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New Delhi rapper Prabh Deep is becoming known for his socially conscious rhymes

Rapping in slang-inflected Punjabi, with a smattering of Hindi and English thrown in, the b-boy turned rapper has built ...

A quarter of the way into Class-Sikh, the debut album by New Delhi rapper Prabh Deep, the music gives way to the ringing of a telephone. “Yaar, Abu dead ho gaya hai yaar, (Dude, Abu is dead),” says the voice on the other end. “Overdose.” During the next minute, Prabh narrates the story of his childhood friend’s descent into drug addiction and crime. With unflinching honesty, he talks about Abu’s murder convictions, his multiple stints in prison and Prabh’s hope that he would turn over a new leaf after his wedding, a hope that would be dashed by that fateful phone call.

It is a masterful bit of spoken-word poetry, made even more effective by Prabh’s refusal to romanticise or make excuses for the rage that drove his friend into an early grave.

For most rappers, this sort of proximity to violence and organised crime would be a badge of honour, the perfect story to establish their credentials as a bona fide street anti-hero. But in Prabh’s hands, it is transformed into a searing indictment – of his friend’s string of bad decisions; of the toxic culture of hyper-masculinity and conspicuous consumption that enabled those decisions; and of a society that looks the other way as poverty and addiction devour its young. Abu is a rare moment of vulnerability on a record that is otherwise bursting at the seams with swagger and aggression, and it is all the more powerful for it.

For all of Prabh’s considerable skills on the mic, it is stories like this one – and the compassionate but unsentimental way in which he offers them up – that make Class-Sikh the best Indian hip-hop record of the past few years.

For the longest time, when people spoke of Indian hip-hop, what they actually meant has the novelty cringe-rap of Baba Sehgal – India’s very own Vanilla Ice – or the half-cooked rhymes that music producers stuck in the middle of Bollywood film songs in ill-fated attempts to make the music more hip and contemporary.