An alt rock band with rap in a music show produced by Xulfi? This year’s Coke Studio is goading me to write about eP. Two decades ago, the influence of Linkin Park and Tool manifested in the form of two rock bands that merged to form eP – and private school kids in Lahore found an anthem for their angst. In a market where hip hop had not seen the development that rock had seen in the 90s, Ahmad Butt’s presence on these songs was novel. For many who had grown up listening only to Urdu music, this rap may have appeared gimmicky, whimsical, maybe even comical.
Things have changed in 2022. Today’s teenagers and college students are much more likely to listen to Urdu rap than Urdu rock. There is a strong argument to be made that today’s rap audience is larger and more meaningful than the rock audience of two decades ago. Rap had made its appearance on Coke Studio in limited quantity, but the scene has made such strides that its absence from this year’s Coke Studio would have been criminal. In fact I would go on to say that anything less than a starring role would have been unfair to the state of Pakistani music today.
As a result, while the appearance of Talha Anjum and Faris Shafi is novel to the stage of Coke Studio (and perhaps new still to the scenes of corporate music in Pakistan broadly), to most listeners of this song I will venture that it is the sound of Karakoram behind those two voices that will feel novel. Looking backwards, it is easy to draw the connections between eP and this performance today. But 20 years ago it would have felt magical to think that the tables may one day turn this way, and with that lens I find it difficult to hold back a smile when listening to this recording.
There are so many things to love about this song beyond its construction. The existentialism of its theme, the brutalist architecture of the set, the star-making of Talha Anjum and Faris Shafi. Anjum and Karakoram’s fatalist feel is a perfect fit. It was harder for me to understand how Faris’s meme-making lyrics fit into this narrative.
Faris’s verse on this song, unlike the other two, is less reflective. It is delivered as a story about Faris, rather than the ruminations on a falling world delivered by Anjum and Sherry Khattak. Faris is going to be Faris however, and he is such a talisman for the musicians in today’s scene that it’s hard to see anyone pushing Faris to fit into a different picture. He ends up namechecking Ismat Chughtai and Eminem together – which is perfectly Faris.
I cannot say the same thing about another manifestation of eP in today’s music scene, Ahmad Butt performing as ‘Butt G’ on Kashmir Beats (don’t get me started on Kashmir Beats). This song sounds like what our parents think rap sounds like.