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UCLA alumnus uses power of music to create album focused on culture, religion

By Manjot Singh

Oct. 28, 2012 11:48 p.m.

From imagining himself as a rapper in third grade to writing a poem called “Smackeroo to Timbuktu in fifth grade, Jagmeet Singh has never had a problem with expressing himself creatively.

Much of Singh’s raw talent has carried over from his early days to now, keeping the tradition alive under his stage name/alter-ego, Hoodini.

From spitting rhymes and rap battling in high school, Hoodini has since opened for RZA, the Wu-Tang Clan’s chief producer, all the while finishing off the last few tracks for his new album, “Complex Ignorance,” which is set to debut in January.

Singh, a UCLA global studies alumnus, is a scholar by day and a rap doctor by night, setting verbal traps for any and all who choose to listen to his clever wordplay and poetic versatility mixed with very real messages. The sincerity in his voice when he sings and the smoothness in his delivery when he raps captures his audience as soon as he starts chanting a bar or two.

“Me rapping is like me accepting that my skin color is the way it is. Half of it, you’re just born with it. You’re predisposed to it. I grew up listening to hip-hop and that’s what happens,” Singh said.

Singh began listening to battle rappers like Smack DVD and Murda Mook, and gradually began to expand his musical taste and range in attempts to develop a style and flow that suited his personality.

Much of his style is a combination of his own varied interest in music as well as his background in music, which largely stemmed from his affinity and reverence of his religion, Sikhism.Singh said that for any Sikh person you meet, music remains at the center of religion and lifestyle.

Punjabi culture is very poetic and musical much like the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. Hip-hop is just how Singh translates his intrinsic love for music, something that is at the crux of the Sikh people’s interests.

On the production side, his music is influenced by sounds from all over the world including instruments such as the tabla (South Asian percussion instrument) and the harmonium (keyboard popularized by Indian classical music), making it more than just hip-hop. It is more musical and complex, combining the talents of Hoodini and his producer Sherwin Keith Rice, who goes by the stage name KinG.

Anadjeet Khahera, a fifth-year physiological science student and Singh’s former roommate, is a huge supporter and fan of Hoodini’s work, often discussing and critiquing his music.

“Jagmeet told me that in high school, he always used to have rhymes ready in his head because anytime anybody wanted to battle, he had to prove himself,” Khahera said. “He wasn’t the black kid rapping, he was the Indian guy with the turban rapping. He always had to back himself up.”

Hoodini since then, however, has said he thinks of his turban no longer as an automatic target for name-calling, but as a catalyst for confidence.

“It’s nothing but an asset. People always come up to me and ask me if I’m Rastafarian and ask me for weed and I’m always like “˜Nah, I don’t smoke.’ My turban makes me more memorable. It’s always been love,” Singh said.

Singh says his new album is a reflection of the development and maturation of his craft, both lyrically and holistically, for him as a person.

“”˜Complex Ignorance’ is ignorant for people who are looking for ignorance but there are some gems in there that people can take out. On one level, you can look at it as a social commentary on the situation of the South Asian diaspora in America and in another sense, it’s a mainstream album that represents the sentiments of a young college kid from Los Angeles,” Singh said.

His lyrics deal with challenging society’s mantra that people must live a cookie-cutter lifestyle in order to achieve society’s definition of financial and social success. His poetic versatility is evident in many of his lines where he goes from talking about being a hopeless romantic in one instant, to talking about partition in another.

In one song off his new album, Singh talks about society’s inherent contradictions, illuminating how that a liquor store owner is no different from the guy standing right outside selling drugs.

Both are making money off of people’s vices and addictions. One is going to jail and the other is not. These are the kind of parallels he draws that makes his listeners think twice about the depth of his lyrics.

“I’ve gotten to a point with this album where I’m trying to give out a message but at the same time mask it under layers of clever wordplay. For someone who’s looking for something deeper, they’re going to understand where I’m coming from,” Singh said.

How he chooses to relay his material to his audience is a completely different form of expression, and is often the most crucial element to performance art.

His live performance is quite unconventional for the typical rap artist, integrating live instruments with rap performance. His set includes guitar, drums and bass while Singh switches from rapping to playing tabla, proving himself as an innovator within the frameworks of the DJ-rapper tradition.

Gunjiv Singh, another LA-based rapper who actively works with Jagmeet Singh, describes his experience performing live with Hoodini and how it differs from some of the other artists he collaborated with.

“Performing on stage with him is incredible because of primarily his energy, but also his ability to interact with his audience. It gets him hyped. That’s what completes him as an artist. You can listen to him and have your eyes closed and you wouldn’t know what kind of ethnicity he is or how long he’s been rapping,” Gunjiv Singh said.

A lot of what college taught Jagmeet Singh was to be humble, honest and open to new ideas and viewpoints. He learned to challenge his own beliefs and others’, as well as constantly question why things are the way they are, stressing that being skeptical is far more important than being accepting.

“Had I not gone to college, I would have thought that I could live in Northridge for the rest of my life, rapping and selling CDs at the mall,” Singh said.

“I’ve noticed in life, you have to be humble in everything that you do. You have to thank people for them giving you the opportunity to even let you stand on stage and share a very personal piece of yourself with them.”

Email Singh at [email protected]

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