The 92nd Academy Awards included not one but two rap performances, both of which elicited mixed reactions from the audience; one for its surprise element and the other for its choice of singer.
After Eminem took the Oscars stage for a performance of his 2003 Academy Award-winning hit “Lose Yourself,” the audience was introduced to Utkarsh Ambudkar. Dressed in a suit with mirror-work on the cuffs, the ndian American actor and rapper gave a nod to his roots, as joined Questlove for a performance recapping the show. And according to reactions on social media and news reports, Ambudkar impressed many with his “half-time report,” although several weren’t aware of his body of work.
On the red carpet, Ambudkar was seen in a Ermenegildo Zegna suit along with his wife Naomi Campbell.
"First up, Janelle let us know who we been coasting / Chris Rock dropped in 'cuz he ain't hosting," he began his rap, after introducing himself. "Mr. Pitt, congrats on winning your trophy / now please make a sequel for World War Z."
He continued, as he mentioned Matthew A. Cherry's animated short win for “Hair Love.” Further in the rap he made another reference to John Travolta's Idina Menzel flub from the 2014 Oscars. "Heard an amazing singer, nobody colder / Her name is Idina Menzel, Mr. Travolta," the actor rapped. Earlier, Josh Gad, Menzel's “Frozen” co-star introduced her performance of "Into the Unknown" from “Frozen 2” by noting her named was pronounced exactly like it's spelled.
Throughout his rap, Ambudkar made some pointed references to the largely white group of Oscar nominees, pointing out “winners who don’t look like me” and, acknowledging his race, rapping “what you’re seeing right in front of you is a sign of the times.”
He also gave a shout out to Mindy Kaling as well as Lin Manuel Miranda. “Mindy here, repping for South Asians," he said, and later added: “Lights up on Anthony and my man Lin. Next year, In The Heights is guaranteed to win."
He then finished his number asking a simple favor of the audience. "Keep an open mind, I'm sure you'll find / there's plenty of light for us all to shine.”
Ambudkar, who is known for his roles on “The Mindy Project” and ABC’s “The Muppets” series, has also appeared in films “Pitch Perfect” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon.” The Baltimore native began his career in the arts as a VJ on MTV Desi.
On “The Mindy Project,” Ambudkar played Mindy Kaling’s brother. On the Showtime comedy “White Famous,” he was the agent with pinball energy propelling Jay Pharoah’s up-and-coming comic. In “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” he was a light-touch quick-wit barber, and in “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” he played a slacker turned romantic hero. In “Pitch Perfect,” he beatboxed and rapped. Ambudkar will next been seen as the con-artist Skatch in Disney’s upcoming live-action “Mulan.” He will also play a part in 2020 film “Marry Me,” starring Jennifer Lopez as a pop superstar jilted at the altar; and in indie film “The Broken Heart Gallery.”
Ambudkar is also a member of Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv-rap troupe started by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale.
He also played Aaron Burr in some early readings of "Hamilton," but never made it to the stage with the show. He was originally supposed to play Aaron Burr the Broadway show, but the part was given to Leslie Odom Jr.
According to a October 2019 profile in The New York Times, the reason Ambudkar lost out on “Hamilton” is his alcohol addiction, “which made him too erratic and unreliable for the quickly moving train that turned into the biggest Broadway breakout of this decade, cementing rap’s place on theater’s most prestigious stage.”
A few years later, Ambudkar eventually did make it to Broadway, in a limited-run stage show with “Freestyle Love Supreme.”
Last year, Ambudkar released two albums, “Vanity and Petty,” as well as “EP Members Only” under rap moniker is UTK the INC. “It’s weird when I’m rapping under the guise of entertainment, but what I’m really doing is just unmasking and being really raw,” he told the New York Times in a 2019 interview. “I’ve been doing this 15 years, but in those moments I think, ‘I seek out new experiences, and I’m about to have one.’”
Earlier, Mindy Kaling took the stage as one of the presenters. She gave the awards for both animation feature and animation short. Dressed in a one-shoulder yellow Dolce & Gabbana gown with ruching, she was seen walking the Oscars red carpet with former “The Office” costar B.J. Novak.