Dubai’s latest, and maybe greatest, hip hop band take a break to talk to Time Out as they prepare for their international debut. We find out more about their plans.
Hip hop is bling and champagne. Hip hop is guns and brutality. It’s one or the other, as far as the popular imagination is concerned. Look at the CDs Time Out received before this article was written. There’s Chris Brown’s Exclusive, featuring the R&B/rap track ‘Kiss Kiss’ (sample lyric: ‘I got paper, girl/The Lamborghini/With the spider seats’). And there’s Three 6 Mafia’s Last 2 Walk, which has such quietly affecting, songs as ‘Click Bang’ and ‘Dirty B**ch’.
But there’s a whole other world of hip hop out there. A world where battles are fought with ideas, not guns, and money is not the only thing that matters. It’s a world in which Dubai’s newest hip hop group, Diligent Thought, live. ‘We represent a more complex, conscious side to hip hop that you don’t really hear on the radio or see on MTV,’ says UK-born DJ Solo, one of the band’s two producers. ‘There’s no point putting an image out there that’s fake just because you want to follow a trend. How much violence and gang-related activity do you see around you in Dubai? So why adopt a stance that isn’t relevant to you? We just stick to what we know. What we know is in our experience, in our minds and our imagination. And there’s materialism and “blinging” in this city, but does that mean that there is nothing else to aspire to?’
That sounds pretty right-on and preachy, but Solo insists that’s not the case for either him or fellow members, Sudanese producer Sol-Phonic and MCs Jibberish and Toofless (from Sri Lanka and Sudan, respectively). ‘A lot of people say they want to take hip hop back to this or that, or they want to save this or that, but they’re just jumping on the bandwagon. A lot of people said that a few years back and it’s really quite boring. Like, stop rapping about it and start doing it.
‘We’re not doing this because we’ve got any kind of agenda, or because we want to be rich. We just love it. And it’s kind of a release – you can come home from work and make music, and that’s who you are, not the suit you put on every day, you know? It’s just pure music, I guess.’
Pure music doesn’t mean fluff. ‘There’s a track on our mixtape, Lyricalligraphy, called ‘Fair Shot’, where we talk about racism in the UAE. And there’s another track called ‘Anarchy’, in which Jibberish comments on how the whole world seems to be going crazy, with these natural disasters occurring in steady succession and war and upheaval all over the globe.’
But don’t mistake those messages for a mission, or think that the band’s racing to get into the charts. ‘We’ve got enough material for an album, but we find that we’re just getting better and better with every song we do,’ Solo explains. ‘We’re only a year old, still quite fresh, so our sound is still developing and we’re not in a huge rush. We’ve been approached by a couple of labels but we didn’t push through on the deal because we weren’t in a huge rush to do it.’
For now Diligent Thought will continue as a passionate – if not profitable – side-project, and the members will maintain their everyday lives: Sol-Phonic and Jibberish are at college, Solo is an interior designer and Toofless works in home financing (‘He’s going to kill me for telling you that,’ laughs Solo). But isn’t that a danger? A city as transient as Dubai is hardly fertile ground for bands, with members drifting off as jobs take them elsewhere. ‘No way,’ says Solo. ‘We’re all really excited about where the band can go, especially with our gigs this week. There are some things that are pushing me out, but I’m staying to see what happens with the group. What we’ve got is pretty strong, so I’d be pretty stupid to leave with all this going on.’