Locomotive

To understand this recording you must go back to the Young Stunners’ song Laga Reh, which I wrote about previously. Then, I wrote more about the general theme of a struggling youth in Stunners songs. I didn’t write about the video, which speaks to how the stunners Talhah Yunus and Talha Anjum, along with their producer Jokhay, have actually set up an infrastructure in which to build up younger rappers around them. In that video, Boljani, Savage and superdupersultan play younger versions of Yunus, Anjum and Jokhay respectively. Umar, Shareh and a host of other rappers from what I call the Stunners Universe also feature in the video.

This is not a one-time cutesy collaboration, the connections established here speak more strongly to how linked these artists, their sound, and their songs are. Even in this song, Locomotive, there are direct throwbacks to Laga Reh. Shareh raps Yunus’ line from Laga Reh: “Bae misaal de meri kay bemisaal hu mai”. Then, Yunus comments on the YouTube pointing out the reference, further strengthening the callbacks between these rappers, as they build each other up using the audiences they’ve established on their own.

Shareh also says: “Yeh mera groove tujhe maloom dunga proof nahi” – which I presume is a reference to the Young Stunners’ feature on the PSL Anthem Groove Mera. Savage raps: “Umar savage sath vision apna sirf stunner” – a reference to the clothing brand Stunner Vision, which sells Young Stunners merchandise and fashion similar to that seen in Stunners’ videos.

These callbacks extend through a lot of the discography of the Stunners Universe, strengthening the audience’s bond with new songs and artists.

A criticism of the early 2000s generation of Pakistani pop musicians is that at the height of their success, they did not establish sustainable mechanisms through which to foster new artists that could carry on the charge. The biggest legacy of this generation is music shows, which as aggregators of the music scene monopolize demand and can further restrict new musicians with onerous contracts. New musicians do not have leverage against these contracts, and are hence rewarded with a tiny pie of the music business. As a result, the music infrastructure of the 2000s created a generational cliff.

The counterargument to this is that despite their popularity, the financial success of the 2000s music business was limited too. And the reign of music shows actually created opportunities for new artists that did not previously exist.

The Stunners Universe is interesting to me because it presents an approach that undercuts all of this. Through these references, callbacks and connections, the songs create a broader narrative and culture which is then monetized through streaming revenue, merchandise and eventually sponsorship as the big brands finally catch up to the unnoticed popularity of this entire scene. From this appear not just a couple of artists with mainstream credibility, but rather a growing roster of rappers all of whom develop under the wings of those already present. Most of these artists are so young that they can look forward to decades of work if all goes well, so the possibilities here are immensely exciting.

h/t to friend of the show Feroze Shah who spelled much of this out to me.