The rap music industry in Bangladesh has been growing steadily in recent years. While it is still a relatively niche genre, it has gained a dedicated following among young people in the country. Many Bangladeshi rappers use their music to address social and political issues like poverty and corruption and give marginalized communities a voice. Mahmud Hasan Tabib & his partner Rana Mridha, more commonly known as the duo Tabib & Rana, are no different in trying to be the voice of the unheard. They are known for their hard-hitting lyrics, which often address social and political issues facing their country. During an exclusive conversation with TINDS, Tabib shared his story of coming this far, uniting with Rana and his journey of becoming a successful rapper in the nation.
TINDS: What was your childhood like?
TABIB: I was born in Manikganj and spent most of my childhood within the house’s perimeters. I came to Dhaka in 2013 for my Higher Secondary education, and I got admitted to Dhaka University in 2015. My life before that was pretty bland.
TINDS: What are you studying?
TABIB: I am currently doing my Master’s in the Arabic language. I studied in Madrasa, and my father was also a student in the Arabic language department. I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure as an Arabic language student, and I hope to understand more profound aspects of the subject.
TINDS: 3 words that describe you the best.
TABIB: Lazy, Spontaneous & Consistent.
TINDS: How’d you get involved with music?
TABIB: As mentioned earlier, I spent most of my childhood at home. While at home, I had access to a lot of free time, and I used to spend a substantial amount of time on a software named FL Studio, which is software for music composition. I understood what composition meant, and I would listen to several artists emerging simultaneously, like Skib Khan, Deshi MC, Uptown Lokolz, Stoic Bliss etc., who are known to be the pioneers of rap in our country. I always thought my voice and tune needed to be better to be a singer. However, rapping was probably something I could do because of the rhythm of the verses and the way of presentation.
TINDS: How’d you meet Rana, and how did you become the duo you are?
TABIB: I met Rana in front of DU’s Salimullah Muslim Hall, popularly known as SM Hall, of the University of Dhaka when I was passing them on a bike, and they called out to me to have a free ride on my bike. I stopped, got them up on my bike, and went for a round. Upon asking them to keep me entertained, Rana sang me a rap song with great fluency, and I was amazed. I am trying to figure out how or why I wanted to make a song about life. I realized that I could implement my plan for storytelling through an actual character like him. I kept him as the subject of the story and bringing in other realities of life on the streets, I wrote my first song, and that’s how it all started.
TINDS: When was your first song released?
TABIB: Rana, who had never finished the first grade, to my great surprise, took only two days to memorize the lyrics. I composed the music and recorded Rana’s vocals in one of my friend’s so-called amateur studios—a computer, a microphone, and headphones. Later, with the help of a friend who did the videography, we completed the music video and posted it on YouTube in 2019.
TINDS: You mention so much about societal issues in your songs. Do you plan on doing something to change how things are in our society?
TABIB: Our country has problems like unemployment, hunger, poverty and whatnot. Enough organizations and NGOs are working to make a change, and I believe if they work in the way they are supposed to, change is inevitable. I worked with female girl children as my thesis topic for my undergrad and did a year-long research on the methodology of organizations trying to help these children. I have looked into more than one and wish to change how the system works. I plan to do my PhD and start a project in my hometown with street children. By the grace of Almighty, if that succeeds, I will ensure people know the more effective way of getting things done.
TINDS: What would you be if not a musician?
TABIB: I don’t consider myself a full-time musician. I am instead a full-time writer. A book of mine was published at this year’s book fair. My first book was published in 2015, and so far, three books have been published. Returning to the question, I’d like to be a businessman, if not something else.
TINDS: How did it feel getting up on stage to perform for the first time?
TABIB: Our very first live performance was at Bangabandhu International Conference Center, and it was a rather lousy performance. I was astounded by the number of people in front of the stage. However, the audience applauded and welcomed us with open arms. It felt surreal, and what we do, we do for the audience’s love.
TINDS: What do you think the future of hip hop in Bangladesh is like?
TABIB: The future is going to be great. People have more opportunities and more ways to learn now. Social media is a significant influence and within reach of ordinary people. Even someone in the most rural area can now know and learn about what music composition is and work on it. Lyrics are the soul of a rap song; to grab the best of it, people should read more.
TINDS: What have you had to struggle with coming this far?
TABIB: I must say I haven’t had to struggle a lot because of the support that I have had from my family. However, it is mentionable that money is a significant factor. Creating visuals for a song, or a music video, requires a budget. The more there is the better the output. I have also had to work hard to balance my work and studies. I was having to spend more time doing shows and what not took a significant toll on my studies for a year or two.
TINDS: What would your advice be to young rappers?
TABIB: To be a good rapper, one has to be good with words; to do so, one must read. Read a lot about anything and everything to polish their vocabulary and knowledge of words. Rap is nothing but a play with words and rhythm, and we can always follow international artists and make tunes similar to a Latin or European beat. But nothing will sound better than what’s original and belongs to our culture. It is essential to stick to our roots and be true to them.
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