Universal Music has teamed up with New York-based media and content company Mass Appeal to launch a new label aimed at growing India’s thriving hip-hop scene on a global scale.
Based at Universal Music India’s headquarters in Mumbai, Mass Appeal India’s first signing is rapper Divine, real name Vivian Fernandes, one of the most-streamed independent artists in the subcontinent and a key figure in so-called ‘gully rap’ — a raw, gritty and unfiltered form of local language hip-hop that has become hugely popular with millions of young people in India.
Divine’s rise from the streets was also the inspiration behind Zoya Akhtar‘s 2019 acclaimed feature film Gully Boy, starring Ranveer Singh, which introduced the Mumbai MC to an international audience.
One of the people immediately won over by the film and Divine’s music was New York rapper Nas, a partner in Mass Appeal who has helped expand the company from its print publication roots to a multi-platform media business, creative agency and record label.
“Hip-hop is the world’s most influential culture — it’s only right to share what we do at Mass Appeal on a global level,” said Nas in a statement. He said the collaboration between Mass Appeal and UMG India would “help further spark a movement that is constantly in the making.”
“It’s an honour to be associated with a legend like Nas… For him to recognise not just me, but the whole Indian hip-hop scene is a big win for hip-hop, and for hip-hop in India,” reflected Divine, whose domestic hits include “Meri Gully Mein,” “Kaam 25” and “Jungli Sher,” which was the first Indian single that Apple Music released worldwide. His debut album Kohinoor is set to be released later this year.
Noting that “the world is watching,” Divine said his new label home would help “build a thriving ecosystem for urban music and culture in the sub-continent.”
At its launch, Mass Appeal India will be headed by UMG India & South Asia managing director and CEO Devraj Sanyal, working in close partnership with Mass Appeal CEO Peter Bittenbender and Nas.
Universal says the label will look to sign and work with some of the biggest stars in Indian hip-hop, who will be able to use the major’s marketing and promotion clout, as well as Mass Appeal’s global network of brand and content creators, to grow their fanbase both domestically and worldwide.
All releases from Mass Appeal India will be distributed exclusively via UMG worldwide, while Mass Appeal will lead release strategy within the U.S. and Canada.
Divine’s recently launched media company and record label, Gully Gang Entertainment, will continue to operate independently from Universal and Mass Appeal. “For many years hip-hop, regardless of local language, has been growing rapidly around the world as the authentic sound of the streets,” said UMG EVP market development Adam Granite.
He predicted that the launch of Mass Appeal India and signing of Divine will “fuel next wave of Indian hip-hop and rap talent and help accelerate the growth and reach of the genre in India, the subcontinent and beyond.”
Bittenbender called the new venture “an incredibly exciting extension of Mass Appeal’s strategy to progress the conversation and landscape of hip-hop by taking our brand to the most exciting global markets.”
According to IFPI’s 2019 Global Market report, India is the 15th biggest market in the world for recorded music, with streaming accounting for just under 70% of all sales in market still overwhelmingly dominated by Bollywood. Overall industry revenues rose by 25% in 2018 to total $156 million.