Gully Goes Global: Divine is First Indian Artist to Feature on Ebro’s Show on Apple Music Beats 1
We travelled to Los Angeles with the breakout rapper and here’s what went down
It’s a typical Californian afternoon here in Los Angeles””the sun is shining bright and strong, making the otherwise chilly February breeze more than welcome. The breakout Indian rapper Vivian Fernandes aka Divine and I have just arrived at the Apple Music Beats 1 studios in Culver City and the atmosphere around is rather celebratory owing to the Grammy weekend ahead. The cutesy house party in the office premises is a sight: there’s wine and snacks flowing even as boisterous groups of flamboyantly dressed hip-hop artists and the Apple staff watch a recording currently in progress inside the studio through a glass wall. Beats 1’s three lead DJs ”“ Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga””are hosting a special pre-Grammy joint show and it’s a complete riot. Lowe is spinning a wheel of questions and putting his special guests (which include Sofi Tukker, Joyner Lucas and Bebe Rexha, among others) through juicy rounds of Never Have I Ever, Empty Your Pockets, Show Us Your Last DM and the like.
The Grammy shindig in the studio is followed by something that is a bit of a historic moment for homegrown hip-hop: Divine hits the studio as the first-ever Indian artist on Ebro’s popular show. This interview is symbolic of not just the global significance of hip-hop’s expanding roots in India””especially linguistic roots””but also Apple Music’s commitment to equip local artists with creative tools to promote their art. Back in 2015, Divine was declared the Best New Artist on iTunes and Apple Music, and the following year saw him release the music video for “Jungli Sher” shot on an iPhone, the first of its kind in India. The 28-year-old rapper was also featured in Apple Music India’s student membership outdoor campaign in 2017, not to mention his latest feat: the OST for Gully Boy, a film inspired by his life, hitting the number one spot on the All Genres Albums Chart on Apple Music within 48 hours of its release.
Gully gang in LA
We’re about to go on air in just a few minutes when I cheekily remind Divine about how momentous this occasion is””and how could he keep calm! He says, “Mazaa aa raha hai pehli baar America mein, pehli baar Beats 1 studio mein. Dekho kya hone wala hai””explosion, jwalamukhi. Tayyar raho! (It’s been great so far””it’s my first time in America and the Beats 1 studio. Stay tuned””there’s going to be an explosion on air, a volcanic one!)
The conversation that follows is red-hot and intense. In his signature style, Ebro pulls no punches even as Divine fills him in on the local scene back home.
Ebro: I keep hearing you say, “It’s not really about me, I kinda inspired it.”
Divine: Yeah. It’s cause the guy’s original story that Zoya Akhtar wrote, she’s the director of the movie, she built on a character from Bombay, which is influenced by me and Naezy and the whole Bombay scene. But she made her own guy, you know? Style-wise, he’s not like me. Flow-wise, he’s not like me.
Ebro: Got it. Nobody’s like you. That’s what he’s basically saying, ladies and gentlemen. He’s like, “Yo, they can’t even fit me in a movie. I’m too nice with it.”
Divine: No but I did a lot of music for the movie, yeah. I did, like, five songs.
Ebro: Beats and rhymes? Because I’ve heard through the grapevine that you get on these beats, too.
Divine: Yeah. I’ve done all rhymes. I composed three songs that the main actor is singing all of them, rapping all of them. But two are my songs.
“Diamond in the dirt”
Earlier in the month, Divine announced he’s turning entrepreneur with the launch of his new company, Gully Gang Entertainment, an ambitious startup that aims to sweep a wide-ranging set of operations. As a record label, it will manage budding hip-hop talent, while its creative and strategic wing will seek to create live event IPs, create content and sell merchandize.
The independent music scene in India hasn’t been a fertile ground for startups but Divine says he felt an urgent responsibility to start the fire. “I feel it’s expected of me and it’s a great time in music in India to start Gully Gang Entertainment. We need all the support from the industry and are looking forward to scaling up the business by way of the right partnerships, and by keeping the artist and the music at the core of it. I’m nervous to be honest! Though, the excitement of the things to come, and getting in the studio with all the young producers and rappers is a rush!” he says.
As the flagship artist of his own label, there’s a lot riding on Divine now, especially with an album in the pipeline. However, what is difficult for Ebro to believe is the fact that India’s most popular hip-hop artist today is a guy with not one album to his name.
Ebro: Divine is here. Beats 1 Apple Music. What would you say your biggest album?
Divine: I have my first album dropping now.
Ebro: Right, so you haven’t put out an album yet?
Divine: No. No, I have all singles, ’cause-
Ebro: Didn’t you put out a tape or something?
Divine: I have tapes. I have tapes that I put out, but they’re not online anymore.
Ebro: Yeah, you can’t get ’em anymore. And why is that?
Divine: It’s ’cause I wanted to change my sound.
Ebro: Nah man, what’s going on? So, you’re not gonna put out the classics?
Divine: But the loyal fans have it.
Ebro: Well, you haven’t put out a collection like-
Divine: 100 percent.
Ebro: Of old stuff.
Divine: 100 percent.
Ebro: ‘Cause that’s what I figured, this was a business move.
Divine: Yeah, and you gave me a nice point there, too, like rap on beats and just give it to the people. And that’s what the next move is. But before that, I wanna put out an album. I was busy with this ‘Gully Boy’ stuff. I was busy with life and just trying to build things, just ’cause first, we needed the audience. And that’s what the goal was, to get people together first, and then feed them. And now, it’s time.
Â This is the first time Divine has discussed any detail about the upcoming release. He’s excited, confident and can’t wait to get the record out. A little nervous too because with the album, the rapper is seeking to rewrite the sound he carved for himself through his singles. The traditional route would have been to consolidate the trademark sound with the album and then move on to change it, but Divine knows what he’s doing. Maybe because Gully Boy kind of served the conventional role of a first album for the rapper, he can take his chances with the real debut.
Ebro: And does it have a name?
Divine: It has a name and I’ll give this to you, it’s because … Ebro, it’s called Koh-I-Noor.
Ebro: What does that mean?
Divine: It’s a diamond. Diamond in the dirt.
Ebro: Divine, the new album, how do you pronounce it?
Ebro: Dropping in April.
Ebro: Diamond, diamond in the dirt. How many tracks gonna be on the album?
Divine: I think 11.
Ebro: Any features?
Divine: I have a lot of features but I-
Ebro: Because you can’t just give me one nugget and not think I’ma go back and ask for more. That’s not how I work, that’s not how it’s wired.
Divine: I cannot say.
Ebro: No, I respect it, I respect it.
Divine: You know this. I told you a couple of collabs that I have.
Ebro: But I’m not gonna tell your business. I’m gonna put it on you and blame you after it’s over.
Divine: But watch out for the album, it’s gonna…
Ebro: Producers, any musical collaborations?
Divine: I have BDB on the album, 100 percent. The track is done, the paperwork is going on but yeah, I got a sick beat.
Ebro: Just one?
Divine: I’m coming back to Cali, I’m gonna link up to producers that you’re gonna give me links to.
Ebro: I’ll put you in the game.
Divine: I have the album written but I want to remap it and make it sound better.
Speaking of diverse sounds–this week, Divine’s peer and frequent collaborator Raja Kumari launched her own special on Beats 1. On the Apple Music’sÂ The New IndiaÂ playlist, the Indo-American rapper will be heard discussing the desi hip-hop scene with some of India’s biggest names.
“I discovered hip-hop on a T-shirt”
In our many conversations over the past two years, Divine and I have often examined the word ”˜gully’ and how it that word has become synonymous with his artistry. During the cover shoot, the rapper had said: “Gully, for me, doesn’t mean poor or underprivileged, contrary to what many think.Â GullyÂ means walking with your head held high.Â Gully ka matlab gareebi nahi hai, gully ka matlab hai gareebi se nikal ke aanaÂ (GullyÂ doesn’t signify poverty but the will to emerge out of poverty).Â GullyÂ is about being yourself. And it’s important for us to iterate this because people are misconstruing the meaning ofÂ gully. It’s amusing how almost every ”˜gullyÂ rap’ music video today carried shotsÂ of gutters,Â gaalisÂ (bad words) and what not.”
At the same time, Divine has also maintained that you don’t have to be from the gully to rap. He says, “If you’re a student, rap about your school or college. If you have a family situation, rap about that.”
Ebro: What artist or song … or was the time you heard hip-hop as a youngster, was like, “I’m doing this.”
Divine: I discovered hip-hop on a T-shirt. Yeah, I saw 50 Cent on a shirt. This was in school, when I was in my 9th grade, and a guy came up with the Get Rich-
Ebro: Get Rich or Die Trying.
Divine: Yeah, yeah. And then I saw it, and I was like, “Who is this guy?” And he’s like, “Yo, this is 50 Cent.” And then, he wrote me a CD, an MP3 cd with 70 songs on it.
Ebro: ‘Cause 50 Cents tapes, and the whole … you have everything.
Divine: Everything. I had Pac in there, I had-
Ebro: Oh, so it wasn’t just 50, it was hiphop?
Divine: No, it was a mix, yeah. It was a mixed cd. I think one of his guys … I think he had a cousin in America or something, who give the cd to him. That’s how he was introduced. But I got that cd, I played it back to back, and then I just fell in love with hiphop. I fell in love with the melodies, the way they were talking, though, I didn’t understand a lot of the stuff that they were saying.
Ebro: You felt it. You felt it, though.