Instep Today

Deconstructing Poor Rich Boy’s debut Urdu album

By Maheen Sabeeh
Sun, 04, 24

Why is Yakeen the most outstanding record by a band to release in a decade? An essay on limitless potential, richness, and enduring power of the one and only album Urdu pop album by the critically acclaimed music group.


Deconstructing Poor Rich Boy’s debut Urdu album

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

– Opening lines from ‘Spaghetti’ from Carter Cowboy by Beyonce Knowles

Before you get confused and wonder what on earth Poor Rich Boy and Beyonce have in common, the answer is both nothing and everything.

Musically speaking, there is no resemblance between the two artists. However, conceptually, there is a commonality. Beyonce has consistently shown through every album that she cannot be pigeonholed into a single genre. This rings true for Poor Rich Boy as well. Their English records are meticulously crafted lyrically, musically and in terms of production, making it impossible to classify them as replicas of past efforts.

So, what about their Urdu album? Why is it the best Urdu album by a band in a decade? Let’s delve into it. I must clarify that I won’t dissect each song from the album due to space constraints; brevity must prevail before I lose your attention to an Instagram reel, a tweet, or a WhatsApp video featuring a cat, dog, or Panda, as who doesn’t enjoy the comedic charm provided by these beautiful animals?

“It‘s uphill for oddities/ Stranger crusaders/Ain’t ever wannabes/The weird and the novelties/Don’t ever change.”

– ‘High Hopes’ by Panic At The Disco!

Poor Rich Boy (PRB) has a musical identity firmly rooted in English. They have been likened to Western artists as influential as The Smiths and The Stone Roses. Having released significant material in English, they’ve garnered recognition for their proficiency. Their excellence prompted music producer Mekaal Hasan to champion their talent, granting them access to his studio equipped with authentic gear, steering away from recording songs “huddled in a makeshift cubicle fashioned out of spare mattresses with borrowed microphones”.

Unlike the fantastic and pioneering Ali Azmat (in Urdu or Punjabi), whose attempts at singing in English have often faltered, Poor Rich Boy’s Urdu album showcase a thing of beauty.

They are not producing Urdu songs (or even English ones) sponsored by corporate mainstream music platforms like Coke Studio or Pepsi Battle of the Bands or Velo Sound Station.

To date, Poor Rich Boy has released 11 Urdu songs, including ‘Kaghazi’, ‘Samandar Ki Teh Mein’, Jahez Mein Churail’, ‘Yaqeen’, ‘Jatay Jatay’, ‘Khudi Kya Hai’, ‘Saal’, ‘Nazar’, ‘Computer’, ‘Hit Song’, and ‘Tootay Huay Admi’ completing their debut album, titled Yakeen.

Out of those 11 songs, three feature lyrics by someone other than the group’s lyricist and singer, Umer Khan (who also often handles harmonies). These are ‘Samandar Ki Teh Mein’ (featuring poetry by N. M. Rashid), ‘Khudi Kya Hai’ and ‘Nazar’ (with both songs featuring poetry by Pakistan’s national poet, Allama Iqbal). Given Pakistan’s rich heritage of Urdu literature and poetry, it is perfectly acceptable for a modern-day, indie-arthouse band to shed light on this heritage through their music.

Zain Ahsan and Umer Khan are the heart and soul of Poor Rich Boy, yet they recognize the importance of collaboration, not just in live setups but in the creative process as well.

Listening to this Urdu album alone, you can decipher their appreciation for collaborations, which enrich both, their songs and overall record. They value teamwork, acknowledging that no single individual can excel in every aspect of the craft.

For all of the 11 songs, Umer Khan and Zain Ahsan have collaborated with brilliant musicians, some seasoned and others lesser-known but equally talented. Names like Ibrahim Akram, Sameer Ahmed, Umer Ahmed, Waleed Ahmed, Ali Suhail, Raavail Sattar, Kami Paul, Misbah Uddin, Ahsan Pappu, Daud Ramay, Faris and Asfandyar have contributed to their musical journey.

When I say they understand the power of collaboration, I mean it literally.

If you ask them about how they created the best Urdu album by a band in a decade, they will likely be self-deprecating, almost shocked because, here’s the thing: they never set out to make the best album. They were trying to make an Urdu pop album and if you listen to each song, you will realize that it has all the elements of a good pop album.

Calling them the best Urdu music band of the decade isn’t biased; there are plenty of good Urdu-language bands. However, every Urdu song released by Poor Rich Boy is intricately crafted. Whether you listen to each song individually or compile a playlist of their entire Urdu discography, you’ll realize they’re not imitating other bands, whether from Pakistan or beyond.

What’s striking is that not one song is overproduced, mechanical, or an imitation of other brilliant pop records like Hum Tum by Vital Signs, Duur by Strings, or Jadoo by The Milestones. I mention these three records because they are widely regarded as among the finest Urdu pop records by bands in the history of Pakistani pop music.

Zain Ahsan, one half of the duo, possesses a profound understanding of production that surpasses that of other member within mainstream groups. This assertion stands as a fact. If any doubt lingers, a mere listen to their English language album, We Are Your Friends will swiftly dispel them.

Umer Khan, the other half of the duo, serves as the singer and lyricist, often, if not always, contributing harmonies as well. However, unlike other singers, he refrains from resorting to screams, shouts, or alaaps to evoke emotions. He never pretends to be a classically trained singer either.

Each Urdu song by PRB stands out due to variations in song structure, musical elements, and instrumentals, maintaining a thread of coherence that binds them into a unified record. Not a single song on Yakeen gives the impression that the album lacks clarity. Furthermore, Umer Khan and Zain Ahsan navigate creative differences with maturity, granting each other the necessary space without jeopardizing the integrity of the group. While they pursue solo musical projects, this has never resulted in one devaluing the other within Poor Rich Boy. It’s understandable that differing creative ideas can be quite challenging; one member may question why a song isn’t released while another questions its readiness. However, they never allow such obstacles to hinder their collaboration.

Yakeen leaves a lasting impact, embedding itself into the recesses of the mind or heart, depending on how one perceives the enduring power of songs.

It offers 11 stirring unexpected tracks – a masterclass in the art of writing, singing, playing and producing pop songs. There’s an undeniable allure to Yakeen; you won’t find yourself growing bored or feeling disillusioned by the band’s musical progression. Instead of pondering over which artists may have influenced these songs, whether overtly or subtly, or feeling let down by a band you otherwise admire for their collective and individual musical endeavors, Yakeen captivates with its unique essence.

If Umer Khan’s songwriting feels both metaphorical and literal, Zain Ahsan’s sonic world balances tradition with innovation, pushing boundaries without succumbing to pretentiousness.

It‘s a universe where rules are disregarded, yet a cohesive full-length album emerges, exploring our identity, trajectory, and innermost desires.

There’s an inherent magnetism to Yakeen that captivates listeners from start to finish. Unlike many albums that may lose their appeal over time, Yakeen retains its freshness and intrigue with each sub-sequent listen. Rather than finding yourself growing bored or disenchanted, you’ll discover new layers of depth and meaning within the music.

Moreover, Yakeen, doesn’t merely echo the styles of others but rather forges its own path, offering a distinct and authentic musical experience.

There is a lasting beauty to these songs; they are vivid and conjure imagery that will vary with your mood and swim with the emotional state you’re in – be it anxiety, anger, depression, sadness, grief, love, or fear. Yakeen is a paradoxical masterpiece, capable of linear and nonlinear interpretations simultaneously. Enough said.

– Photos: Captured by Abdullah

Yakeen leaves a lasting impact, embedding itself into the recesses of the mind or heart, depending on how one perceives the enduring power of songs. Unlike many

albums that may lose their appeal over time, Yakeen retains its freshness and

intrigue with each subsequent listen.