Divine intervention: Mumbai rapper is leading the way as hip-hop flourishes in India

The artist’s life has been loosely adapted in the Bollywood film Gully Boy

Divine is viewed as one of the leaders of India's growing hip-hop scene. Picture courtesy of Gltch.
Divine is viewed as one of the leaders of India's growing hip-hop scene. Picture courtesy of Gltch.

After years on the fringes of India’s entertainment landscape, the country’s hip-hop scene has grown to take its place in the mainstream.

A major reason behind that push was the success of this year’s Hindi film Gully Boy.

Viewed as the Bollywood version of the 2002 hip-hop drama 8 Mile, which starred Eminem, the entertaining film follows the life of a rapper who resides in a Mumbai slum. While Gully Boy has all the crowd-pleasing elements of a Bollywood box-office hit, the desperation displayed on screen by the main character, Murad Ahmed (Ranveer Singh), was real.

This was down to the script being loosely based on the life of Mumbai rapper Naezy, as well as Divine (real name Vivian Fernandes), who over an eight-year period went from being a struggling underground musician to an international touring star.

Talking to The National before his performance tomorrow at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Divine describes this year as “the best of his life”. He considers his success to be a case of hard work paying off. “I feel that everything is coming together for me now,” he says. “Generally speaking, it is an exciting time for music to be heard. People are interested in different kinds of music and I feel that all the effort I, and others, have been putting in is starting to show. When it comes to the local hip-hop scene, now is our time and people are taking notice.”

Among them are some of the genre’s biggest names. New York rapper Nas not only collaborated with Divine on the track NY Se Mumbai – which was used to promote Gully Boy but Nas also made the Mumbai rapper his first signing for the fledgling Indian arm of his US-based record label Mass Appeal, announcing the deal last month.

With such backing, it’s no wonder he sounds confident in his latest single Kohinoor, which is also the title of his soon-to-be-released debut album. Over a bustling production and what sounds like the discordant melodies of a flute, Divine’s lyrics act as a clarion call to the local hip-hop scene to stand up and be counted.

“The title means ‘mountain of light’ – or light, basically – and that’s why I called my album that,” Divine says. “The album basically talks about how it is time we all get our shine, how the audience is appreciating our music and how there is a big hip-hop community and it is only going upwards.”

But with the Indian entertainment industry often operating on a patronage system, did Divine feel any pushback regarding his unexpected success? “The genre was viewed as alien at first,” he says. “But there is a growing acceptance of who we are as hip-hop artists and musicians. Hip-hop can now be heard in these Bollywood movies and these big brands also now want to work with hip-hop acts. We can actually now monetise our art and that is a beautiful thing.”

However, does a combination of art and success create a slippery slope in terms of quality, with the floodgates now open to a new generation of rappers whose work could be far removed from the authenticity he champions? It is a question that Divine mulls over, but he says he is not overly concerned.

“I am not too worried about it ­because things like this always happen,” he says. “The music industry here is ruthless. Remember, we are talking about Bollywood here. It is a jungle and there is definitely a kill or be killed attitude about it. So as an artist you have to work hard, produce quality work and make the right links or you will be left behind.”

Divine performs at Dubai World Trade Centre on Friday, September 20. Tickets from Dh95 are available at dubai.platinumlist.net

Published: September 19, 2019 08:30 AM


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