It’s a rap

Dubai-based rapper Deen talks about his mixtape

Interview, Music feature
Interview, Music feature

You’ve changed your name from Jihad to Deen. What’s that about?
Basically I’ve had the name Jihad since 2002 and I feel I’ve accomplished a lot with that name – being in Source magazine, being on in America and all those things – so I felt like I should show some growth and move in a different direction. But I didn’t want a name that meant nothing to my background – I didn’t want to be MC Mike, you know? – so I picked the name ‘Deen’, because its Arabic meaning is ‘way of life’ or ‘belief’.

Your new mixtape, Unity Volume 1, brings together MCs from the Middle East and Japan. How did it come about?
Originally, it was going to star all these artists from different US states – both up-and-coming artists and signed rappers – and it was all ready to go, but some people got caught up with other stuff and schedules started to slip. The music was starting to date, and I could have started again from scratch but I thought: These guys already have opportunities but people in Dubai don’t, and I know these guys in Japan who want to boost their international presence, so why not take on all three markets?

You’re from LA, but how else does the US market factor into this?
The DJ that features on the tape, Joey Slick, is based in Japan now, but I know him from LA. He has one of the major shows on Japanese prime-time radio – it wasn’t like I just picked any guy. I said, ‘Get your guys and I’ll get mine,’ and we got it done.

Does it limit the appeal a bit to have three languages on one mixtape?
Well, I don’t speak Japanese or Arabic, but… When I was growing up, a lot of my friends were Asian and I grew up listening to a lot of Korean rap. I didn’t always know what they were saying, but they were tight, you know? And it’s the same here. And it’s cool to compare where the Middle East scene is at and where the Japanese scene is at. You can tell their scene has been given more time to develop, because their stuff sounds more refined and more radio driven, whereas Middle East stuff is way more raw.

Seriously, though – what’s the crossover potential here?
Well, nobody seems to break into the US market – okay, maybe Dizzee Rascal and Slick Rick, but look at France: hip-hop is huge there, but it’ll never get distribution in the US. But there are huge potential markets out there and this project’s not about making money, at least at first. It’s about breaking the ground and setting the tone, and if people start to think Big Bang Theory [see ‘In the mix’ boxout, above] when they think Japan, then we’re achieving something. I’m sure nobody in Japan knew what Dre or Snoop Dogg were saying on their records, but they still bought them. It worked in one direction, now it can go in the other! It’s time for everyone else to get their shot.

What do you have planned for the next Unity projects?
We want to lock in the Far East region, so we’ll probably do Korea, Japan, China and the Philippines on Volume 2, and we want to keep expanding. In future we’re going to do something with America for sure,
then France, the UK, stuff like that. We’ll mix it up. Eventually we’re going to have artists from various countries on one tape and make it something for everybody.
Unity Volume 1 is available for free from See for more information.

In the mix

Deen highlights three of his favourite tracks from Unity Volume 1

1 Rappagariya, ‘Hajimari No Aizu’ (Japanese)
‘This is really tight. He’s singing in the beginning, with some melody, then rapping, and switching back and forth. Complicated stuff.’

2 Big Bang Theory (above), ‘Dreamer’ (Japanese)
‘You can tell they know the craft. The beat’s good, the hook’s proper, it’s tight. It sounds like something new being done in its own way.’

3 We7 Boys feat. Abir Zinati, ‘Sot El Samt’ (Palestinian)
‘When you hear this, you’re like, “Yeah this is Middle Eastern,” but the thing that’s phat about this is the singer – when that girl sings in Arabic, it’s off the hook. It’s the epitome of a Middle Eastern track.’

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