Arivarasu Kalainesan, or Arivu (“wisdom” in Tamil), as he’s now known, is a slight, unassuming 26-year-old. Quiet and contemplative, he weighs every word before he speaks. Except for his brand new Adidas kicks, it would be hard to imagine him as one of the country’s most promising rappers. Well-read, razor sharp and a prominent face of The Casteless Collective, a 19-member music crew, Arivu raps “because hip-hop came from pain. There is so much oppression in this country that’s ignored. People ask, where is the caste? But every street in India is divided according to it.”
Arivu grew up in Arakkonam, 70km outside Chennai, without a television or any other form of mainstream media. His teacher parents supplied him with books instead (he can recite Tamil poets like Bharathiyar and Thiruvalluvar from memory). By the time he left for engineering college in Coimbatore, he was already writing his own work – his friends told him his poetry, and the way he recited it, was called rap.
While his playlist now includes everyone from Lil Wayne to J Cole, there’s no talk of bitches and fancy rides in his music. He has none of the affected swag of his peers; and no sign of bling. He may be a rapper, but he’s a poet and writer first. His recent album Therukural (“The Voices Of The Streets”) has gone viral, and he has invitations to perform abroad.
But perhaps we would never have heard of Ariv