and Aksomaniac we delve deeper into their latest tracks and their cultural identities.

Crossing expressways with Dhanji


A black and white artwork of a pair of sneakers labelled Dhanji and Krameri respectively acts as the cover art of ‘Express Ways’, a melodic mix of Krameri’s Hindustani classical taans and Dhanji’s lyrical verbatim. The multi-genre artist that is Dhanji has dabbled in a fair share of funk and jazz in his debut album ‘Ruab’ with tracks like ‘Thaltej Blues’. Infusing the Hindustani Classical of Krameri, a student of A R Rahman, his latest song takes on a new sound. He talks to us about culture and the influence Ahmedabad has on his music.

What does ‘individuality’ mean to you both in music and fashion?

Individuality, in both music and fashion, means standing out and pushing the envelope for me. It calls for questioning and redefining how things stand, aiming to break free from norms and expectations.

How do ‘culture’ and ‘expression’ come together in your music?

Culture sets the “rules” of the game, but art is a form of expression that challenges and breaks those rules. Culture provides the backdrop and flavour to artistic expression, shaping the narrative and themes. For me, worldly experiences influence my music, but my city, Ahmedabad, remains a defining element in my work.

Tell us about the influence of your locality on your music.

My city, Ahmedabad, serves as the backdrop and source of inspiration for my music. While I draw from global influences and experiences, my locality infuses a unique flavour into my work, reflecting my roots and upbringing.

What does it mean to be a multi-genre artist and how do you synergise your distinct style across genres- from Jazz to Hindustani Classical in this latest track?

Being a multi-genre artist involves experimenting and dabbling with various musical styles while maintaining a primary focus. While I primarily identify as a rapper and hip-hop artist, I enjoy exploring different genres. The synergy between genres should feel natural and organic, rather than forced, allowing for creative expression and exploration.

How does a collaboration between music and fashion/footwear like “Connect with the Unexpected”, provide a unique platform for creative expression?

Sneakers have long been a staple of hip-hop fashion, and brands like Converse have played a significant role in shaping cultural moments. Collaborations between music and fashion, such as “Connect with the Unexpected,” offer a platform for creative expression, bridging the worlds of music and style to create unique and innovative experiences.

A walk around the capital with Nanku


Nanku and Karun go long back, back to their college days. With multiple collaborations since then, the two have a diverse range of projects to their name. ‘Capital’ is a track that truly captures the essence of Nanku as an artist since the musician changed not only his stage name but his musical style as well. In a conversation with us, he talks about resonating with today’s generations and his reinvented creative identity.

What does ‘individuality’ mean to you both in music and fashion?

Individuality, in both music and fashion, encapsulates one’s unique persona and artistic taste. It’s the essence of authenticity that sets individuals apart and allows them to express themselves uniquely.

How do ‘culture’ and ‘expression’ come together in your music?

In my music, I strive to articulate the thoughts and sentiments of today’s generation in a simple and genuine manner. I believe I’m doing a decent job at it so far.

Tell us about the influence of your locality on your music.

My upbringing in north Delhi has deeply influenced my music. From the environment in my school to the people I interacted with, and even the weather, all have shaped my psyche in unique ways. There’s a certain “North Delhi” way of thinking that I can’t quite put into words, but I’m sure it reflects in my persona and, by extension, in my music.

How do you think your sound has changed since your ‘udbhav’ days?

Since my ‘udbhav’ days, I’ve noticed a significant evolution in my approach to writing lyrics. I’ve become more open to creating music that is easy-going and accessible. I’ve learned that complexity and intellectuality aren’t always necessary in art; sometimes, simplicity and casualness can be just as impactful.

How does a collaboration between music and fashion/footwear, like “Connect with the Unexpected” provide a unique platform for creative expression?  

Fashion and music complement each other perfectly, enhancing our sense of identity and self-expression. I’m excited for everyone to experience the innovative collaboration we’ve crafted with Converse!

Pho takes us through the alleys of Delhi


It’s not the first time Pho and Bagi Munda have come together on a track, and yet ‘Huliyan’ presents a deeper lyricism and a more mature sound to their earlier collaboration ‘Hood Fame’. The Delhi-based beatboxer turned singer has been pushing the boundaries with her sound in the Delhi music circuit. We talk to her about her creative journey and her identity as an artist.

What does ‘individuality’ mean to you both in music and fashion?

Growing up, I often pondered questions like “Who am I?” and “What am I supposed to be?” While most of my peers aspired to traditional professions, I felt drawn to music, dance, and other unconventional paths. Pursuing these passions was deemed unusual and sometimes uncomfortable, but I always knew that music would be my lifelong pursuit. For me, individuality means embracing what sets me apart and finding comfort in expressing myself authentically. Just as music offers solace and warmth, my style reflects this sense of embracing oneself and others with imperfections. It’s about expressing emotions, and thoughts about life, and embracing one’s true self and uniqueness without reservation. In essence, individuality is about embracing authenticity and embracing oneself and others with empathy and hope.

How do ‘culture’ and ‘expression’ come together in your music?

Music became my outlet for expression at a young age when I struggled to articulate my feelings verbally. From the age of 11, I found solace in writing, pouring my emotions onto paper in the form of lyrics. These lyrics became a reflection of everything I experienced – love, frustration, sadness, and anger. Carrying a notebook with me everywhere, I penned down my thoughts, creating a diary of my innermost thoughts and emotions. As I delved deeper into the music scene, I encountered artists who fearlessly expressed their life experiences and cultural influences through their music. Inspired by their unfiltered and authentic storytelling, I embraced the culture of Delhi’s music scene, where artists shared their stories with raw honesty and boldness. This culture deeply influences my music, shaping it into a raw and straightforward reflection of my life and surroundings.

Tell us about the influence of your locality on your music.

When I decided to pursue music as a profession around 2017-2018, I found myself lost and without resources. Spending countless hours alone in my locality, I often skipped college and university to travel on DTC buses, allowing myself time to think and immerse myself in music. This period of introspection deeply impacted my journey and shaped my perspective. Despite coming from humble beginnings, I dedicated significant time to understanding my passion for music, a commitment that ultimately defined my path. I am grateful for the alignment of circumstances that led me to this point and for the influence of my locality, which instilled in me a sense of determination and resilience. Today, as I reflect on my journey and collaborate with brands like Converse, I recognize the profound impact of my upbringing and the role it played in shaping my identity as an artist.

Tell us about your latest track and the collaborative process with Bagi Munda.

The collaborative process with Bagi Munda was unexpectedly seamless and incredibly fun. Interestingly, we had connected even before knowing we were paired for the track. Bagi had reached out to me to collaborate on a feature for his album, and our chemistry was immediate. It felt like fate when we received the call confirming our pairing for the Converse track the very next day. Despite facing some health challenges, once we sat down to work on the track, the creative energy flowed effortlessly. This collaboration provided a unique opportunity for me to delve into a deeply personal aspect of my life, something I hadn’t explored in my music before.

How does a collaboration between music and fashion/footwear like “Connect with the Unexpected”, provide a unique platform for creative expression?  

Collaborating with Converse on the “Connect with the Unexpected” campaign has been an enriching experience, offering a unique platform for creative expression. While music has always been my primary medium for self-expression, I’ve come to appreciate fashion as another powerful tool for conveying emotions and ideas. This collaboration has allowed me to explore new avenues of creativity and self-expression, providing me with the freedom to express myself authentically. Working alongside an incredible team and being part of such an innovative campaign has been truly inspiring, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my voice through both music and fashion.

On a vacation with Aksomaniac


Piano notes overlayed with Aksomaniac melodic voice start ‘Her Vacation’, before The Siege begins to rap – an intersection of sorts between the two different genres. For Aksomaniac, switching between jazz and classical piano is his usual style. The Kerala-based artist talks to us about culture, fashion and expression in our chat.

What does ‘individuality’ mean to you both in music and fashion?

For me, music serves as a form of personal expression and introspection. It’s like journaling for my mental health. In my music, individuality translates into transparency. I strive to be honest and open through my music, authentically sharing my thoughts and emotions. As for fashion, while I do add my unique flair, it’s heavily influenced by my community. I draw inspiration from those around me who are passionate about fashion, considering not just the aesthetics but also the meaning and origins behind what they wear. So, my fashion reflects a communal aspect, shaped by the people in my life as much as by my own preferences.

How do ‘culture’ and ‘expression’ come together in your music?

Listen to my music and you’ll get to know me, that’s how straightforward it is. And that’s how I want to keep my music. It’s a journey through my thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Growing up, I received classical piano training for over a decade, which deeply influenced my musical foundation. However, being from Kerala, I also belong to a different cultural background. It took time for these diverse influences to merge harmoniously in my music. With tracks like “Her Vacation,” I’ve begun to explore and express my cultural identity more authentically. Moving forward, you’ll notice a shift towards incorporating my native language and delving into more intimate emotions that resonate deeply with me.

Tell us about the influence of your locality on your music.

The influence of my locality on my music has been multifaceted. Firstly, the Carnatic vocal classes I attended from a young age, though initially not impactful as I slept through most of them, have now become ingrained instincts that guide my musical expression. Additionally, the support and efforts of the people in my community have played a significant role in amplifying my message through various mediums beyond my own, shaping the direction and reach of my music.

 What does it mean to be a multi-genre artist tell us about your latest collaboration with Siege and how the two distinct styles come together.

To me, being a multi-genre artist means embracing the freedom to create music without being confined by genre boundaries. Instead of categorizing my work into specific genres during the creative process, I focus on expressing my emotions and ideas authentically. This approach allows me to explore various musical styles, from swing and jazz to pop and dance, based on what resonates with me at any given moment. Regarding my collaboration with Siege, it was a natural fusion of our distinct styles. While I had previously operated in the realm of R&B, Siege’s background in hip-hop provided a complementary foundation. Despite the differences in our musical backgrounds, we found common ground through vulnerability. This shared element allowed us to bridge our worlds and create a cohesive song that reflects both of our artistic identities.

How does a collaboration between music and fashion/footwear like “Connect with the Unexpected”, provide a unique platform for creative expression?  

Collaboration between music and fashion, as in “Connect with the Unexpected,” offers a dynamic platform for creative expression. Personally, I’ve attempted to keep my music and fashion separate in the past, but the lines blur more and more. There have been numerous occasions where people have assumed I’m a musician based solely on my attire, underlining the intuitive communication inherent in clothing. Fashion holds a deeply personal significance for individuals, perhaps even more so than music, as it’s integrated into our daily lives. Ultimately, clothing offers a tangible and immediate means of communication, making connections with others more accessible when combined with music.

Hero and Feature images: Courtesy Converse India

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