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Verve People
February 17, 2017

Meet Divine, The Rapper Who Founded Gully Gang

Text by Simone Louis. Photograph by Manasi Sawant

The musician talks about barging into the Indian rap scene and what hip-hop means to him

Who: Vivian Fernandez
Why: A lot has been said and written about him lately, but the young artiste who founded Gully Gang and popularised phrases like ‘boys from the naka’, ‘yeh mera Bombay’ and ‘scene kya hain’ is just getting started. Born and brought up in the slums of Andheri, Fernandez barged into a rap scene that was dominated by lyrics about alcohol, drugs and girls…and told his story. That was all it took for people to sit up and take notice. So much so that he was signed to Sony Music India, became the first Indian artiste to have a single released worldwide by Apple Music, and is now the inspiration behind a Zoya Akhtar film, along with his peer Naezy. With his knack for writing hit songs, meticulous flow, electrifying stage presence, authentic lyrics and a down-to-earth, approachable persona, the rapper seems to be built for stardom.

“I started rapping for fun in school; I was never serious about doing it full-time. I saw a guy wearing a 50 Cent T-shirt, and I just wanted to know more. My friend told me about him and gave me a CD which had his and Eminem’s music on it. I listened to that for a year, playing it constantly on my grandmother’s CD player and memorising the words.”

“Everything changed for me when I heard a song by Lecrae. It was gospel rap, and it blew me away that he was rapping, but he was talking about God. I was writing a lot of devotional rhymes as well, because I was living with my grandmother and she would take me to church every single day and I was an altar boy for mass. That’s how the name Divine came about.”

“The main reason I am what I am is because I practically lived alone; my mother and brother both worked abroad ever since my dad left. I would write every day for five hours at a time, and I’d spend days trying to perfect one verse, which I can do in minutes now.”

“My family didn’t support me at first because they weren’t here and didn’t know what I was doing. They saw hip-hop as drugs and bad company. Now that they’ve seen it through my eyes, they’re happy.”

“The evolution of the scene has been amazing to watch. I remember lining up outside clubs for rare hip-hop nights. Now we’re on massive stages playing to audiences of 15,000 people. I think it’s taking off now because regional languages are being embraced. I rap in Hindi because that’s what I grew up hearing in the gullies.”

“The people who built me are still with me and I’m so grateful for them. These are the guys from where I lived and still live, who are in my videos and also behind the camera. They were the ones who pushed me because I didn’t have a family to go home to, and they always stood in the background while I was doing my thing.”

“Getting signed was the highlight of my life because I really needed a win. All my friends had moved abroad or were working in good jobs and I hadn’t finished school or done anything with my life. It happened when I performed Mere Gully Mein with Naezy at Blue Frog; we were the opening act for a Sony artiste. We had just written the song and it was super rough, but a representative from the label heard it and approached me. I luckily had a few songs ready to present, and the rest is history.”

“There’s an audience for everybody and that’s what I love about the game right now. Bollywood rappers play their own role that is different from ours, but neither is less or more than the other. Certain formats are easier to digest than others — after a long day someone may not want to listen to Jungli Sher, so they turn on DJ Wale Babu or Chaar Bottle Vodka.”

“Hip-hop is a lifestyle and you can embody it through dance, by making music or through the console, using any language that comes naturally. Being a fan or a manager or writing about it makes you a part of the movement too. It doesn’t matter how you contribute to the culture as long as you do what feels right to you.”

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