The UAE has had a long-standing relationship with the hip-hop industry – with Dubai’s glittering nightclubs the setting for many a music video, and the emirate’s reputation for luxury a draw for the biggest names in the industry.
Over the years, the music scene in Dubai has largely been imported – with artists successful on iTunes hopping onto private jets from cultural centres like Los Angeles and New York.
Before, Dubai was mainly seen as a glamorous destination for music video shoots, whether it’s in the middle of the desert, or on-stage at WHITE Dubai.
But now, local artists are leading an underground movement of home-grown UAE talent by staking a claim in hip-hop for the Middle East. Promoters are taking notice of this trend, and local music is making its way to Dubai’s clubs.
“Nightlife is a rapidly evolving environment,” explains ADDMind’s Michael Tanios Attar, a veteran promoter who now books artists for top Dubai nightspots WHITE Dubai and Toy Room Dubai after more than a decade at clubs in London and Lebanon.
A previous winner of Time Out Dubai’s Club of the Year award, WHITE Dubai prides itself on its "pioneering" approach, booking artists who might not be familiar to the traditional Dubai expat, but who are creating waves in hip-hop subgenres, such as French rapper Maitre Gims and afrobeat star Davido.
But still, there are smaller up-and-coming home-grown performers who exist on the fringes of the city's mainstream nightlife scene. One such emerging talent is local hip-hop artist Seki (formerly known as Izzy), who released his first single ‘Horns’ in late 2016 – picking up tens of thousands of listens on online streaming platforms like Spotify, driven largely by social media.
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The 22-year-old rapper is trying to help the UAE find its authenticity and identity in the hip-hop scene, with his upcoming 13-track album, sekisupervillain, due to release on all digital platforms on Monday September 16.
“It has taken years of work for artists to make a breakthrough here,” Seki tells Time Out Dubai. “And in terms of my music, I had to move with the pace of the genre and the industry.
“The scene is very different compared to 2016, back when I started. Back then we could count the number of artists in the region on our fingers. I see new creatives every day now, so I’m sure it’s headed along the right path.”
As niche genres emerge and find a route to commercial success, it can be a challenge for home-grown talent to find a place on the stage alongside more established (and signed) artists.
However, popular annual music events including RedFest DXB and Sole DXB, the latter of which celebrates the connection between hip-hop and street wear, are aiming to change the visibility of home-grown artists with regular slots available for new and local talent.
Meanwhile, ADDMind offers weekly residencies at its Business Bay rooftop bar Iris Dubai – with alumni including Time Out Dubai’s Best Original Act award-winner Stephon LaMar.
Local artist Seki has designs on going global, and admits that his dream gig is New York City's legendary Madison Square Garden – alongside the likes of international hip-hop stars Young Thug and Trippy Redd.
But ultimately, he just wants the audience (and hip-hop market) in Dubai to get bigger. “It’s a growing market here, and local artists will need all the support and help they can get,” he says.
The launch of Seki’s upcoming album sekisupervillain will be held on Saturday September 7 at 1Life Café in Dubai Design District, where you can also catch live performances of top local artists such as Freek, DJ Nnamdi and DJ Crown Prince at the event, plus a headline performance from Seki himself.
Entry is completely free but for Dhs30 you'll also get food and soft drinks, while grape and hops will be available for an additional cost. The venue will also host top brands sponsoring the event along with local clothing brand AngelSyrup. Reservations for the event are recommended, and you can register your place here.
Alternatively, Billionaire Mansion, BASE Dubai and 1OAK are some of the popular night spots that regularly feature some of the hottest local hip-hop tracks, and it’s a great way to connect with local talent from the UAE’s rapidly growing scene.
Free entry. Sat Sep 7, 7pm-11pm. 1Life Café, d3, Ras Al Khor Road, http://forms.gle/kKwYNaC1bSjTJ8iV6.