By Vidya Pradhan
“I was in India recently, traveling from Chennai to Mumbai by train when a little girl came up to me begging for food,” says the rapper named Ajaxxx. “She told me her story, how she had been singing on the trains to earn something. It really shook me and inspired me to write a song about not taking what we have in this country for granted.”
Ajaxxx, or Ajay Dani, is an Indian American of Sindhi origin. He is also a seasoned rapper, well known in Orlando, Florida, with several CDs to his name.
“I’ve been rapping with my friends since I was 12 or 13,” says Ajaxxx. “But it was in high school that I decided to take it seriously.” He entered a radio contest called “Open Mic” where phone-in callers were given a beat and asked to come up with rap lyrics on the spot. He won the contest 5 times and decided to pursue the genre as a possible career. Many rappers consider themselves poets and with good reason. Rapping, which occupies a gray area between speech and song, is one of the few musical genres that developed as a way of expressing cultural angst and is much more lyric driven than other genres.
The beat provides the base for the message and the composition of the song begins with producing the beat. Here’s how Ajaxxx puts it- “Usually I have a concept in mind. I take it to the producer and ask them to give me a beat to match the feeling. We work out several iterations of the beat till it mirrors the feeling or concept I have in mind. The beat then gives me the inspiration for the lyrics.” The song is then recorded then ‘mixed down’ which is to get the vocals cleaned up by a sound engineer who might also add some effects to give the number some pop.
Ajaxxx raps about a variety of subjects. Sometimes it is the stuff of mainstream music, of heartbreak and recovery, but the medium can also be a powerful way to convey a message to youngsters tuned out from parental haranguing. “And sometimes I just like to have fun,” he says with a laugh. “Rap music is an outlet to express myself,” he adds. “I want my songs to make people think.”
One such meaningful number is “Walk with you” a song about the aftermath of violence. In 2006, Ajaxxx decided to enter a contest called “Rap Against Violence.” Recent school shootings had shaken the country. “I kept thinking about how the real victims were the friends and the family who were left behind,” he says, “and I wrote my lyrics to reflect that feeling.” His friend and music producer TyPeNyCe provided the beat. "Walk With You" was picked as one of the ten winners of the contest.
Despite becoming fairly well known in his corner of the hip-hop scene, Ajaxxx continues to keep his day job as a graphic designer and web designer. As an independent artist, financial success is slow to come by. But he is super confident. “I know I have a voice and I want people to hear my story.” In the meantime, the internet is his best friend. He sends out email blasts for promos, posts on various forums and distributes a couple of CDs worth of downloads free on his site.
Ajaxxx has an ambitious plan of releasing 4 new CDs this year with one of theme featuring Indian beats and instrumentation. Meanwhile his brand of rap with "Dirty South" influences (music from southern US states like Florida, Tennessee and Georgia) and the Indian flavor from his heritage is as he says, “dominating.”
Here’s a link to the award winning song “Walk with you” and part of the lyrics.
It came to me, when my brother started to cry
I seen him sitting in the corner like he wanted to die
He told me of the pain that he saw in his eyes
And that if you pull the trigger, you take more than a life
If one person dies, it affects a whole family
A parent loses a child, to a senseless tragedy
A brother or sister, has to witness a calamity
And what was once love, now has turned into the saddest scene
And yo, it saddens me…and I don’t get it
Someone died, and this could have been prevented?
A life is gone, and although you’re in heaven
I can’t seem to breathe and it’s hard to accept it
My friend is long gone, and my soul’s grieving
My friend is long gone, and all for no reason
It’s so heated, so if you’re hearing this
Please put yours guns down…it ain’t worth it…I’m serious