THE ORIGINAL TENANTS OF HIP-HOP WERE IGNORED OR OVERLOOKED BY SAUDI ARABIA’S FIRST RAPPERS, NOW THAT’S RAPIDLY CHANGING.
Words by Big Hass
There is no glamorous story behind the ascension of hip-hop in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, nor a tale of a patriot’s struggle towards truth or freedom. Hip-hop reached the shores of the Red Sea as a dusty and rotten version of itself. This was not due to the sandy journey it had undertaken, but to the blind copying and pasting of the West and its culture.
Arabs blindly absorbed and imitated the occident, with its gangsta sensations and thug lifestyle. Some sought to re-live the lifestyles described in various songs – the harshness of a gangsta, the explicit content, the attitude of rage – all of which seemed contradictory to the conservative quality of Saudi Arabia.
The virility of hip-hop tricked these young men into believing that this was in fact what hip-hop was about. To them it symbolised a way of expressing anger and rage, with rivalry settling in and clans being formed. As a result, hip-hop in Saudi Arabia perpetuated a redundant and vulgar sequence of mutual dissing and over-used topics. It unfolded in the inexperienced hands of Saudi youth as an unpolished genre where the core of hip-hop was misunderstood.
Hip-hop in Saudi focussed on dissing, swearing, and the intimidation of rival rappers. What it should have been doing is upholding the original tenets of rap culture by promoting unity, peace, love, truth and respect.
Of the original founders of hip-hop in the kingdom, Klash started off on the wrong foot but eventually corrected his mission statement as a rapper, refurbishing his rapping style, lyrics and attitude. Arguably the best known rapper in the country, he has since established a group called Westcoast G’z, which consists of five MCs. Even police officers can sometimes be heard listening to his music.
It is Qusai, however, who stands out as the true hip-hop ambassador. His commercial success and presence in the public eye didn’t undermine his involvement in social issues, as he supported local artists and reflected a more accurate image of hip-hop.
Now the scene is very diverse. The Jeddah-based Somali rapper Lil Eazy started out with a group called the Knockout Crew, which consisted of two MCs, but he has been creating music as a solo act lately, penetrating the mainstream using his charismatic appearance and easy listening lyrics. Al-Qiyadat Al-Olya (‘Higher Leaders’ in English) are one of the very few acts in Saudi to have a sizeable following, while Slow Moe is a rapper whose lyrics are sharp and straightforward.
A name that can be heard in the alleys of Makkah is Shiboba, a hardcore rapper who symbolises the underground sense of hip-hop in Saudi. He’s the type of artist who highlights the cultural aspects of the genre, with his thought-provoking lyrics and tonality making him one of the top MCs in Arabia.
A two-hour flight away in Riyadh, one of the most thought-provoking artists is Blvxb (pronounced BlackB). His flow has a unique style and even the topics he addresses – such as the mysteries of the universe – have a singular appeal. He brings something new to the table, just as the young rapper/producer MT-9 does. The latter has great potential due to his use of trap beats and captivating lyrics.
But hip-hop culture doesn’t end there. Other elements are also present, such as sampling and b-boying, despite the main spotlight being on rap. Of the samplers, producers such as A. Bugzy, Don Substance, MindCircus, Saleh Haddad and Dattune have made their mark in the local hip-hop community, while the Jeddah Dance Crew stand out for their performance art and break-dancing.
As for DJs, underground events lack a solid hip-hop DJ who has mastered the techniques of scratching and mixing, while the graffiti scene is blessed with the wittiness and creativity of a group of young men called Dhad. They opened the first graffiti store in Saudi Arabia and, between selling graffiti material and enhancing the city with their calligraffiti murals, represent a strong element of the hip-hop community in Jeddah.
Although not all elements are covered, the hip-hop community in Saudi Arabia is slowly progressing into a more gratifying vision of what hip-hop culture is. The blanks are being filled in and although the highlight of the hip-hop community is the artists, the performers, the MCs, as a fan of hip-hop culture and someone with a voice, I’m proud to say that the Saudi hip-hop scene is the number one in the Gulf. What’s more, I predict big things to come.
Featured in Sole Magazine Event Edition 2018. Available in select retailers in the region including Amongst Few, FRAME and participating brands including adidas, Reebok and PUMA.
Keep updated on social: