The Tracks That Defined 2021

Arab rap has never sounded better.

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You might be tempted to completely write off this year as a total mess. Yes, the consecutive series of lockdowns had us stuck at home sleeping the better part of the year, but somehow, the region’s rap continued its meteoric rise. And that’s kept us at least mildly excited about the future.

The past 12 months saw the region’s artists reach higher levels, breaking more records and generating more views and streams than ever. If you’ve been paying attention, this should come as no surprise. The artists that defined this year’s soundtrack were steadily rising up in the ranks in the years prior. Incredibly diverse in technique, language and style, some of the names will surely sound familiar by name and by sound.

Shabjdeed and Daboor’s explosive track Inn Ann became the anthem of the last outbreak of violence in Palestinian territories. The BLTNM-signed artists boldly proved that the holy land could beam an intrinsic voice of its own while highlighting the never-ending violence of Israeli occupying forces through rap – a genre that is too often regarded as dull and foolish.

Another crowned king of rap in the region is Casablanca-native El Grande Toto. The Moroccan national just recently became Spotify’s most listened to artist in the Middle East and North Africa, flaunting some staggering and daunting numbers to say the least. Called-up for the North African rendition of the CJ’s international hit Love Nawantiti, his status flourished and is now regarded as an anchor in the scene. With over 3 million monthly listeners on the green bubbled-app, it’s safe to say that Toto is here to stay.

And how could we wrap up this list without mentioning our other North African counterparts hailing straight from the land of the Pharaohs. Their unique style which blends traditional chaabi with more modern trap is seducing the whole region and rightfully so. Special mention to Abuyusif who is among the first regional MCs to have made it to the visually pleasing Berlin-based Colours show this year. An achievement that we can only salute and hope that it will pave the way for others to step in his footsteps.

2021 might have been a mess, but we’ve arguably managed to find some strength and inspiration in this global organized chaos. For the sake of the culture, here are the tracks that have carved this past year through its ups and downs.

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