With events like Dubai’s Sole DXB gaining global notoriety steadily for the last six years, the city and its inhabitants have been witnessing a huge rise in local urban and street culture – which, until not long ago felt like a fantasy for most millennials living in the Emirates.
Yet, with a burgeoning rap scene thanks to local rappers Santi, Izzy and Gaby—with their beat maker, DJ and videographer friends in tow—they’re determined to put Dubai on the global music map.
While the boys aren’t part of one single art collective, they’ve formed their own “clique”, says 19-year old Palestinian-Syrian rapper Gaby Habib.
The boys grew up together in the UAE and have long-shared a passion for hip-hop – so naturally, they eventually started making music together. “We basically became our own production company”, says 20-year-old Iranian artist Iman Naghavi, who sings and directs videos.
‘Icy’ by Nigerian rapper Santi (featuring Filipino rapper Izzy, and London based rappers Maison2500 and Odunsi) is the latest release from the crew.
“I came back from the Philippines and went to the studio. That’s when Santi played the beat for ‘Icy’ and it just kicked off from there”, says 21-year-old rapper Izzy.
The video shows the crew languidly hanging out around the city, where they all grew up as expatriates. Although Dubai has long been as an asepticised tax haven, young artists and creatives are now seeking out the opportunity to pioneer culture from scratch and finally fill the gap.
Dubai is undeniably changing. And fast. The Design District (D3) and the city’s art hub in Al Serkal Avenue demonstrate how subcultures are evolving at a rapid pace – pretty impressive for a city that was still a desolate desert less than half a century ago.
“Dubai is the best place to be right now. Everyone is so motivated and passionate. There’s a good energy and people feel like they can do it here, more than elsewhere”, says Naghavi.
Yet, while the enthusiasm is real, underground cultures are still mostly manufactured in the UAE. “The challenge for us is to find the people and infrastructures that will support us here, the same way artists are supported in the West”, says Izzy.
In a city where violence is invisible and drugs are inexistent, the rappers affirm finding their inspiration in “everyday young adult stuff”. Insecurity, family, heartache and anxiety are the topics they explore in their lyrics. “Stress is a recurrent theme. We’re excited about the future. There’s so much that can be done. But what if things don’t happen the way we want it?” says Gaby.