Shrey or Shreyash might not be a name readily on the tip of your tongue yet, but that’s set to change with the impending release of his project ‘WDYK (What Do You Know?).’ The Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand-based rapper, has been steadily building buzz off the strength of hard-hitting singles like ‘Kal?’ and ‘Fill In My Shoes.’ The momentum continued with ‘Zinda’ — a fire that carries through to the rapper’s debut EP, ‘Ascension,’ released in 2022. This EP is comprised of powerful tracks, including the opening banger.
For his age, it seems there is a lot of room for Shrey to grow into a massive rap career, as well as his massive sound. The rapper is undoubtedly rooted in an authentic style; however, there’s also a diverse touch to his music. He counts his early influences to include legendary wordsmiths like MF Doom. In a musical landscape that feels increasingly auto-tuned and melodically-washed, Shrey is stepping out of that tired sound by giving us some clean, bass-heavy production and the deep-voiced bars to match. What’s more, he’s relying on mostly up-and-coming talented producers — citing raw beats first and foremost as his lyrical playground.
We hopped on a deep and enjoyable conversation with Shreyash aka Hadtaal aka Shrey. We explored his roots in Pithoragarh, his musical journey, his victory in the ‘RAPMIESTER’ competition by IKKA, and more. Read our exclusive interview below, and be sure to stream ‘Elevated‘ here.
This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.
1. Take me through the journey from Shrey to Hadtaal and how it all began. Additionally, tell us about yourself?
“Okay, so… It was around 2017 when I first started rapping. Before that, I used to dance and sketch a lot. In 2018, a tragedy struck my life, and I needed an outlet to express myself. I still remember it was November 9, 2018, when I wrote and performed my first track. Back then, I had no idea why I did what I did, but it just felt right. While listening to my verse, a friend said — ‘Bhai hadtaal kardi bc!’ —and that phrase stuck with me. For the first two years, my alias was ‘Hadtaal.’ It was more of a persona for me, where I could be unapologetically myself.
Then, in 2020, I got a chance to work with a group called Northern Lights. As I moved from my hometown, Pithoragarh, to Haldwani, many things changed. The most significant change was realizing that music could be much more than campfire stories and expressions of frustration. I began to shift from technical rapping to exploring more subtle and conscious themes. During this time, I decided to let go of my old ways and embrace my original name.
My name is Shrey or Shreyash Tamta. I’m from a town called Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand. I’m an emcee/rapper representing Northern Lights Music and Dagariya Crew.”
2. On a personal level, I genuinely connect with your music, especially the positive attitude and passion you convey. How would you characterize your music, and what are the influences that shape it?
“Well, I would say life in general. Since I was a kid, there have been many aspects of life that were beyond black or white, good or bad. Nobody taught or ever talked about the grays of life, the parts that we live, which bring us joy, suffering, and all the other emotions. So, my music tries to bring those grays into the limelight. It’s like a therapy session where you express what you want to, regardless of what others think or understand. It’s about rising above vices and criticism, presenting the truth in its rawest form.
I draw inspiration from my own people, experiences, my life, artists like Beksinski, MF DOOM, and even individuals who catch my eye. I strive to write what is meant to be out there, so there are many influences and stories intertwined.”
3. What’s the rap scene like in Pithoragarh? When it comes to Uttarakhand, most people tend to focus on places like Dehradun or perhaps Haldwani. So, what does the rap scene look like in your hometown?
“Trust me when I say that they are sleeping on a city which is destined to become one of the greatest in the upcoming years. The music there is raw and real. Additionally, the entire city boasts the best freestylers in India. We gained education from those who were involved in hip-hop as dancers, so for us, hip-hop has always been a culture, and that’s how it grew there. Even the distance didn’t stop us from showcasing what we do, which speaks volumes about my city.
Here are my picks from the city: BAWAAL, who is a prodigy at freestyle; S. I. M and SECHI, the dynamic duo; Bakkham, this guy’s a beast; SLAY, one of the best with pen games in the scene; and FLAWED, the guy who helped most of the city rappers to showcase their sound, a gem of a producer. There are more, but the list would become quite lengthy.”
4. Let’s discuss ‘Ascension.’ Aside from the evident fire and self-confidence, there’s a sense of vulnerability in this record, making it very personal. Did it require a certain amount of time for you to reach this level of depth in your writing?
“Yes, so the thing with ‘Ascension’ is that the 5 tracks form a story of an individual. It’s basically a roller coaster of emotions. There are way too many emotions to be portrayed in life, so most of the time I took was to really understand first what I’m about to convey with this. The writing process took me about a week at maximum.
I didn’t want to create a generic rap record that only talks about success and achievement. I wanted to bring out something that, if you put yourself in that place, you can fully immerse yourself in the character.
I remember penning down ‘Confession’ and delivering that verse for the first time. It was one of those rare moments where my track hit me hard, and I knew that this is it, this is what it was meant to be. Every track from ‘Ascension’ is like a time stamp for me, a journal-like entry.”
5. Could you walk me through the challenges you encountered while working on your debut project? Also, if you can share any highlight from that period that you’ll always remember?
“Uff… While I was working on ‘Ascension,’ I was also in the process of dropping out of college. This led to numerous questions that I had to answer. During that time, IKKA bhai announced his online competition called ‘RAPMIESTER,’ where we had to spit our bars over ‘Nishu’ beat. Initially, I was too caught up to even consider participating. However, I noticed that everyone from my city had done a verse. So, it was during the last hour before the challenge was going to end when I quickly wrote my verse in about 10 minutes, recorded it with YC bhai engineering it, and then I randomly dropped it.
Moving on to the results, I had almost forgotten that I participated. When the results were announced, I saw that I had won the challenge. That was one of the most unexpected victories. To be honest, I wasn’t even prepared for it, haha.”
6. As an artist, dealing with mood swings is a constant in life. What’s your go-to source of motivation during such low moments?
“I had started to pen down all the things that happen in life. This way, I get to say what I want, and at the same time, it helps me keep my sanity. I feel like being an artist is a blessing during such moments because this is where we distinguish ourselves from the crowd. This art itself is the best motivation. The more I wrote, the more I learned to appreciate my lows because those are the times when you are your truest self.”
7. Okay bro, i really want you to talk about the track ‘Labels Won’t Play This.’ Could you elaborate on the thoughts that inspired the creation of this song?
“The media… So this track was meant to be released with a certain XYZ company, but they took way too long. I knew that labels really wouldn’t play this. About the track: The inspiration came from a newspaper. I was back home and going through a newspaper when I noticed that the important topics were summarized in a small section, while the first few pages were filled with brand ads and their lengthy descriptions. It just didn’t feel right. Instead of informing people about what’s actually happening in the country, they were diverting people’s attention to these flashy ads, all to make the rich even richer. So, I noted down the points I wanted to address and freestyled the track.”
8. Alright, so your new project is finally coming, and I’m genuinely excited to learn more about what you’ve got in the works. Could you provide some insight into what you’re crafting with these EPs and how they’ll tie into an album?
“More of an EP. So, the thing is, ‘Ascension’ as a project isn’t finished yet. ‘Ascension’ – ‘Enough is Never Enough’ – ‘Elevated’ and ‘WDYK’ form a storyline.
As I mentioned, in ‘Ascension,’ I introduced a character to this world: a young, upcoming rapper who is reckless. These two projects after ‘Ascension’ are like projects by him, but in ‘WDYK,’ I’m going to take you back into his life again. I’ll show you what’s currently happening in his life, how he has changed after everything, and also what’s coming next. The entire project itself is like an unofficial album, with even some singles from the past acting as Easter eggs throughout the project.
Personally, for me, it’s a testament to my writing and my life. How vividly can I envision a concept in my mind and how can I immerse my listeners in the depths of a project even without visuals. Shoutout to Napoleon Hill – his books and work helped me throughout the project.”
9. If you had the opportunity to craft a dream song with an unlimited budget, involving artists from the past or present, what kind of sound would you aim for, and which artists would you feature on it?
“Okay… It would be with MF DOOM, hands down. I want to bring back the core hip-hop essence from a time when there were so many rhymes and stories, when it was more humanized and trailblazing. Like the realest, rawest essence of hip-hop, one that ages like a fine wine every time you listen to it.”
10. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring rapper on the come-up, what would it be?
“You chose this because you felt the freedom of being you, and that’s what hip-hop is. Get inspired, create, fail, stand up, try again. There is no shame in expressing yourself; it’s a culture. Live it like one and live your life to the fullest.”