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By Soumya Vajpayee Tiwari | Mumbai

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 09:51 IST

The city's leading rapper owes everything to a tough life in an Andheri slum, and his unflinching love for what he calls, mera Bombay

Divine, 27
Hip-hop artiste

Given that the country's obsession with Bollywood music has relegated other genres to the fringes, it is ironic that one of the most awaited Bollywood releases — Ranveer Singh's Gully Boy — is based on Mumbai's street rappers, including a 27-year-old called Divine. Before hip-hop happened to him, he was Vivian Fernandes. Varied as they may be in sound, his tracks offer a peek into his universe — the gullies of Andheri's JB Nagar where he grew up. "My struggles and challenges made me stronger and focused. I grew up alone. My mother, Nathaline, was a single parent, and she worked in Qatar to fund my brother's and my upbringing. My parents separated when I was in class seven. So, technically, I grew up with my friends and grandmother, until she was alive," he remembers. He has often spoken about craving for a pair of shoes when he was the only child at church to turn up in slippers, but it was another buy — a laptop while he was at Bandra's National College — that introduced him to the world of hip hop.

He had his first brush with music 10 years ago and it has been a steady love affair since. The fledgling rap scene in the country did not dissuade Divine, who became an overnight sensation in 2013, with his debut single, Yeh Mera Bombay, which got 2,00,000 views on YouTube. "I was 20 when I decided that music is the way forward for me, professionally. I sat at home and made Yeh Mera Bombay. It took me two days to write the song because I had never written in Hindi before. That song will remain special because it changed everything for me." The gospel rap he wrote inspired his new name, and Vivian was no more.

If the success of Yeh Mera Bombay set the stage for him, Meri Gully Mein (2015), a song that marked his collaboration with successful colleague, Naezy, sealed his place firmly in the world of Indian rap music. "When I first picked up the mic at 17, I didn't know I would be a musician. But I kept making music, and realised that doing what you love can help you make it big." His love for music may take him across the world, but Divine insists that his songs will always reflect the one truth he knows — "my surroundings and my city." "I never imagined that the music scene would embrace hip-hop and rap with so much love. There are a bunch of artistes in Mumbai who are hungry to take the genre forward, and offer a different sound."

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