Nothing suggests the lack of knowledge a journalist has better than shallow research. For those who read Vice, I am sure you’ve caught one of their latest articles, which targeted the UAE’s Hip Hop music scene with this exact ‘uninformed’ based criticism, entitled “No One Is Paying Attention To Dubai’s Mega Rich Rappers.” This article attempts to be an insider for UAE’s urban and scene, poised with the ongoing conversations about the “mega rich” in Dubai. This article is aimed at correcting the misconception and generalization that this article delivered.
In the article, the author claims that the Dubai Hip-Hop scene is composed of ‘mega rich rappers’ who all seem to drive around with their high priced vehicles. Due to the lack of research that was evident through out the article, here are some compensating statistics about Dubai:
The city claims a footprint of around 1,500 square miles of the entire U.A.E (around 32,000 square miles), and is also a business hub of the MENA region. Dubai attracts tourists from all over the world as well as its neighboring countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - suggesting that Dubai’s nightlife is where it’s at.
With that being said, excluding rich tourists who come to Dubai for a vacation, there is an estimated 54,000 millionaires who reside in the U.A.E who are part of the country’s 9 million population. So these millionaires fall into the ‘mega rich’ title. They make up only 0.6% of the population.
Now lets assume, for arguments sake, that these 54,000 millionaires, along with the rich tourists that come in, all have active night lives and presumably all drive luxury cars; chances are you would bump into that ‘mega rich’ crowd in such a small city. And the author of the article did, considering the picture featured in his article of a luxury car - had a K.S.A number plate.
Narrowing the chances down further, what are the odds that all of these ‘mega rich’ folk are rappers? And are representatives of the city’s urban scene? Chances are incredibly slim.
Blatantly quoting Sadiece Holland, who is a radio co-host on The Edge and the founder of The FLEX, (which is an urban online and TV platform that showcases local artists) - “the notion that we have a ‘mega rich Hip-Hop scene’ is absurd”.
Holland grew up in Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E capital, and is an active contributor to the culture. “If anything about our scene was ‘mega rich’, (aside from the ones that feel they can buy their way to fame), we’d have more resources, more accessible recording studios and more money being thrown at creating and marketing content”. Truth of the matter is, the city is filled with “…Arab and Western expats, many of whom have not had those experiences”, (Paul D, founder of Rooftop Rhythms, Abu Dhabi’s 1st Poetry Open Mic Night). Dubai’s Hip-Hop scene is being fueled with people of different ethnicity and backgrounds, and its safe to say that more than a good half of these people, do not have pockets as deep as the 54,000 millionaires. The ones that do are extremely few and far between.
This is not to say that “there is something wrong with being rich and being an artist but there is something disingenuous about it… Those guys aren’t hip-hop. Those guys are buying their way into the public sphere for attention and to be down.”. (Yassin, AKA The Narcicyst, a “satellite member of the U.A.E music scene”). Contrasting between the crowd that has grown up in the country, like Holland, and people who are relatively new movers to scene like Paul D - both feel that the ‘mega rich’ label being plastered by the Vice article is practically nonexistent. Might this suggest that the ‘mega rich’ faces, which are an incredibly small minority - is suddenly being chosen to represent an entire scene, which contradicts that representation?
The Narcicyst. Photo by Tamara Abdul Hadi for The Medium (2013)
Another point criticized by the author was the lack of platforms in the country that promote local talent - and this is where the lack of research really pierced through the entire article. Dubai being a young and fast moving country, the Dubai scene is young and growing as well - it isn’t ‘mega rich’ but is credited with active and passionate contributors to the scene who create platforms for artists to showcase themselves. There is FORTLOM (For The Love of Music) which is a seasonal event that brings artists locally as well as from neighboring countries - to show case their talent. There is Rooftop Rhythms (which was mentioned in the article - in a dim light), which is becoming one of the popular cultural nights in Abu Dhabi to attend. “I give over twenty-five poets, singers and rappers opportunity once per month to showcase their talents so I try my best to add to the cultural scene”, says the Award Winning Poet and founder of the event, Paul D. “Sadiece of The FLEX has given more than one hundred artists the opportunity of sharing their work through radio, TV and the Internet”. There is also the homegrown segment on The Edge - a radio show hosted by local DJ Dany Neville, which airs every Saturday; it features and aims to promote local artists in the scene.
We do have platforms to promote local artists; “The challenge is getting access to them for the purposes of adding your creations to the culture" (Jibberish, local Hip-Hop artist). In terms of expansion, there is always room for more platforms to cater to the growing cultural scene.
The author called for a talent worthy enough to be heard - to step out of the country. This is probably the only point the author made that might have held some truth - might have. According to Jibberish, a Sri-Lankan born Hip-Hop artist who resides in the U.A.E (and a great artist to keep tabs on in the local scene), believes that “it’s only a matter of time and growth; the country is very young after all. Every region’s Hip-Hop scene has gone through the process of finding itself" and Feras Ibrahim (AKA Toofless, a Sudanese MC residing in UAE) added, “To be completely honest, I feel that the urban music scene in the UAE lacks individuality and diversity in talent. Artists here are trying to mimic someone else, and we still haven’t been able to find a sound that defines us as a scene” - and that is exactly where Dubai’s Hip-Hop scene is at. A pool of raw talent still experimenting, re-creating and developing it’s sound. As The Narcicyst stated, “I believe the right artist hasn’t been given the window. Hamdan Al-Abri is probably the most credible voice from the emirates. “ Hamdan Al-Abri, is an Emirati soulful singer who was nominated for the ‘Best Middle East Act’ in the MTV European Music Awards this year, is the name that seems to roll off everyone’s tongue when it comes to a local artist with an international sound. Like Hamdan, there is the undeniable potential for other artists to develop and be heard on a global scale. Has it happened yet? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t put the Dubai scene at a downfall. Nothing was promised out of Dubai musically and nothing should be cancelled out either - ”The U.A.E is like a melting pot with so many different nationalities and influences, so hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can absorb that and continue to build a stronger scene" as Holland put it.
Hamdan Al Abri
Hip-Hop is a dynamic form and it is a channel for people to voice out their stories. This side of the world has plenty of stories to tell, and the Dubai urban scene has a lot to contribute. Confining the culture into the other stereotypes of the city reflects the lack of research and understanding dedicated to a scene that is rapidly forming. Platforms are in place, mindsets are tuned, and it’s a matter of production and developing. Negating the effort being carried out by the active contributors of the scene would have simply agreed with the misconception the Vice article delivered.