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Cartel Madras are the Indian sisters bringing sexual liberation & blistering hip-hop from South Asia to the masses

Cartel Madras are the Indian sisters bringing sexual liberation & blistering hip-hop from South Asia to the masses

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Priya “Contra” and Bhagya “Eboshi” Ramesh are two sisters hailing from Chennai, India – located off the Bay of Bengal.

The pair emigrated from Chennai, formerly known as Madras (hence the name), and moved to Alberta, Canada – forming a hip-hop project in the meantime. Collectively, they are known as Cartel Madras.

Cartel Madras - Goonda Gold (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Issues of representation are at the fore of what Cartel Madras are about. Tracks like the brand new ‘Goonda Gold’ freely celebrate South-Asian culture, notably through the employment of vernacular. For instance, ‘Goonda’ is South Asian slang commonly referring to a thug. That same track features a sitar-like sound in the arrangement, another nod of the head to their home.

This cultural acknowledgement is no crutch, ‘Goonda Gold’ is pure blistering trap-hop in its own right. Both Contra and Eboshi come through with serious bars, seemingly jumping at will from flow to flow. The track also boasts one of the hardest 808 sounds heard in hip-hop in 2019, with a golden hook to boot. It’s super solid songwriting from the foundation up.

‘Lil Pump Type Beat’ is the b-side to the group’s new single release. The title alone should indicate the school of hip-hop from which Cartel Madras derive most influence.

Cartel Madras - Lil Pump Type Beat

The duo proudly identifies as queer women of colour. This puts them in a still relatively small, but rapidly growing sect of openly queer hip-hop artists.

While they are very much still emerging, ours is by no means the first attention the group have captured. Currently located in Alberta, the sisters have been drawing big crowds in Canada. This has gained high praise from the likes of Shabazz Palaces, who said of the sisters “the energy and passion they bring combined with their superior rapping skills makes the Cartel a must hear and see”.

It’s not just listeners who’ve been paying attention to Cartel Madras’ moves. The release of their Trapistan mixtape in the summer of 2018 caught the attention of Sub-Pop Records, who promptly signed the group.

Cartel Madras - Pork & Leek

That’s a big reason why we’re penning this piece. It seems like all the right constituent parts are in place to help make Cartel Madras a force to be reckoned with in modern hip-hop.

While the Cartel are by no means the first hip-hop project to have sound palettes rooted in South Asia, Riz Ahmed and Heems’ superb collaborative Swet Shop Boys comes to mind, both Contra and Eboshi stand out as having real mass appeal.

Striking aesthetics, effective social media presence, authenticity in authorship and, above all, solid songwriting are the magic formula. The Cartel have all of those characteristics in spades.

At a time when female MCs are more and more at the fore of contemporary hip-hop, when the appetite for authentic representation across the board is on the rise a group like Cartel Madras could surely go far.

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