There is no denying the rap scene in the Middle East and North Africa has seen a meteoric rise over the past few years. A spectrum of regional artists have managed to cement themselves as the ambassadors of the movement by garnering an impressive number of streams, views, and listens through various music platforms, climbing well up the charts in the process. Given the immense talent making a mark on the industry, it could prove challenging to slice through the noise generated by the number of accomplished artists and truly stand out. Unless you’re Khtek, that is.
Khtek, born Houda Abouz, has been a central figure in Morocco’s rap scene for some time now, establishing herself as an unmistakable member of rap music’s next generation and standing out in a very male-dominated industry for her raw vocals and relatable lyrics.
In addition to making waves for being one of the first female rappers in her home country, the 26-year-old singer and songwriter is also recognized as one of the few sonic creatives who is not afraid to open up and use her vulnerability as a strength.
It is not something that she was necessarily born with, but rather something that she learned with time. For some, this kind of wisdom comes at an early age with the help of parents who are supportive and understanding enough to help shape their child’s relationship with themselves and their feelings. For others, like Khtek, this growth is triggered by a slew of exogenous elements that eventually help one better navigate life.
Luckily enough, we managed to sit down with the young trailblazer at Hassan Hajjaj and Marjana Jaidi’s Mbari House event to ask her about it all ourselves:
“I grew up with a deep interest in arts and culture. Music has been with me for as long as I can remember. Especially grunge and metal, with bands like Nirvana or Little Chains—I was obsessed with them,” recalled the rapper and women’s rights advocate to MILLE. “I admired how they translated their pain into lyrics, and the fact that these artists used to suffer and expressed it musically. It was very eye-opening and liberating for me as I am someone who also struggles with mental health issues,” she continued.
Her introduction to Moroccan rap came nearly a decade ago, after one of her friends played her songs from the likes of Mucho and Fat Mizo. “I remember thinking ‘What the fuck is happening in Morocco? this is so raw, this is so real and explicit and I want to own that.’ That’s how hip-hop became one of my coping mechanisms,” she revealed.
Khtek decided to make the transition from listening to Moroccan rap to making it in 2016 following a stint in a psychiatric hospital to treat her bipolar disorder. “When (I got) out, I was having manic episodes and started writing bars. I had no intention of becoming a rapper, it was all a coincidence. People started digging my freestyles until one of them spontaneously went viral and the rest is now history,” she explained.
Like many other things, music is a spectrum that has something for everyone. On one end of that scope, you’ll find artists that provide you with the unsolicited dose of dopamine you didn’t know you needed. On the other end, artists like Khtek see the blend of melodies and words as a therapeutic gateway to express the inexpressible, heal the hurting, and touch base with the inner and secluded version of ourselves that most don’t get to see.
“I make music for the weak version of myself, in order to lift myself. It’s only after seeing people pick up my lines and relating to my verses when I realized that I wasn’t the only one to have gone through tough periods or felt like an outcast. There are a lot of people too,” said the 26-year-old hitmaker. “So these are my main motivations. Although when you start making music for people, you start wanting to fit their expectations, fit what works and what doesn’t, get views, and so on. These are some of the challenges,” she added.
With that being said, making use of past, or ongoing, trauma as fuel to inspire your creations can give birth to a Cornelian dilemma. If pain is one of the main components that influence your work, hoping to feel better can be tricky as it might kill most, not to say all, creative stimulus.
“One of my best verses was written with suicidal thoughts in mind. It was so intense and pure that it reflected in my delivery and expression of it,” revealed Khtek. “I think that the day I heal, the sadness won’t go. I will just accept the fact that as a human being, I go through phases and that pain teaches me things,” she continued.
No one likes feeling down, especially through long periods of time, but when it represents your core livelihood, aspiring for better days will indeed fill you up with positivity but will also likely empty your fridge due to the lack of content created or ensuing quality of it.
“I’m not scared of losing (my pain), I’m instead embracing it. It’s like Stockholm syndrome— I don’t want to be a slave to my own sadness, but at the same time, I know that it’s there and I can tap into it artistically. I want to be a master of myself and my emotions as well as my flaws, and never the other way around,” the artist explained.
Khtek is undoubtedly bringing rawer yet softer edges to a genre that has for far too long been associated with being alpha. Relatable and undeniably down to earth, the impact of the Rabat-based rapper can certainly be measured in numbers, however, what is immeasurable is the effect she has on listeners who may have found a shoulder to lean on. And for that, we applaud her.