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UAE-bred talent shapes the country’s relationship with hip-hop

UAE-bred talent shapes the country’s relationship with hip-hop
13 May 2024 08:50

Khaled Al Khawaldeh (Abu Dhabi)


The UAE’s relationship with hip-hop is one that has grown through the years. Attracted to the luxurious sight of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, rappers from around the world reference the UAE in their songs as a symbol of status. Artists like Drake, Future, and Stormzy talk casually of their escapades in the country’s glittering cities as testament to their dominance of the genre.

But as the culture develops, a new generation of artists is challenging this status-quo, expressing the nuances of growing up in this uniquely diverse place. Using the raw energy and authenticity of hip-hop, they deliver stories that go further than the tired and overused representations of status – exploring what it means to exist on the crossroads of East and West, and the new world and old.

Speaking to Aletihad behind the scenes at the BRED hip-hop festival held in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island in April, locally based artists from across the UAE spoke of how the cosmopolitan country shaped their sound, and how far the culture had come.

“I feel like Abu Dhabi has managed to bring different cuisines and welcome them in a very inclusive way. And in one way or another, that formula equated to something different. You come here and you have a Hassan Matar, like you’re probably not going to find that somewhere else,” Abu Dhabi-raised, spoken word hip-hop Artist, Jaysus Zain, told Aletihad, referencing the popular, local cult classic sandwich which fuses Indian and local flavours.

“So, bringing it back music, we have a very similar thing. Artists and producers bring their own sauce to it, their own tradition; for example, I know many artists sampling old Emirati music.”

Jaysus says his international upbringing in the UAE gave him a unique mixture of influences, including sounds and ideas from his Sudanese origins, his Arab friends, and the Western influence found in the country. This sentiment was shared by artist Triple M, another home-grown Abu Dhabi talent, whose music is littered with references to his upbringing in the capital. In conversation with Aletihad, he explained that he was overjoyed at the opportunity to perform in the place which made him who he is.

“It was very special performance because this is my hometown. I was born here. I was raised here. Went to school here. It’s actually incredible, my family and friends were all in the crowd,” he told Aletihad after his performance.

“I mention Karak a lot in my music. I mentioned Mina a lot. I talk about Nadi Seyahi [Tourist Club]. These spots are very sentimental to people grew up here in Abu Dhabi, and they know what I’m talking about just by mentioning one word. It creates sense of nostalgia. It gives me the sense of identity that I longed for in my music for a long time.”

For Triple M, seeing how the scene has developed over the years is something that gives him motivation for the future, believing the likelihood of succeeding in the industry to feel tangible. He describes how he would previously travel long distances just to be able to attend events like this. Now he found himself performing to crowds, sharing stages with hip-hop heavyweights like AJ Tracey and Metro Boomin.

“To be honest, right now we’re witnessing a transitional period here in Abu Dhabi - in the country, really. They’re supporting the culture a lot and it’s amazing to be a part of it,” he said.

Ugly Moss, a Dubai raised artist from a Syrian and Egyptian background, also described that it was the unique mixtures of sounds and cultures that led to his distinct Arabic style. He said there had been a big shift away from purely American sounds and English vocabulary, with many artists now picking up the genre in their own native Arabic, something which he himself had chosen to do.

“I feel like at least in the MENA region, [rap] it was like radio music. They don’t go and open up new ways, new sounds, and they didn’t work on that until later on. When people did that, it showed the other kids and everyone else that, yo, you can do it too. And we can expand our music,” he told Aletihad.

“As a person I went through that. When I was growing up, I was always looking up to outside music, Western music. That’s what made me do English music at the beginning, but when I heard new types of music in Arabic, I was like whoa, that’s happening. That’s what inspired me to change to Arabic.”

Ugly Moss said there he felt that there were very few better places to be based as an upcoming artist, believing it to be an exciting time for hip-hop in the region, with crowds really warming to new and experimental sounds.

“I’m so excited to be on the same stage with like, artists that I actually listen to and I’m a fan of at the same time. So, it’s amazing being here. And its dope opportunity,” he said.

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