The Malayali, who was born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh weaves incidents from his life into rap narratives

How often is a rapper’s rant taken seriously? Amid the wordplay and syllables, the hidden angst often gets lost. Twenty-nine-year-old rap artist and composer Dino James’ compositions contain a story, mostly taken from his life. His narratives are not just clouded by meaningless syllables but have a rhythmic easy flow of words.

His latest release ‘Sound De’, released by Sony Music is an entertaining and high-voltage party number that calls for energetic grooving. “As an artist, I am always trying to break the monotony. I wanted to make a hip-hop number that will force you to step onto the dance floor. I think the title, Sound De, matches the energy of the production and that is the whole vibe of the song,” explains Dino.

Dino James’ latest release ‘Sound De’

Life’s like that

The lineup of his songs is inspired by the events at various stages of his life. ‘Loser’, ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Yadein’, ‘Hancock’ are a few among the list of nearly 25 songs. “All my songs are relatable and connect with the listeners,” he says. While ‘Loser’, like the title, is about the setbacks one face in life and also motivates you to get going, ‘Hancock’ is about his pet Labrador, and ‘Thanks A Lot’ is thanking God after his mother recovered from ill-health.

It was ‘Girlfriend’, an Age-Restricted video and one of his first releases in 2016 that created a storm. Dino goes hammer and tongs at self-seeking girls inferring a motive behind their every action. Dino insists he was not speaking about his breakups or his personal experience there. “People think it is my story, it is not. It was more of what I noticed in the life of boys and girls. I wanted to explore what happens to people in that zone. I did not generalise women but just pointed out what was happening. Believe me, I have a lot of respect for women.”

Native narrative

A Malayali born and brought up in a small town, Ghoradongri, in Madhya Pradesh, Dino swears by his roots. “As a child, I was like any other MP child, talking and acting like them, but people would call me Mallu. With a love for meen curry and the smell of the coconut oil I realised, I am a hardcore Mallu at heart and I am proud to be one.”

Dino attributes his artistic traits to his mother who is inclined towards literature and writes columns in Malayalam magazines. “I grew up listening to her lullabies and a lot of stories about Kerala. At one point I wanted to do everything — from wanting to join the Army to being a cricketer, but once music struck a chord, for my family it was like accepting one more profession.”

A reluctant rapper, Dino found his calling in music after an unsatisfying acting stint in Mumbai. Despite working with well-known names in Bollywood either assisting them in direction or taking up small acting roles, Dino was not content. While casually strumming his guitar one day, he realised he can add a story to his riffs thus discovering a lyricist and a rapper in him.

“My ideas can come from anywhere and can trigger a song. The radar is functioning all the time. Art is divine and you have to be blessed to possess that,” says Dino.

Freedom at work

With close to five million viewers on his YouTube channel, Dino receives hugely positive feedback in his comment box with most youngsters admitting to relating to his songs or getting inspired by them. “In rap, one tends to preach. I did not want to be a preacher. I package it like a bundle of entertainment,” says Dino who needs his space and freedom to work. “My freedom is very valuable to me. I am disciplined. I get up early, eat my breakfast and go to the gym. I value the principles my parents stand for. My idols are Eminem, Ratan Tata, Abdul Kalam, Rajanikanth, MS Dhoni, Javed Akhtar. As I read about them, I realised that all of them talked about discipline. A rapper has an image of hard drinking and smoking, but there is a lot of hard work involved.”

Gully Boy brought Indian rap to the forefront and Dino feels it did help the genre to get a push. “Nobody was talking about Goa until Dil Chahta Hai. Similarly, everyone wants to travel to Europe after Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara. Gully Boy helped people understand rap. The production team, with its unconventional sound, provided muscle to the film.”

Can rap become Bollywood mainstream? “Honey Singh and Badshah are already doing rap in films. Their songs are the backbone of the pubs. A complete narrative through rap, like the way I do, is yet to be done. There are too many syllables to digest. The culture is slowly picking up and there is going to be a huge market.”

The wishlist

The Bollywood dream is still alive in Dino and he plans to get into production and acting. “I am a visual guy and I see my songs. I will fulfil my dream in films too.’

Entering the Malayalam industry is on his wishlist too. “It is going to be a dream and like reaching the next level in my artistic pursuit. My parents then will say you have done something great. The way art is respected in the south, especially Kerala, is mind-blowing. Without that my dream would not be complete.”


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