The Rise and Rise of Emiway Bantai
RollingStone India|October 2021
How the Mumbai rapper cracked social media and tackled naysayers to become a viral sensation
JESSICAXALXO

EMIWAY BANTAI OCCUPIES A DISTINCT space in Indian hip-hop. In a little over eight years, the social media magnate and multilingual rapper (Emiway spits bars in Hindi, English, Marathi and Tamil) has turned into a phenomenon: the Emiway Bantai insignia stands for a veritable viral hit or nothing — with views well into the billions and counting!

While his debut English track “Glint Lock (feat. Minta)” — released in 2013 when he was 18 — failed to make much of a dent, his 2014 single “Aur Bantai” and particularly, the 2019 drop “Machayenge” (which went viral on the now denaturalized TikTok) captured the attention of a global audience, making Emiway an accidental digital star and a household name. Now, an artist-entrepreneur heading the Mumbaibased label Bantai Records, he reveals how he cracked the code.

The making of Emiway Bantai

Like most borderline millennial Indians, the 1995-born Emiway’s first brush with hip-hop was rapper Eminem’s empowering 2010 anthem, “Not Afraid.” Nary an inch of Mohammed Bilal Shaikh urf Emiway Bantai’s hair had strayed from his oil-slicked scalp, that the rapper — now associated with a raging, bedraggled mane that meets slick, street-styled ensembles and many-hued killer kicks — began to think of life ahead of being an ‘average’ pupil.

In school, Emiway tried to keep up with his teacher’s lessons, while at home, he took to the Internet to learn more about the gift of the Bronx — hip-hop. The music of Eminem and Lil Wayne left an indent on the young Mumbaikar’s psyche and their names became one half of Mohammed’s moniker. Two years after his maiden meeting with hip-hop — a time during which Emiway wrote his SSC examinations and went on to begin college — “Glint Lock” was dropped and out emerged Emiway Bantai.

The cover art for the single featured Emiway hunched on the balls of his feet, chequered sneakers flush with the terracotta pavement tiles that are ubiquitous in his city. He poses in front of the open shutters of Navi Mumbai’s IMX Studio, the same town now home to his own label, Bantai Records. The nascently mustachioed rapper sports a short crop of hair and stares offinto the distance, resolute. We get a sense of Emiway’s purpose; lines that are also echoed in his 2021 track “Hai Tu Kaun”: “Shukriya jisne mujhe sign karne se kiya tha mana/ Utna hi hard independent artist main bana (To those who refused to sign me, thank you. It lead me to become a successful independent artist.)”

There was potential, if not promise, in his debut; early strains of the spitfire Emiway we hear today. Three releases later — wherein one can hear heavy influences of Eminem (“Yeh Meri Zindagi”), hitmaker Pitbull (“Tap On The Floor”) and American rockers Linkin Park (“F.O.U.R. Square”), he dropped the seminal single “Aur Bantai” in 2014.

Consistency is the name of the game

“It’s like going to the gym; you start slow, but you keep going on consistently and you keep getting better,” says Emiway. The key to his seemingly sudden success in 2014 was consistency. Averaging a release every three months, the rapper had slowly secured a sizable subscriber base on YouTube where he dropped his singles. “You have got to do the exact same hustle. You might feel low at times, but it’s a mandatory part of this process. Believe in yourself before anyone else does, and just keep getting better,” he says. This steady stream eventually propelled Emiway to the status of a rapper on the rise, an ascent he would peak by the end of the decade with viral hits such as “Machayenge” and “Samajh Mein Aaya Kya?”

The Emiway Bantai formula on social media!

The rapper’s chart-toppers boast more than 300M+ views (Emiway Bantai’s cumulative YouTube imprint is well into the billions with a massive 16.4M subscriber base), but he claims his fame was a fluke. “My fame on social media was accidental, supported by the love of music lovers and my loyal followers #BantaiKiPublic. There is no specific method or formula to this thing.”

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