The Quietus | Features | Subscriber Area | Organic Intelligence XXIV: Women In South Asian Hip Hop

The Desi hip hop scene has seen immense growth since the turn of the century, with heavy hitters like Bohemia responsible for bringing South Asian rap into the mainstream. Hip hop culture has worked its way into the consciousness of major cities like Delhi and Mumbai but until the past decade or so, the genre has remained largely male-dominated. Thanks to the influence of subgenres in the US and the wider dissemination of hip hop via digital media, however, South Asian women have gradually found their way in and through their skilful fusion of languages, melodies and tones from the diaspora, they’ve cemented their position as some of the scene’s most exciting innovators. Though at home and abroad, stereotypes relating to South Asian women as Bollywood starlets and nothing more prevail, there are a select few that are fighting against such labels with their confident and hyper-localised styles and strong feminist messaging.

We’re lucky to live in a time of immense talent here in the UK, as far as women in hip hop, grime and drill are concerned. In the US, early pioneers like Roxanne Shante and Queen Latifah helped open the door for present-day chart-toppers like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. But in the 50th anniversary year of hip hop, in countries all over the world, women are organising, making noise, and bypassing gatekeepers to ensure that the next 50 years isn’t solely about the men. This edition of Organic Intelligence provides a spotlight on women in the South Asian diaspora who are defying expectations as rappers and making their voices heard across borders.

Listen to the music from this month’s Organic Intelligence via Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.

Raja Kumari – ‘Rani Cypher’ feat. SIRI, Meba Ofilia and Dee MC

‘Rani Cypher’ has a potent opening: “As a woman in this industry, we have to work harder, we have to be better, we have to do so much more”. The track, by Indian-American rapper Raja Kumari (Svetha Rao), has a focus on celebrating women as it unites a number of popular artists in the Indian rap scene, including Meba Ofilia, SIRI and Dee MC. Each artist tackles gendered stereotypes, misplaced social perceptions and inequalities in their verses, with the clarion call of the choral line acting as a reminder to know your worth as a woman in the scene and beyond: “Rani, rani, don’t forget that you are a queen”.

Eva B – ‘Kuch Nahi Hua’

Eva B has been labelled “Pakistan’s first female rapper”, and though there have likely been others before her, she is certainly the first to gain international acclaim. ‘Kuch Nahi Hua’, a single from earlier this year, is a great representation of Eva B’s skills and undeniable flow. The track’s smooth instrumental draws out the narrative of feeling neglected in a relationship, with Eva’s compelling verses in Urdu emphasising the raw emotion in the lyrics as well as clear moments of vulnerability.

Won Tribe – ‘Tyranny of Power’

Won Tribe, consisting of rappers Ashwini Hiremath aka Krantinaari and Pratika E Prabune, popularly called MC Pep, is a duo that places significance on social and political consciousness. Individually, each rapper has a strong sense of identity and potency in their lyricism, but together, they bring forth new dynamic energy. ‘Tyranny Of Power’ is the first track from the Mumbai collective, with lyrics tackling racial discrimination, the state of the world and how all too often people fail to demand much-needed change.


Bengaluru-based Siri Narayan is known for her multilingual rapping, with lyrics in Kannada, Telugu, English and Hindi across various projects. ‘MY JAM’, her 2020 single, was responsible for pushing her to the forefront of Indian hip hop, and she has since continued to stake her claim in the male-dominated and mostly Hindi-speaking scene. SIRI’s confidence and seamless switching between languages gives her rapping a fascinating and striking edge.

Irfana – ‘Sheila Silk’

Tamil Nadu rapper Irfana Hameed, the first woman artist signed by Def Jam India, began her musical journey with traditional Carnatic vocal and veena training. But once she was introduced to rap, there was no turning back and in the years since, she has become a vibrant force in Indian hip-hop. ‘Sheila Silk’, released earlier this year, is described by the artist as a tribute to the South Indian film star Silk Smitha. It’s a commanding single, about being in control and refusing to adhere to gender expectations and boundaries.

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