9 things you need to know about Divine, the king of India’s rap scene
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Learn how the Mumbai rap star, the focus of a new film called Gully Life, rose to stardom when he unleashed his politicised brand of Indian hip-hop in 2015.
Trailer: Gully Life - The story of Divine
Watch the Gully Life trailer in the player above.
In rap circles, Divine is often credited with putting Mumbai on the map as far as India’s hip-hop scene is concerned.
His lyrics highlight the difficulties many people face in his home city and his eagerness to face up to big issues like poverty and inequality has inspired other rappers to do the same and helped spawn India's gully rap movement.
Now Divine is the focus of a new documentary (produced by Red Bull Media House in association with Supari Studios) called Gully Life: the story of Divine, which chronicles the ups and downs of the rapper’s life and career.
Get a taste of what to expect by watching the trailer in the player at the top of this page and get to know Divine a little better by reading nine things about him before the film airs on Red Bull TV on July 15.
1. Mere Gully Mein was a protest song
While growing up in the slums of JB Nagar in Andheri East, Mumbai, Divine witnessed a lot of inequality. He saw that the areas around his slum were developing and the international airport was built nearby. But he felt like the rich were getting richer and the poor people in his neighbourhood were getting poorer. He decided to create a voice for the people of his streets, and so he wrote Mere Gully Mein with fellow rapper, Naezy, to tell everyone about what was happening.
2. A friend introduced him to hip-hop with a CD
When he was a kid, Vivian Fernandes (his given name) once saw a schoolmate wearing a 50 Cent t-shirt. He had never heard of the rapper, so he asked who was on the T-shirt and what it was about. His friend told him it is hip-hop and offered to write him a CD with rap music on it. The CD had songs by 50 Cent, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, Big L and many others. At first, Fernandes couldn't understand the lyrics because of the slang and the tempo, but his interest in the genre grew from this point regardless.
3. The Divine name resulted from gospel songs
Fernandes started writing music after his mother gave him a microphone. At first, he’d only write in English and put down his thoughts about experiences from his life. He thought his writing and his rapping weren’t good at first. But as he continued to write every day, he got better at it. He also wrote three gospel rap songs and was then inspired to take up the name Divine.
Divine's Off The Roof stories
4. 'Gully' was the first word he wrote as Divine
While he was part of the Mumbai’s Finest rap crew, Divine would only write and rap in English because he thought it was the only language in which hip-hop could work. But once he left the crew and started writing as an individual rapper, he realised that the majority of the people around him spoke in Hindi and they couldn’t understand his English rap. He went on to develop his own identity and started writing in Hindi about where he's from. His first single was Yeh Mera Bombay, and the first word he wrote was ‘gully’.
5. His collaboration with Nucleya inspired him to start Gully Gang
After Divine released the single, Jungli Sher, in 2016, electronic music producer Nucleya asked him if they could work on a song together. The song was Jungle Raja from Nucleya’s album, Bass Rani. Divine wrote the lyrics to the song in less than a day and went on tour with Nucleya to perform the song. It was the first time Divine performed in front of crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 people. He realised the significance of stage presence and that he'd be able to build his fan base through live performances. But he knew that a single performer on stage wouldn’t work, so he put together his band, Gully Gang.
6. His definition of success was bringing his mother home
Divine’s mother used to work abroad when he was younger. He grew up with his grandmother, who had introduced him to music as a child. He'd only see his mother for a couple of months every year. When he became a rapper, Divine defined his idea of success as being able to bring his mother back home to live in India rather than having to work away. In 2017, he was able to fulfil that dream and bring her back to live in India after 13 years. After returning permanently, she also watched him perform live for the first time when he was on stage with Nucleya.
7. His house is the headquarters for Gully Gang
Divine’s home in JB Nagar has been the epicentre of his rap career. He wrote most of his songs there, including his biggest hits, Jungli Sher and Mere Gully Mein. When he collaborated with Naezy on Mere Gully Mein, the two met and wrote the lyrics of the song in the living room of Divine’s home. Once Gully Gang was formed, the house became the headquarters for one of India’s biggest hip-hop bands. Divine has always lived in the same house and continues to do so because he wants to be around the friends who helped him in the early stages of his career.
8. He was the first Indian-born rapper to feature on Fire In The Booth
In 2016, after the release of Mere Gully Mein, he was invited to appear on BBC Asia Network’s Fire In The Booth segment, which showcases upcoming rappers from the UK and other countries. Divine was the first person born and raised in India to appear on the segment. He learned of UK’s hip-hop scene when he watched Charlie Sloth host the BBC One’s Xtra Rap Show. Sloth would invite upcoming rappers onto his show where they would freestyle to his beats.
9. He was part of the creative process of Gully Boy
The 2019 movie, Gully Boy, was loosely based on Divine and Naezy's lives. The film was directed by Zoya Akhtar and starred Ranveer Singh as a rapper from the slums who goes on to find success as a recording artist, much like Divine. While he discussed his life with Akhtar which became the inspiration for the film, he also worked on the story of the film with the writing team. Divine advised on the dialogues and wrote some of the songs, which he also recorded for the film. Divine also helped Ranveer Singh develop his character, taught him rap flows and helped him create his own rap identity.
Watch the music video for Divine's latest single below.
One Side – DIVINE