In this part of town, singer, songwriter, producer and abdominal muscle enthusiast Karl Wolf is sort of a big deal. His debut single ‘Butterflies’ spent 48 weeks at the top of the charts in his native Lebanon, with ringtone versions of the track still bothering commuters across the Middle East to this day. With new single ‘Ghetto Love’ threatening to be just as big and a fourth album in the works, we sucked in our stomach and sat down with the man for a chat.
You’ve been in the music business for 10 years. How would you assess the first decade of your career? That makes me feel old, man! It’s been great, though – the years have passed by so quick. Many people don’t realise I’ve had 10 years in the business, they just know the singles. It took a long time, and even before that I was prepping, DJing and stuff. I won’t say how old I am, but it’s something that’s been building for about 25 years now.
Is keeping an Arabic sound still important to you these days? Oh yeah, for sure. On the new record I’m working on, I have two songs that have that kind of vibe. I’m even singing a little more Arabic this time. I try my best to keep that in. It’s something that inspires other Arabs around the world and I think it’s an important thing – I always instil my culture in my music as much as I can, even though I’m creating music for ‘the west’, if you will. But I’ll never forget where I came from, that’s for sure.
You’ve started to collaborate with some really big names in hip hop and R&B. Are there any big collaborations coming up? I just finished a track with hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia for my new album, so that’s great. My new single, ‘Ghetto Love’, features [Canadian rapper] Kardinal Offishall, plus there’s reggae guys like Demarco from Jamaica. Reema Major is going to be the next big thing – she’s a 15-year-old rapper who’s signed to Interscope, and I’ve just done a record with her. So I’m meeting everyone, man – I got a lot of friends in this industry.
Which of these friends has been the biggest inspiration to you? Akon, for sure. We met up at a hotel in Vegas and I was playing one of my songs, and he was like, ‘Yo man, this is big,’ and from there we just stayed in touch. I just like watching the guy do his thing – he’s built a huge empire.
So it must only be a matter of time before he asks you to record something with him… We’ve been talking about that – I just don’t like to bug people. At the end of the day you don’t want to use your friends for something. Even though your buddy has a nice Porsche, you’re not gonna tell him, ‘Yo, can I borrow it?’ So if it happens, it happens. He’s a very busy guy, and so am I. But he’s obviously much busier. So, whatever. I don’t bug him.
You’re quite active on Twitter – do you have any weird stalkers? I get my fair share. I don’t call them stalkers until they start to affect my personal life, and some girls have started to do that. They’ve contacted my family, said stuff, sent pictures of stuff, y’know. That’s when it gets really personal, but other than that everyone’s been really cool.
So you’ve just shot a video in Beirut. How did that go? Yeah, [toothpaste brand] Close Up and I chose 10 winners to come to Lebanon and shoot this music video. I wrote the song, composed it, produced it. It’s basically made up of beatboxing and that kind of thing, and it’s just about giving a chance to the Arab talent that’s out there in the Middle East and sharing their voice on a big project.
Did the winners behave themselves on set? Some of them were a lot younger – 15, 16 – so I was like their big brother, telling how to do things. I’d huddle around with them, tell them, ‘Nothing matters but the camera and what the camera’s catching, so just get out of the box, don’t be scared that people are watching.’ It was cool, they were happy, we took pictures, hung out. When I was growing up, I never had that. And thinking back to how I used to follow Michael Jackson – not that I’m saying I’m on that level – if he’d ever done something with me, I’d be on the moon, you know.
Was it good to be back in Beirut? It’s always good to go see my grandmother because she makes the most amazing food. Trust me, living out here in Canada there’s no home-cooked meals. So being in Lebanon was mainly about the food, man, and just knowing that you’re where your family is.
Not much good Lebanese food in Canada, then? Maybe in Montreal, but I live in Toronto now. I got a place in Montreal too, but I’m based here and there’s not a lot.
You need to find a good delivery service, that’d solve it. Yeah, or a Lebanese wife! Ghetto Love is available to download on iTunes now.