Punjabi Wave: Gurinder Gill is a Powerful New Voice in Hip-Hop
The elusive British Columbia-based artist is striking out on his own, and he's opening up about his past, present, and future.
Gurinder Gill is striking out on his own, and he’s bringing Punjabi hip-hop to new heights in the process.
The world was first introduced to the 27-year-old singer and rapper’s signature flow in 2019 with his debut track “Faraar” with his frequent collaborators AP Dhillon and Shinda Kahlon. Rich with brazen Punjabi lyrics and fugitive metaphors over a melodic trap beat, the video for the song has racked up close to 60 million views on YouTube. Since then, Gill has had a meteoric rise, turning out global hits like the Punjabi trap classic “Brown Munde,” summer pop hit “Excuses,” and the mellow, cautionary track “Insane.” They’ve garnered billions of streams worldwide.
From participating in singing competitions in Punjab, to jamming out at basement parties, Gill now finds himself performing for arenas filled with fans alongside his relatively small management team at Run-Up Records. As swift as his rise to fame may seem from the outside, Gill says it didn’t come easy.
“You can’t say it was an overnight success,” he explains. “It was a lot of work when we started taking it seriously. We had to do everything by ourselves: videos, music, artwork. It was just four or five people just running around, trying to make things happen.”
Despite a previously fruitful collaborative relationship, fans around the world recently cast speculation about his whereabouts when Gill scaled back his social media presence and dropped out of the bulk of AP Dhillon’s North American tour.
“Everybody was like, ‘Where's GG?’ where’s this, where’s that,” he says. “They didn't know that we were dealing with so much behind the scenes.”
In June of this year, he burst back onto the scene with the release of Hard Choices, Gill’s bold and decisive debut solo album. In seven versatile tracks of clever lyrical dexterity and achingly resonant vocals, he holds nothing back. Coming off the high of the project, Gill still has his feet planted firmly on the ground.
Lonestar - Gurinder Gill
“If you figure things out from zero, then you know where you came from,” he says. “It’s a blessing to be a part of this whole thing. We just started it as a hobby and now it’s going further.”
What are your earliest memories of wanting to pursue music?
Back in Punjab, I used to participate in school singing competitions. I thought I could be an artist and I had a hobby to sing. When I came to Canada, after work or after school, our friends would have parties and we’d sing regularly. It wasn't that serious. But then slowly, slowly we started taking it seriously. I finished school by November 2019 and I just dropped my first song “Faraar”. It went viral. It was just all fun.
Seeing it grow since then must have been crazy. How have you been adjusting to it?
You just go back and learn. What were we not able to do in this song? How can we make it better in the next one? We’ve got a couple people helping but that’s pretty much it. I still do not have a big team. But we're trying to make it work somehow. Back in the days I didn't have my immigration, so that was a part of the problem, too.
Your sound on Hard Choices goes all the way from straight hip-hop to vulnerability and heartbreak. What artists have shaped your sound?
I listen to all types of music. Lil Baby got me super inspired. A lot of other hip-hop artists too, I used to listen to 50 Cent a lot. I used to listen to Punjabi artists as well, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kuldeep Manak, all of them.
One of the themes in your latest album is self-motivation. Is that important for you and your process?
Yeah, especially in “Wake Up.” It’s for whenever you’re feeling lazy. You can push through whatever you're doing, whatever it is. Just keep pushing. I started boxing here and there a couple years ago. From that, I thought I would put out the message that anybody can achieve whatever they want in life. Any type of idea or vision, anything they want to achieve: just go for it without overthinking.
Sidhu Moose Wala was one of those artists who’s work spoke to people around the world. How did his work impact you?
He had a big impact on the people. He went through the same basic process as us, like I came as an immigrant and went to school, started doing other jobs, and then you find your passion and you start focusing on it. It takes time. It's not easy, [you] don’t just come out of nowhere, and make it on the front page.
You were both immigrants, but also international students. Which is a really specific experience.
It is because not everyone is there to support you. You have to make sure everything is on the right path, you have to watch out for so many things on your own. It was a huge loss. He collaborated with a lot of big artists and his music’s gonna live forever. That’s the gift people get from artists. The music stays forever.
Do you feel that way about your music, that you’ll live forever through it?
That’s the goal. Everyone’s going to leave one day, everything is temporary. Your art is the only thing that’ll live forever, if it’s good.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
Right now, I’m still figuring it out. It’s your story. My legacy is my story. “It’s how people are going to remember me through my songs [and] through my art.“
This article is part of Billboard Canada's digital cover story on Punjabi-Canadian artists. Head here for interviews with every artist featured.