In an Edinburgh hotel room, I met two rappers from California.
At least, that’s how they were known almost ten years ago, when Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd – who actually hail from Scotland – pretended to be Americans and secured a record deal along the way. Their story is told in The Great Hip Hop Hoax, a documentary film that’s rapidly becoming a cult hit, and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the pair during the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June.
Gavin Bain is the first to point out that he and his co-conspirator Billy Boyd (no relation to the Lord of the Rings actor) are very different people. “The word ‘accurate’ is really tough,” he muses, when I ask about the honesty of the film’s portrayal of events. “I have a completely different way of working from Bill and then, on top of that, we’ve got a director who’s completely different too. [The film] was never gonna be how any one of us wanted it to be.”
Condensing the pair’s story into 93 minutes – a task “near impossibility”, according to Bain – naturally saw details being left out or confused. He’s convinced the finished film, though, “opens a window into this incredible story, and when you consider how tough that was to do, you have to give props to the way [the filmmakers have] done it”, praising director Jeanie Findlay in particular for prioritising the audience over he and Bill’s “massive egos”.
At the film’s world première, part of the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, the pair sat in on a public screening – “the first time that we’d sat in the theatre watching our own film and hearing other people’s reactions”.
Boyd described the experience as “bizarre”, but added: “It’s good for us to see an audience appreciate the film. Whether the story’s 100% accurate here or there, or if it’s been tweaked a bit – it doesn’t matter as long as long as the audience enjoys it. We’re entertainers.”
One scene in particular consistently provokes a strong audience reaction. Bain admits that “it’s weird to watch your past unfold in front of all these people sitting here”, and bursts out laughing when Boyd reminds him his penis makes an appearance on-screen (which earned the theatrical cut an 18 certificate). Neither, though, regret how they lived their crazy and short-lived double lives. “Without us doing any of that, we wouldn’t have this story,” Boyd points out.
And years after the deception fell apart, the pair are still in the music industry. Bain admits he’s “a bit disconnected from the underground scene” and doesn’t look back, but tells me: “I help a lot of young artists, and I work with young artists – but I wanna work with young artists who come into my studio and go ‘I’m gonna change the world in six months’. I don’t want to work with anyone with a small mind, who doesn’t want to do massive things. I want to work with crazy people.”
Boyd, too, has been active – and goes as far as saying he’s “addicted to being creative”. Last year, he released an electronic EP under the alias “Lance Carter”, which has achieved airplay on BBC Radio 1 a handful of times, including as part of BBC Introducing in Scotland.
Now, though, the pair are collaborating again as Silibil ‘N Brains, the name under which they executed their hip hop hoax. Their new album, called Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, was released this month on the back of the documentary’s television broadcasts abroad and at home.
After being laughed out of auditions because of their Scottish accents, and being derisively labelled “the rapping Proclaimers”, the pair may finally achieve their dream of massive success.
“Everything else is on hold,” Boyd affirms. “Now it’s full-on Silibil ‘N Brains.”
And no matter what the legacy of their con, Bain remarks at the very start of our session: “Still, to this day, no-one’s taken a local Scottish rapper, no-one’s signing them, no-one’s pushing them.”
“And if someone did, would the scene even let a Scots kid come up, and give them the gigs? Would the guys up there at the top push a young Scot?”