Talk about ambition. When we first heard about it, The Recipe wasn’t much more than a mixtape showcasing Dubai’s hip hop talent. But in the months since, it’s grown into a hip hop supergroup and a record label. What on Earth happened? Hani Khatib, aka producer/MC Jabbar, explains: ‘Me and [fellow hip hop artists] Swerte [real name Lucky Schild] and The Truth [Christopher Roumi] were at my studio. I played some of my beats and suddenly The Truth jumped up and started rapping. So I told him to quickly hop in the booth and we recorded verses by him, Swerte and me. That made us decide to produce a showcase for local rappers – and that’s how The Recipe was born.
‘Then we ended up producing more guys’ solo tracks and collaborations, so The Recipe as an idea kind of got larger and larger. Now that the first album from this process has come out [Young Vaughn’s The New School Cool] it’s essentially become a small-time record label in the UAE. It’s a wonderful accident isn’t it?’
Indeed – it’s certainly worked out well for Hisham AlYahyai – aka Tru – formerly of Omani band DK and now a member of The Recipe. ‘A producer friend of mine said, “There’s a guy in Dubai called Jabbar who you really need to check out,” and gave me his number,’ says Tru. ‘We recorded a track and I later became friends with him and Swerte. I really worked well with Swerte especially – he knew how to get the best out of me – so I invited him to be my backing singer every time I did a live show. I’d end up hanging out with the other Recipe guys at Jabbar’s studio and so we all started to connect.
‘It’s a lot of fun because everyone has different styles but we all appreciate and feed off each-other’s work. If I’m on a track then 90 per cent of the time I’ll be doing the hook – they leave it for me to write and then give me their opinions on it. And then everybody’s free to do the verses in their own style.’
Just like any good recipe, these diverse elements combine into strange new musical flavours – and as the creative bonds have formed, so have friendships. ‘It started off very casual,’ says Jabbar. ‘We had respect for each-other’s abilities and that was it. But as we worked together on The Recipe and on each-other’s projects it became almost a family – a proper crew.’ ‘Yeah,’ adds Tru, ‘We’ll go clubbing together – I especially hang out with Swerte and [Recipe rapper] Perfect Storm. It’s a business relationship and a friendship.’
And when it comes to business The Recipe have got a pretty clear game plan. ‘We give the artists involved with us the chance to get exposure, media coverage, gigs and a fanbase,’ says Jabbar. ‘That’s essentially what a record label does, though we’re not promising huge videos and big budgets to fund it. We’re offering grass-roots marketing and we give the artists a lot more control over their projects than they would with a major label.’
This is especially important in Dubai, he says, as he feels that major labels in the Middle East are reticent to sign up any artists that can’t easily be pigeonholed as ‘local’. ‘What we’re saying is that hip hop doesn’t have to be peppered up to be suitable for this region; it doesn’t matter that it’s sung in English rather than Arabic. Although we do have an MC – Massacre – who raps in Arabic. The Recipe has so many nationalities that we’re like The United Nations of hip hop. We have people who are Syrian-Armenian, Palestinian-American, British-Chinese, Filipino-Columbian, Indonesian-Swiss, Omani, Sri Lankan – we have people from every single continent. We’re saying that just because our blood isn’t Emirati or Saudi or Palestinian doesn’t mean we’re not a product of this environment; Kaz Money was born and raised in Abu Dhabi; that’s what he considers his home. Young Vaughn also considers Abu Dhabi to be his home.’
At the end of this week, some of The Recipe’s members (who are so numerous that we couldn’t corral everyone into our photoshoot; not pictured are The Truth, Jibberish, Kaz Money – Time Out’s best hip hop artist for 2009 – and Massacre) will launch their mixtape, The Recipe Vol. 1, at Alpha. That not everyone can attend every gig isn’t a problem – a vital element for a group in such a transient place. ‘A lot of crews here break up because one person has had to leave,’ says Jabbar. ‘The good thing about The Recipe is that it’s loose: you can say “The Recipe is performing” and it could be Kaz, Tru and Perfect Storm on stage. Or it could be myself, Swerte and Young Vaughn. It’s not like if one person leaves we’ll completely break down. And even if someone leaves for college or business or whatever they’ll always be a part of The Recipe – so long as they’re willing to make the effort.
‘Myself, I was planning to go to Chicago by the end of 2009. That was my goal, but I’ve changed that just for The Recipe. I think it has changed everyone’s lives and careers, and some of us are banking on the success of The Recipe to open doors to new things – whether that’s on a national or international level.’
And even if international fame beckons, Jabbar won’t forget about the UAE. The country has not only given him somewhere to base himself, it has also given him a desire to put something back into the community. ‘I’ve lived all over the world. It’s very hard for some people to go to another country and say, “This is my home,” but the moment you see the acceptance and the love that the fans and the media show us, you start to think: You know what? I’ve been given an opportunity here that I haven’t been given in any other place. So yeah – if they’re going to show me this kind of attention and support then I will do what I can to build the scene here.’