It might not be the most easily appreciated form of music for everyone, but hip hop is still cutting a swathe through the country and the rest of the Middle East. In terms of public interest and local promotion, it’s one of the fastest growing genres in the UAE – but does it have the popularity to make it the definitive sound of Dubai?
There is a similarity between the Arabian heritage of poetry and hip hop lyricism, but there’s something else, too. Speak to any US exponent of hip hop, whether from the east coast or the west coast, and they will quickly tell you that it is the music of the oppressed. And despite Dubai’s projected image of expat frivolity, local rap groups like DFM have taken on the challenge by putting together raw, gut-wrenching tracks that don’t hold back when it comes to lyrical content. It’s not a free-for-all, though – while rap artist Omar Fights Back says that you don’t have to censor your music in this region, I would suggest that if you want to get airplay on TV or radio then you’ll have to rein yourself in. Though the same is true everywhere in the world.
But hip hop and soul singer Young Vaughan tells me that there are other issues when it comes to making music here. ‘I think the ones holding the artists back are the artists themselves,’ he says. ‘Every [hip hop] artist here always carries a negative aura around. You get guys who think that the fans don’t know what ‘real’ hip hop is and just complain all day.
‘The bottom line is that everyone is so caught up in their little issues that we’re actually forgetting the music. Are we musicians or politicians?’
Whether or not the artists are holding the scene back, and irrespective of the genre’s lack of appeal to many demographics, hip hop’s popularity is rising massively, and I believe that it will continue to do so both here and in the other emirates.
‘Music in the media is about money, and if a certain genre of music will meet a target audience, it becomes sellable,’ says The Truth, an up-and-coming MC from Abu Dhabi. ‘The bigger the target market, the more popular the music becomes. The largest market in the UAE is that of the young urban professional who speaks English, and I suspect that many people in that demographic are into hip hop.’
Brvnjes, an active producer among the local hip hop scene, concurs. He says, ‘With a growing interest in live performance and recorded hip hop from this region, there can be no doubt the future holds great promise for many of the talented musicians based locally.’
That’s the hip hop scene in Dubai, then. But what else is out there? Keep reading The Local Beat to find out. And in the meantime, check out www.timeoutdubai.com/polls to contribute to our ongoing examination of Dubai’s music scene.
Zahra showcases the latest musical talent on Open Mic every Saturday from 8pm-10pm on Dubai Eye 103.8