Navraj Hundal who is known by his rap alias Rex, is the latest South Asian rapper to explode on to Chicago’s rap scene.
He has been rapping for the past three years and has already featured on many tracks alongside fellow Chicago producer, Shinda Singh. Aside from also providing samples on his SoundCloud and YouTube channel of his rapping ability, he has debuted his single ‘Lights,’ filmed in and around Chicago.
I catch up with Rex, who labels himself as a rapper, a poet and an artist for a QnA.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Well the three words that would describe me best: poet, student, and human. Tying it all together, rhyming and rhythm is a very important outlet for me and also in turn has helped me learn a lot about myself as a person. My hope is to be heard not only in the South Asian community but with a broader hip-hop audience. I feel with practice, patience, and perseverance, I can accomplish my goals.
How did you come up with the name ‘Rex?’
Well my name is Navraj, which means “New King.” Originally my name was Rex Nova, which in Latin also means “New King.” Eventually I started seeing a lot of artists with Nova in there name, so I dropped it and I was left with Rex.
Who are your musical inspirations? Do you have a favorite rapper(s)?
My musical inspirations are all over the place. I like all types of genres of music but rap/hip-hop are definitely my favorite. My favorite rap artists are always changing though. Before I started rapping, my favorites were Eminem, Immortal Technique and Jedi Mind Tricks. When I started listening to Nas, I was in awe at how great he was and his older material really affected not only my rapping style, but also my outlook on life. The same goes for J Cole and Drake. Those two were really the ones that I listened to and related too. They were heavy influences in my choice to start rapping. As I progressed as a rapper, I really started to notice the technical differences between rappers and that made me enjoy artists like Kendrick Lamar so much more. I love rap and almost every artist that puts their heart into their work, but hopefully one day I can become my own favorite rapper.
How would you describe your style of rapping?
Overall, I feel like I’m developing my own style. My thoughts will always be mine and hopefully original, but my flow and voice have been influenced by many of the rappers I just mentioned. Recently I’ve been working on my skills in double-time rapping (this is where you speak double the words in the same space as you would a regular bar).
I think my lyrics are my most valuable asset because I speak from experience as well as my feelings and ambitions. That’s why, looking back, I’ve learned so much from my music, simply because I say things I mean.
My flow, which is still a work in progress, has been improving. I hope to find a balance between rhyme scheme and placement, while still achieving a more steady flow.
Being a South Asian rapper, do you find it harder to get your music heard within different ethnic groups?
I would never like to consider myself just a South Asian rapper. I just want to be a rapper. Period. But realistically I know that of course there’s difficulty when being a pioneer in something. I feel I’m a pioneer because, although there are other South Asian rappers, none have ever received widespread recognition outside of the community. I’m not doing this to be considered just a South Asian rapper.
Within Chicago’s emerging rap scene, where do you see yourself and other South Asian rappers fitting in?
I think we’re mostly outsiders right now. Whereas some rappers may fit in right away because the things they’re saying and where they were born, most of the South Asian rappers come from different circumstances. If you were to group us together, I think, we speak more consciously then some of the other groups in hip-hop. That’s the trend I’ve seen.
Do you see many more South Asian rappers breaking through?
Once one of us makes it big, it’s going to be a domino affect. You’ll see more South Asian/Sikh rappers make it, and a lot of people in our community will want to be a part of it.
See, rhythm and poetry are at the core of the Sikh religion. That has to mean something. What I think it means is that we’re spiritually and mentally inclined to create music from rhymes. It is a trait passed down from our ancestors and once this trait is accessed, there’s great potential from musical growth. And again, once one of us makes it, it’s only going to open up doors for the rest of us.
You featured on the album ‘Once We Were Kings’ which also featured Tigerstyle, Moneyspinner, and Gupsy Aujla. Have you considered crossing into bhangra more to provide rap vocals for producers/singers?
Oh man I’d love that! I’ve been trying to get on desi sounding beats ever since I started rapping. If I ever get the chance, and get in touch with some producers willing to work on it with me, I would make a rap album based around Indian sounds and rhythms.
You have worked with Shinda Singh who has also produced music with fellow Chicagoan Alpha Singh. Have you considered collaborating with Alpha Singh on a Shinda Singh produced beat?
That’s very possible. I don’t have any relationship with Alpha but he’s a talented young artist. If we ever got the chance to make good music together, I wouldn’t pass.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
Anyone who cares for the music and takes it seriously. Actually, I’ve just sent over my part for a collaboration with Demense, a producer from Vancouver. It’s an RnB track with a rap feature by me. I think people are going to like it.
Tell us about your single “Lights.”
It’s a fun song about my dreams and chasing them. I got connected with video director Eric Seals through a friend of mine. I told him I had a song I thought we can make a video for. He liked the song and agreed. We shot parts in the suburbs near where I live and parts in the city (Chicago). It was a long day but the excitement of my first video definitely drowned out my fatigue.
Any shout outs?
Shout out to everyone chasing a dream! And also much love to my family and friends! Support the movement!!!
Thank you for your time Navraj. Keep it going!
Like Navraj Hundal on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his YouTube channel via the links below:-
Navraj Hundal - SoundCloud
Check out my previous QnA with another Sikh rap artist, Alpha Singh, from Chicago.
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