With the release of Thalli Pogathey, AR Rahman’s hit single from Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, Sri Lankan rapper and hip-hop artist ADK shot to fame almost overnight. But very few know his journey began many years ago. We caught up with him amidst his busy schedule. Here’s what he has to say:

From undergoing a couple of identity changes to becoming almost a household name now, how has the journey been, Dinesh?

In Sri Lanka, most rappers have a stage name but I personally believed that having one wouldn’t help me and I didn’t want to lose my identity because being a hip-hop artist meant being as real as possible. I started with Dinesh Kanagaratnam and later added Aaryan, which was my conversion name. People found Aaryan Dinesh K difficult to remember so I decided to build a brand identity for myself and that’s how ADK happened.

Tell us about your life growing up in Sri Lanka and India. Did the music influences start early on?

Growing up in Sri Lanka and India was completely different for me. As a kid, I found it hard to adapt to Indian culture. I spent time in Trichy and constantly missed my family and friends back in Sri Lanka. The lifestyle there was more relaxed in general. I had to juggle between the two countries. My musical influences started from 12. I was hooked when I first listened to Rahman sir’s music. I was a huge fan of Michael Jackson as well.

How was the Sri Lankan rap scene when you were making your foray into indie music?

When I started rapping, the scene in Sri Lanka was already booming. Though the Tamil market was very small, English and Sinhalese rap were big. Rappers were experimenting with hip-hop at that time. I was hugely influenced by Yogi B and Natchatra from Malaysia and that’s how I got into rap.

Starting out, did you produce your own songs, or were you supported by other friends?

I didn’t have the knowledge to produce my own music. I just got influenced by other artists. I was a wannabe producer when I started. I still do play around with my beats and tracks but I’m not a serious producer. There were some really good producers who have worked with me right from the start.

Your lyrics always make a strong impact, with usage of a lot of deep-rooted words. Were you naturally intrigued by the Tamil language or is it a conscious decision that you make?

The embarrassing truth is I can’t read or write Tamil well as I did not pay any attention in my Tamil classes. I just write whatever hits my mind. I bring out whatever I’ve been through in my lyrics and just go with the flow. I do take care to get my grammar and vocabulary right and do considerable research for that.

Did you face a lot of rejections while making it as an emerging rap artist? How did you feel when you first got signed up by a label?

Rejection happens in every industry. It’s best to use it as a learning curve. I’ve been rejected too but I tried to find the reason behind it and I used that to grow. I was never signed by any label. I thought I was but I then found out it was just a distributional company. I’m a super-independent artist.

How was the Aathichudi experience? Was it comfortable working in a space other than your own?

It was a dream come true. I never imagined myself singing for a Tamil song. I am where I am now only because of Aathichudi. Vijay Antony and my team produced the song for me and it was a team effort. It was a great experience overall.

I think it’s safe to say your rise to fame has been through Thalli Pogathey. Do you have any special memories connected with it?

Thalli Pogathey just happened. There were some nice moments but I don’t recall any special memories. Maybe I will, two to three years down the line. But I remember the day Rahman sir called me and casually said that he needed a rap verse. Life changed after that. 🙂

From Dinesh Kanagaratnam to ADK, how would you say has your music changed?

My music has changed a lot. I can say I have a better understanding of rap now. Till date, I’ve worked the same way as I did on the first day, from writing to crafting the song. 

Besides music, are there other activities you enjoy doing?

I do all my promotional work and designs. I love doing my own art production. I spend a lot of time meddling with my phone. I enjoy watching TV. I like to sit with my group of friends and just talk for hours and hours.