Ra aka Bohemia started learning harmonium at a very young age from his father. He started writing Urdu/Punjabi poetry at the age of twelve. After migrating to Bay Area California around when he was about fourteen, Ra was introduced to America that was much the opposite of palm trees and green grass, and was infested with drugs and violence. About a year later, he lost his mother to cancer.
At an early age, Ra left home and becoming a local musician. He started working as a keyboard player and a music arranger while living at local studios with other musicians. After a few years of success, the local group fell apart and he left to pursue his own music. Bohemia soon started putting his poetry to his music and gave birth to the new era of Punjabi rapping. Through his experiences, come raw raps depicting not just California street life, but a life many South East Asians lead out abroad.
PMR: First of all thank you for giving us your valuable time.
Bohemia: Thank you for your time as well.
PMR: How have you been?
Bohemia: I’ve been great, I’m living my dream and I feel blessed.
PMR: What really distinguishes you from other rappers, what’s your real strength?
Bohemia: I’m the pioneer of Punjabi rap. When I say that what I mean is that, I didn’t have another Punjabi rapper to look up to grown up so, I basically invented my style of music. And that comes naturally to me because I’ve been fascinated by Urdu and Punjabi poetry since I was very young, way before I was introduced to Rap music. I always knew I was a poet. My second official album launched about six months ago with Universal Music Group is still among the top 5 albums with artists like A. R. Rahman and Eminem. Those are some of the things that help distinguish me from other young Desi artists of our time.
PMR: Who are some rappers that you would compare yourself to?
Bohemia: That’s hard since I don’t know any other Punjabi rapper, yet (laugh). But if I was to think of American rappers I would have to say Nas. I am a big fan of Nas. As a matter of fact, when I first stated to listen to him, I started noticing things he would mention and I would say to myself, yo that’s exactly what I was saying in my Punjabi poetry I wrote as a kid. The similarities were crazy. So I started to listen to him more and more and then I picked up on other rappers like Ice Cube and KRS One. But what makes my music different from other rappers is that, I play and compose all my music.
PMR: Let’s start from your beginning; how do you see your journey from an underground artist to a high profile main stream celebrity?
Bohemia: I’ve loved music ever since I was a little kid and I saw my dad play harmonium. I was a local musician in the Bay Area (California) for many years. I would make beats and right poetry and I always thought of myself as a producer. But it was around year 2002 when I lost a close friend of mine, a musician. I decided that if I was going to do music anymore, it would be my original music. It would be my poetry, all the real feeling and real stories, none of that glossy fairytale stuff. None of that cover up music that made it seem everything was ok, things weren’t ok you know. So I would just get away from everybody and write. That’s how the whole Punjabi rap thing came about. Later it got out, people made copies and passed them on. The tracks got to the BBC radios in London and the rest is what you know. As for the whole celebrity thing, I feel blessed to be rubbing shoulders with some big heads in the game and flying all over the world but personally, I’m a simple man. You’ll still find me kicking it with the same fools doing our thing, its life as usual man.
PMR: Do you think Bohemia is better when it comes to being a music producer or a rapper?
Bohemia: My new album Da Rap Star was all produced by me so I leave that question for my fans to answer.
PMR: Tell us about the start of your professional career?
Bohemia: I was always very serious with my music. I have a lot of respect for the musicians I grew up with. I left home at an early age and started working at a few local studios way before I started rapping. I would say the start would be when I finally inked a deal with Bally Sagoo’s Ishq records and Universal Music Group India.
PMR: The Bohemia we see on our screens, is he an outcome of a hard worked grooming?
Bohemia: Not at all… I think the Bohemia you see on screen is just me. I believe what put me on the screen is my music, and the screen just has to deal with it.
PMR: Now you have a major fan following and we hope and wish that the support goes on. But when you first started rapping, before anyone really knew who you were what the reception was? Where people like, “Dude, shouldn’t you be break dancing or something?”
Bohemia: I was involved with the local Bay Area music scene as a local musician so everyone knew me as that. I was happy as a kid being around well trained musicians and wanting to learn from them. We would have artists like Jazzy B and Abrar Ul Haq roll thru our studio and I was getting involved as a producer very slowly. But soon things started to fall apart. Some of the members got caught up with drugs. We had a few close calls with local thugs and what not. It started with one of the members getting setup and getting locked up. Then, we lost our drummer who was murdered. I left the studio and head back home after many years of staying on the road. Later that year, I started writing more and more to get my thoughts out and eventually I started putting my poetry to beats. I was writing since, as far back as I could remember, like the age of 9 or 10 but after leaving the group and going thru all of that, I was fired up to write more. I did what I new best and what came naturally to me as a fan of Mirza Ghalib, I wrote about my life.
PMR: Being a musician, is it a childhood dream or a university minor?
Bohemia: I wish I had the opportunity to go to a collage but at an early age, after losing my mom, and ran away from home and dropped out of high school so I never had the chance to finishing my education, now just imagine if I had gone to a university! (Laugh)
PMR: What inspired you to rap?
Bohemia: I was introduced to poetry of Mirza Ghalib at a very early age. Ever since then, I was fascinated by the art form. But years later, as I was growing up in California, I was surrounded by hip hop culture so I naturally got tuned into rap. I really loved rap music because unlike classical music where you had to learn a bunch of scales and techniques and later deliver them, rap was more about your thoughts and feelings. And at first, I didn’t really realize I was doing Punjabi rap. To me, I was just making original music with my thoughts and feelings. It’s just that in California the biggest influence I had at the time was rap music.
PMR: Your biggest professional achievement?
Bohemia: I would have to say that when I started, I was writing for myself and I never had imagined that my music will touch so many people. My album Pesa Nasha Pyar was a first ever Punjabi rap album launched by a major label. My follow up album Da Rap Star was number one on Planet M chart in Punjabi. But the big achievement to date as a street rapper was when I was personally approached by Mr. Akshay Kumar for the theme song of his Warner Bros movie. To work with him and the Sippy Entertainment team was definitely an honour.
PMR: Who ranks the top in your favourites in directors?
Bohemia: All time favourites would be Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis from the mainstream and Nadeem and Shravan from the great Bollywood era. I like to listen to all kinds of music though.
PMR: Lots of rumours are there that you are from India, Pakistan, and e.t.c so tell us where are you from?
Bohemia: For once and for all, I am from the sunshine state of California.
PMR: Who do you really admire as your ideal?
Bohemia: I look up to my dad and I thank him for introducing me to the love of music.
PMR: After the release of your latest album ‘ DA RAP STAR ‘, how do you feel, how was the response?
Bohemia: Da Rap Star was launched about six months ago. My first album with Universal Music Group had already been out for over two years so there was a lot of pressure from the label. I was in the middle of a legal battle at the time with an x team member and was really short handed at the studio. I decided to finish up the project as the main producer just as an answer to all of that pressure and I handed the album to UMG for the April launch. To my surprise the album opened up at No2 and went up to No1 in the first two week of the launch on Planet M chart and Music world chart in India. It even stayed on the B4U Top 10 for weeks, B4U is usually all film music and you never see any new artists on that chart. The album six months later is still on the Universal’s International Top 5 chart and on the national album Top 3. At the end of the day, I gotta thank my desi people for giving me the chance.
PMR: What advice do you have for people who want to strive in this industry of rap?
Bohemia: Do what comes naturally to you. Don’t try to be something you’re not. But most importantly, learn the business.
PMR: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music?
Bohemia: Hit me up on my website www.thepunjabirapper.com from there you can find all the links you need. You can even leave your email to get updates and alerts.
PMR: Tell us about your next project in the market?
Bohemia: I’ve recently recorded for a compilation project being launched by Universal. The track is sung by Mika and produced by Gaurav DayaI. I’m also collaborating with Taz [Stereo Nation] which is like an honour for me since I’m a big fan of Taz. There’s also a track I’m currently producing that features Gippy Grewal. Gippy’s got the whole Punjab on the lockdown, I especially flew down to Chandigarh to record Gippy and some other authentic instruments. I feel now I’m in a position to do a lot more then I could before so, let see.
PMR: How do you see the internet market for upcoming/underground bands/artists in terms of a marketing tool?
Bohemia: As a recording artist, it’s the charts that matter to me. If you aren’t on any charts upon your CD launch, you’ve got problems. It doesn’t matter how many internet hits you have. I think once you prove your success, the Internet marketing should follow. Internet should be used to connect with your audience not to create them.
PMR: Let us know how you think videos are an important music promotion source?
Bohemia: Videos are very important. A Video shows how the music connects with the world. How it links with the reality visually. In my videos, I never had to hire actors or set up props because I never had to create a fake environment. My music is based on the environment I was brought up in and that’s what you see in my videos. Now if you think that your video will sell your music, think again.
PMR: Do you plan your events & media work before hand or things just come your way?
Bohemia: I’m bad at planning anything. I’m lucky to be a part of a team that’s real focus and dedicated. Most of my personal energy is spent at the London Lab Studio in California where all my music gets recorded. What I do best is produce music so I stick with that. I do like to oversee the whole plan once the label blocks the schedule though.
PMR: Any concerts you planning?
Bohemia: I’m currently planning ‘Da Rap Star’ Australia and New Zealand tour for end of this year so be on the look out for that. I’ll update you guys at Pakmediarevolution once we finalize things.
PMR: We’d love to have a word from you for Pakmediarevolution and its team.
Bohemia: I’d like to thank you guys at Pakmediarevolution for supporting individual artists and helping us connect with our fans directly. Keep up the great work and good lookin out!
PMR: Let’s wrap this thing up, any last words for your fans, e.t.c?
Bohemia: As always I want to thank everyone, all the fans and the media for the love and support on the new album Da Rap Star and making it a big success. Much love, stay one.
Exclusive Interview by: Syed Azher Akber