If every gully of Mumbai could tell a story, we’d have thousands of them. While Mumbai is the so-called ‘financial capital’ of India and ‘entertainment capital ‘of India, there in its dark belly, lies a reality harsher than the outer glamor. One such story witnessed and brought to the world, is by none other than a young lad Vivian Fernandes, who grew up in the slums of JB Nagar in Andheri East, Mumbai. He put Mumbai’s underground rappers amongst international Hip Hop stars. This is the Divine Story of an Indian rapper.
Vivian Fernandes, the Indian rap artist and Mumbai rapper better known by his stage name DIVINE, became the voice of many who face a difficult life in big cities. While growing up in the slums, he would see Mumbai on one hand, develop the international airport for the rich while the poor people in his neighborhood continued to live in abject poverty. His view about poverty and politics expressed in rap characterized different and distinct sides of Mumbai – wealth, social evils, political gains, and poverty. The truth struck a chord with the masses. Later his song with co rapper Naezy, titled ‘Mere Gully Mein’ served not only as an epitome of real life in the by lanes of Mumbai but also became a protest song.
The name Divine came to mind when Vivian started to write gospel songs. He started writing music when his mother gifted him with a mic and a computer. He wrote three gospel rap songs but knew he wanted more. As he began putting down his thoughts and experiences from daily life, emerged the heart-wrenching lyrics for his every song.
As a part of a rap group, Mumbai’s Finest, Divine produced many songs in English for them. But soon realizing, this would never touch a nerve with the major Hindi speaking population, he left the group to begin writing in Hindi. Not knowing the very first word he wrote in Hindi ‘Gully’ would later be synonymous with his name being lovingly called ‘Gully Boy’. As a solo rapper, his first Hindi song, ‘Yeh Mera Bombay’ which simply mirrored life in the gully drew the attention that he hoped would when a language connects. (Gully in slang refers to people that come from the gutter or streets).
The way forward:
Performing ‘Yeh Mera Bombay’ at the Blue Frog Festival 2014 in Mumbai, Divine garnered the attention of Sony Music India and shortly signed a contract with them. This song was adjudged as the Best Video of the Year by Rolling Stone India Awards.
On 16 April 2015, Divine released yet another hit ‘Mere Gully Main’ featuring Naezy which went viral with Bollywood celebrities sharing the song on their social media accounts.
When DIVINE released the single ‘Jungli Sher’ a depiction of the life of poor in Mumbai, electronic music producer Nucleya contacted him to work on a song together. The collaboration gave birth to ‘Jungle Raja’ that won Best EDM track of the Year at the GIMA Awards, 2015.
Nucleya provided a platform for Divine to perform in live stage shows before crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 people. Divine was growing his fan base through stage shows all over India.
The urge to do more:
His next song ‘Scene Kya Hai’ with Nucleya, became another hit track. Soon his first commercially oriented song, which came out on 10 January 2017, featured on Daru Daru with Deep Jandu and Gangis Khan.
No looking back:
Though Divine took his song ‘Jungli Sher,’ as the first to rap in Hindi, at the Breakfast Show ahead of BBC Asian Network Live on 29 April 2016, he realized that a single performer on stage/in albums he was not going to be enough. That’s when the seed was planted to put together his band, calling it Gully Gang.
While he continued to feature on a record called City Slums by Indian-American rapper cum singer cum songwriter, Raja Kumari in May 2017 (with the song crossing 2 million views on YouTube within 24 hours of its release), the dreams to set up his group grew even stronger.
His remix to Lil Pump’s Gucci Gang called ‘Gully Gang’ won him more laurels and attention worldwide. He followed up with ‘One Side’ produced by Red Bull Media House. Later ‘Junoon ‘and the list goes on…
The Bollywood movie Gully Boy was also inspired by the life of the underground Indian rapper Divine (Vivian Fernandes) and his friend Naezy (Naved Shaikh).
With several releases to his credit, Divine continued to rise, putting Mumbai on the world’s rap map.
With the enormous success of Gully Gang, in February 2019, Vivian announced a new company, Gully Gang Entertainment, a record label to recruit and encourage upcoming Hip Hop talent in Mumbai. Gully Gang Cypher released on 22 May 2019, was its first song to introduce the emerging rap quartet Aavrutti.
All this for a mother:
What began as a journey to be reunited with his mother who worked abroad only to be able to provide for her son, Divine in 2017, finally after 13 long years was able to earn enough and fulfill that dream to bring his mother to live with him.
Out of a Gully in Mumbai, surfaced divinity in the form of a rap star. What remains in its dark belly is a thousand untold stories, a million dreams, and yet another star to be born!