Rap provocateur Vivian Fernandes, who goes by the moniker Divine, upended the pandemic by working through the year to produce a superlative album. “Covid se pehle hi hum faasle rakhte the ” (I maintained a distance even before Covid struck) is just one of the lines from the 29-year-old Mumbai rapper’s new album ‘Punya Paap’, which is telling of how Divine on his new album Punya Paap, and working with Nas and Dutchavellihe turns context into wordplay. “I made 25 samples, shortlisted 15 and picked 11 from that,” he says of his second album, which released earlier this month. It features a slew of collaborations including rapper Dutchavelli from Birmingham, Brooklyn rap star Nas and Grammy-winning soul singer Cocoa Sarai.
From oppression of the working class to climate change to love, Divine covers a wide spectrum. You hear his love for disco on the slick ‘Disco Song’ and his nod to the OG Bollywood gangster film on ‘Satya’. On ‘Top 5 D.O.A’ he raps, “ Mazaa aata hai yaar gaana banane mein ,” (It’s great fun making songs) so listeners can feel the head rush that he did while making this album. No surprise then that the title track has over 10 million views on YouTube. Excerpts from an interview:
Making the second album is always a challenge because everyone has really high expectations. Was that the case with ‘Punya Paap’?
It is tough to raise the bar, especially since ‘Kohinoor’, my first album had an amazing response. But there was no pressure because of the lockdown. I had no phone calls, no brand [endorsements], no shows. I was in my zone, and had fun writing this album. I wanted to bring in sounds that were in my head, in my heart and were never out there. ‘Disco Rap’ is something I’d heard as a child so I wanted to do something on a similar beat. I had Nas and Dutchavelli, who sent me verses in three days. Nas recorded when he wasn’t well and that’s a huge thing for me.
I’m also lucky to have friends who have studios, because I was in there five days a week for two months straight. The main reason this album sounds good is because of the production. I want to shout out to all the producers who answered my 4 am calls to fix something. Especially Stunnah Beatz from Guwahati — we have great chemistry and whenever I call him, he knows exactly what I want.
You mentioned that you showed up at the label’s office and gave them the tracks for ‘Kohinoor’ . Is that how it worked for this album as well?
Yeah, they [the label] cannot choose. I’m blessed that they allow me to do that.
Did the label step in to help the collaborations happen?
Dutchavelli happened because of BBC. I’ve played their festival and they’ve covered me a couple of times. They asked me who in the UK I would like to collaborate with and I picked Dutch, since he is one of my favourite rappers. I was on his song (‘Bando Diaries’) before this.
In ‘Top 5 D.O.A.’ you say “ Abhi bhi sapne mein chal rahe apan ” (I’m still walking in in a dream). What’s unbelievable about your life?
Everything, man. Everything feels unreal. I wouldn’t think that a guy from Bombay who comes from Andheri East would be on a Nas song, on a Dutch song. I never thought that would happen. I’m still dreaming, I think.
You’ve brought in Jesus and Moses in your rap. How did you decide that you will talk about your faith on the album?
2013’s ‘Voice of the Streets’ was my first track that got 25,000 views in three to four months, and I was the happiest guy at that point in time. I wanted to start off my second album with the sample of the French choir featured on that, because it was underrated. It is not a religious thing. As for rapping with Biblical references, that is what I’ve heard my mum speak about and I draw from what I’ve heard or felt around me. If I knew something about Mahabharat , I would have used those references also. It is just a natural thing. But I do believe in God.
Who is ‘Mera Bhai’ about?
It is about some of the instances with my friends, because suddenly my life took off. Because work is important [to me], some of my friends drifted away, turning their back on me. They were thinking that I was the one who drifted away, so I made that song. Maybe some of them misunderstood me, so this song is for them and they will get it.
So, it is not about Naezy?
Na na na. Naezy’s cool with me. I love him. We hang out.
What do you mean by “Modi-wala shot”?
It is open to interpretation. Whatever my fans think.
The writer is an independent journalist and a faculty of journalism at FLAME University.