Silibil N’ Brains were two of the most outrageous rappers in the early noughties. Captivating audiences with their Jackass-esque stage performances, partying and touring with music’s greats and entertaining fans and those in the industry with ridiculous stories of life back in California.
There was just one thing that nobody but them and a few select pals knew about – the American hip hop stars were actually Gavin Bain from Dundee and Billy Boyd from Arbroath.
Skater boys at Dundee College
Gavin and Billy met in the late 90s as the pair began studying at Dundee College. Their mutual love of hip hop, skating and making their own rhymes and beats cemented the friendship and quickly neither of them held their college studies in high regard – they wanted to be the next Eminem.
Gavin, who now lives in London, explained: “We were sort of part of Dundee’s skater scene back when we met and we would just rap together all the time, anywhere we could. But times get tough if you are just doing the thing you love.
“I was just rapping and producing all the time and so inevitably ended up getting chucked out of college. Our friend had showed us this thing happening in London where Polydor were looking for the next Eminem so we thought ‘Hell yeah, lets do this’. So down we went.”
The rapping Proclaimers
Full of energy and confidence Silibil – Billy – and Brains – Gavin – made their way down to London in 2001 to try and secure a deal and become the UK’s answer to Eminem however it wasn’t meant to be with heartbreak and anger lying ahead.
Gavin said: “We went to the back of the queue which was round the block almost twice so we decided nah we aren’t waiting in this and skipped some of it but then there were people who weren’t going to let us skip past so we decided to battle rap our way to the front. We ended up winning about 80 battles to get us to the front of the queue and in to the venue.
“We were so high on the confidence beating so many people, we thought we would just walk through. Obviously we were rapping in our Scottish accents and were firmly in our Scottish identities.
“Which is funny because I am actually from South Africa and was raised there. When I moved to Scotland I was bullied quite a bit because I was very different and so I changed my accent to be very Scottish very quickly to stop being bullied.
“So it was quite traumatic for me when we got in to the audition in the Covent Garden area of London and we rapped for 20 seconds and the label just started laughing.
“The main guy kind of stopped us and asked if it was a joke and who put us up to it. We were just getting angrier and angrier – of course this wasn’t a joke, this was our lives.
“They were saying when people think of Scotland they think of Braveheart, Groundskeeper Willie, nobody thinks of rap we can’t sell that. We were heartbroken.
“We were just heartbroken. For me it was really traumatic as it was like I wasn’t good enough when I came over from South Africa so I changed and became Scottish and now I wasn’t good enough because I was Scottish.
“We decided to go to a guy who was big in the sort of underground of rap and ask him what he thought. He should have really been like f**k those guys you should go for it. Instead he was really keen for our songs and even wanted to buy our beats from us but when we said no what about the actually lyrics he said we were like the rapping Proclaimers.
“I couldn’t stop hearing that in my head.”
After arriving back in Dundee broken hearted, Gavin wasn’t for letting his dream go and began planning ways that he could make his rap career a reality.
Recording own of his tunes using an American accent and fooling his pals into thinking it was someone else, the ball was rolling on what would turn out to be hip hop’s greatest hoax, he just had to convince Billy.
“When I realised that proper real rap was never going to come from Scotland I came up with this character and recorded one of our songs in an American accent. No one could believe it was me,” Gavin said.
“It wasn’t until one of our close friends Brian Robertson died in an accident that I decided that was it I needed to be gone and doing what I loved.
“I convinced Billy to record his vocals in an American accent too and without him knowing I entered the song in to a BBC Radio competition just to prove that it would work – and it won.
“It was getting national radio play on BBC1. I got an email from a major label, ANR at Sony, to meet us in London and so finally convinced Bill that we would go down on the Friday and be these American characters, get the record deal and head back to Scotland. It was so naïve, we didn’t think it through at all.
“We hadn’t even thought of a back story, we were just so focussed on the accents.
“The meeting didn’t go great but we managed to blag a gig that night. It wasn’t until we were on the way to the gig that we started to think of a back story and became fully in character. We just knew that we had to be very confident. Every step through Soho had to be a personality injection and radiate confidence.”
At the show Silibil N’ Brains were foul-mouthed, outrageous and theatrical. As they rapped at crazy speeds they simultaneously jumped from stages, sprayed fake blood over the crowds, and became almost a hip hop Punch and Judy.
The audience was in awe and thrived on the unique show on offer. As they left the stage they were offered a meeting with Island Records the following week.
“We knew we had to have a story so it was that weekend that we made up this manic crazy story of two messed up dudes who had been taught how to rap by Eminem and travelled around America.
“We told this story on the Monday and the guy was almost in tears thinking I can sell the s**t out of that.
“It was the difference between boys being honest in their Scottish accents being laughed at but now we are lying and what you would say as being completely morally wrong and they are thinking yeah we can sell that. That shows you straight away just what the industry is like.
“At the end of the day they wanted to sign us.”
“We don’t get out of bed for less than £70k”
With no money between them, the boys needed a manager and they needed someone who believed in them enough to pay their way up front.
Gavin and Billy knocked on the door of agent Jonathan Shalit and as soon as he heard of Island Records interest in the duo and the manic rumours that were flooding the industry about Silibil N’ Brains (mainly orchestrated by the two themselves) he wanted to be their manager.
“By the time we got to Jonathan’s office he had heard so much about us and he was up for becoming our manager.
“After he agreed we said ‘well the thing is Jonathan we have no money we need someone to front us or we need to go back to America’ he asked us how much we need and I said ‘well we don’t get out of bed for less than £70k’. I don’t know why I said it, it was just this false confidence. I thought he would come back and say I will give you £10,000 and I would have been sold.
“He left the room and Billy went mental at me saying why did you say that you idiot we have no money. However he came back and he agreed, we had £35k each.
“We were able to get our own place, get our own equipment and get going. By that point and with Shalit on board he got us a lawyer.
“The lawyer always knew that something was up, we would have to lie to him constantly about why we didn’t have our American passports and he was always suspicious of us.
“We eventually got signed by Sony UK and the day we were signing our lawyer didn’t want it to happen as we could have been anyone, we didn’t have any identification. But everyone was sort of like “shut up Tim” as they loved us so much so we managed to get the deal signed.
“We then went on the road to drive up our fan base. We started playing with a band and it became like a dream at that point.”
TV appearances, D12 shows and suspecting lawyers
As their fan base grew, over the next two years Gavin and Billy became even more exuberant and outrageous – not because they thought that they were getting away with their plans but because their fame was also confusing people back home in Scotland.
The duo were set to appear on MTV and Gavin admits that they would use distraction techniques to prevent them from having to answer too many tough questions.
He added: “We would just start jumping over couches, beating each other up, anything to distract from having to answer things in too much detail so people wouldn’t suspect us but also to entertain.
“By this time though our lawyer, who was already suspicious, was seeing stuff online with people saying ‘oh I battered Gav in a chip shop’ or ‘hey I went to school with Billy what are they doing?’
“We were trying to hack websites to get them taken down and then our whole plan was to get more crazy stories out there like jumping up at award ceremonies so people would be writing these stories and push down the stories saying we were Scottish.”
It wouldn’t be long before Silibil N’ Brains would get their biggest show yet – they would be opening for their hero Eminem and his group D12 at Brixton Academy. It would be a bittersweet moment though as to unknowing onlookers the pair were already pals with Eminem – but he had no idea who they were.
Gavin added: “When we got to the venue D12 were on stage sound checking and so we decided we just had to be confident we went on to the stage and gave the group all a hug and a handshake as if we had known them for years.
“We knew they wold probably think who are these weird guys but we just had to fake it. Of course everyone thought we were best friends with Eminem and he had taught us how to rap so we just had to really keep our distance from him so that no one would ask us questions as he would have no idea who we were.
“It was difficult as he was our hero and we couldn’t even spend time with him.
“The show was our moment of glory. We were totally outrageous and the audience all loved us. The fan forums for D12 at the time were even saying that we were better than the main act as we performed with a full band by this time.
“When we got off stage though our lawyer was waiting for us and basically he said he knew who we really were. My heart just sunk.”
Moving on from Silibil N’ Brains
Prior to the lawyer’s revelation, tensions were already high within the group and Billy decided it was time to go home. Gavin tried to carry on with the group – performing all the vocals on his own but as Sony and Shalit realised the group was no longer what they signed up for they stopped answering Gavin’s calls. Silibil N’ Brains was over.
Gavin had racked up tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt and he resorted to working as an escort agent where he wined and dined rich older ladies for money and going to blood and sperm banks to raise any cash he could to settle his debts.
He would finally reveal the hoax much later at a fundraising gig in aid of his friend Ivan who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Gavin said: “Before I was about to go on and perform at this gig my friend received a message to say Ivan had died. My friend just said to me it was time to drop all this and just go on and be myself.
“I went to the microphone and just started talking in a Scottish accent and told them this was the real me, I think I shocked over 300 people that night.
“There were friends that I had made over the previous five years who didn’t even know the truth until then, most of them thought it was pretty cool and I still have those friendships to this day.
“The very next day I woke up and began writing my book California Schemin’ and then my whole second career started.”
Billy and Gavin reunited in 2013 to release their album Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Gavin still writing and producing music under the name Brains Mcloud to this day. He is also currently working on a film script to tell their story of the greatest ever hip hop hoax.