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Rap with the Gully Gang guys Divine and Raftaar in Dubai

Rap with the Gully Gang guys Divine and Raftaar in Dubai
Rapper Divine

We get the low-down on what to expect as two of India's best rappers head to Dubai for a hip-hop concert.

By Michael Gomes

Published: Wed 18 Sep 2019, 10:06 AM

Last updated: Sat 21 Sep 2019, 7:04 PM

As a genre, rap is undeniably one of the most popular music styles today, with hop-hop artistes ruling mainstream pop. And as a culture, hip-hop gave voice to a whole  new generation - it provided them with a platform to vent their frustrations fearlessly. Even the Indian music industry is witnessing a major shift, current trends have relegated semi-classical based tunes into the background and modern styles like rap are now topping the charts. Movies like Gully Boy struck a chord with the audience and gave the genre a much-deserved fillip in India. 
Now, celebrating the spirit of this hard-hitting form of music, two of India's leading rap artistes, Divine and Raftaar, will be showcasing their infectious style at the It's All About Rap concert at Za'abeel Hall, Dubai World Trade Centre on September 20. Ahead of the event, we chatted with the rappers to get a better understanding of this genre and to know about their plans for Dubai.
Divine: The real Gully Boy
Divine, whose real name is Vivian Fernandes, was the inspiration for Ranveer Singh's character in Zoya Akhtar's blockbuster movie Gully Boy. He grew up in the slums of Mumbai and is one of the top hip-hop artistes in the country today. His inspiring rags to riches story was recently showcased in the Discovery Channel documentary, Gully Life. Earlier this year, Divine formed Gully Gang Entertainment, a company that runs his record label, Gully Gang Records, which manages and promotes desi hip-hop talent. Divine's raw and brutally honest songs draw inspiration from his life, including the runaway hit Mere Gully Mein, delivered by Ranveer Singh and Siddhant Chaturvedi in the movie Gully Boy. The song, in some ways, saw the emergence of hip-hop in the country.  
Can you define hip-hop for us?
Hip-hop is a way of telling stories, it's a way of life. It's not just about the way you talk and dress, but it's as much about what you choose to talk about in your music. Hip-hop grew out of the Bronx where life wasn't easy. For me, hip-hop is about telling stories about society, which includes the ugly bits too.
How does it feel to be the first Indian rapper to have featured on BBC Radio? 
It felt great! I was honoured. I realised that people respect and relate to honesty a lot. 
What plans do you have for Dubai? 
I have always loved coming to Dubai and performing for my fans. I also love the shopping! 
The movie Gully Boy gave people an insight into the world of hip-hop. Do hip-hop artistes really have to go through such ordeals to gain recognition? 
Absolutely! All rappers in India are self-taught, there's no music school for us to study the style. No one understood what we were trying to do. Also, we had to change the perception of people who thought we rap about only women, alcohol and fast cars. My journey definitely wasn't easy, but I will forever be grateful for the chances that came my way, and the lessons that I learnt. 
You've worked with renowned Bollywood filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhtar. How is it working in the industry? 
Bollywood today is a lot more open-minded - they know what works and what doesn't. Until five years ago, you couldn't imagine a big banner Bollywood production house making a movie on hip-hop. This change in Bollywood reflects the change in the country, people are realising that there is more to music than just playback. 
Can you recommend some songs to someone who's just getting into the genre? 
There aren't any specific songs that I would recommend, but I think trying to learn about the history behind the hip-hop movement is an important first step. I have always looked up to artists like Big Pun, Big L, Rakim and KRS-One. they weren't necessarily the most successful, but I have related to their rhymes.
How are you promoting this genre amongst the youth? 
Hip-hop already has the attention of the youth. I am interested in promoting undiscovered talent through my company Gully Gang Entertainment. 
What's next for you?
My first full-length album Kohinoor is ready to drop any time now, and that has all my attention right now! I just can't wait for fans to check it out!
Hip-hop is the No. 1 genre: Raftaar
Raftaar is one of the biggest names in the rap scene in India. Born Dilin Nair in Trivandrum, Kerala, Raftaar has been creating waves in Indian music circles since 2013. Specialising in desi hip-hop, Raftaar caught the fancy of Bollywood fans with his chart-topping hit Tamanche Pe Disco from the movie Bullett Raja and Whistle Baja from Heropanti
Tell us something about your concert in Dubai. What can music lovers expect to hear?
I have performed a number of times in Dubai, but I have never done an all out hip-hop concert before. In my earlier concerts, my set list featured mainly commercial hits, with a few hip-hop tracks thrown into the mix. But this time around, it's going to be all out hip-hop set list with perhaps a sprinkling of commercial hits. 
Lately, we have seen an emergence of hip-hop in Bollywood, and Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy has given this genre a wider appeal and popularity in the country. What changes have you observed after the movie's release?
Gully Boy proved to the world the power of hip-hop. The movie captured the essence of the genre. Whenever Bollywood portrays a subject, it is more easily accepted by the masses, and that's exactly what Gully Boy managed to achieve. It gave hope to an entire generation of rappers and brought street life into the focus.
Hip-hop tackles many issues and some of them are sensitive. What challenges do you face while addressing issues through your songs?
We have to overcome hurdles. For instance, I had to remove and change some lines from my song Mantoiyat from the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer Manto. The Indian censor board, did not want me to mention the names of certain individuals in the song, so I had to remove it. Apart from facing challenges, we also have to deal with unfavourable comments from people, many of whom don't agree with our views. 
What inspires your songs?
My hopes and wishes. I am inspired by the environment around me, what I see and what I go through (in life). 
Can you explain a bit more about rap and hip-hop?
Rap is one of the branches of hip-hop. It is an art form while hip-hop is a culture - a way of life.
Where do you think hip-hop stands today in terms of popularity?
Hip-hop has been the No. 1 genre in the world for a long time. It's because hip-hop adapts to other genres easily. The style evolved after DJs started shuffling records on turntables to create loops. These days, most pop records rely on hip-hop sound designs and elements.
What do you usually do when you visit Dubai?
I go shopping or try out different cuisines in the city.
Name some of your favourite hip-hop artistes.
Lupe Fiasco, Nas, J. Cole, Eminem, MNX and Pusha T.
What is next for you?
I'm working on my album Mr. Nair. I'm also developing my own label called Kalamkaar Music. I am also involved in Dance India Dance and the rap reality show MTV Hustle
Rap contest winners to perform at the show
Providing UAE rappers a platform to showcase their skills while helping them get exposure to the big world of rap, the contest, Kadak Bol which ran from September 8-13, ended in a grand finale on Sept 14. The rap battle champions - two groups and one winner in the solo category, will be performing on stage at the It's All About Rap concert this Friday. The winner in the solo category was Vinayak, aka Skivinne, who engaged the audience with his 971 tune while the two winners in the group category Shilla 050 (a group of 5 rappers) and Jeelani ft. Tahir took the audience by storm with their superb performances. Kadak Bol competition invited entries from underground rappers to make a video and send it to VIU Desi Instagram and Facebook pages. The videos were judged by a panel of experts from VIU and Radio Mirchi UAE.
Show details
. Where: Za'abeel Hall 6, Dubai World Trade Centre
. When: Friday, September 20
. Timing: 9pm
. Tickets: Tickets are available on www.dubai.platinumlist.net

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