The UAE isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when we think of the region’s rap scene. In recent times, both Morocco and Egypt have been competing almost head-to-head for the regional charts’ top spots. In 2021, it was Casablanca-born ElGrandeToto that was crowned as the most listened-to artist in the Arab World on Spotify, before having his title revoked by his Alexandrian equivalent, Wegz, who is this year’s most popular MC on the digital streaming platform.
So far, the UAE’s first steps have been quite shy, although far from going unnoticed. A handful of sonic creatives are slowly, but steadily, stamping their mark in the industry, making the Gulf State shine with them on their journey to the highest stratum of the Arab World’s music scene. Each one on their own, including the likes of Freek, UglyMoss, and Santo, to name just a few, have been generating some promising numbers, sealed deals with world-recognized brands and record labels, all while proudly metaphorically waving the UAE’s flag in most of their endeavors. One collective though, seems to be on a mission to unite everyone’s efforts under one banner. Enter: RAPDXB.
Born out of the pandemic’s forced boredom, founder Christopher Esho Kelaita, of Iraqi-Assyrian and American descent, took it upon himself to build a music-centered platform that would speak to like-minded individuals who share the same love and lust for hip-hop and its orbiting culture. From actual artists to simple fans of the genre, the two-year-old venture is a long shot at “representing the place we all call home” and ”build a community in the UAE that’s never been built before,” according to Kelaita.
“It was just supposed to be one of those small rap pages you usually see on Instagram. It’s only later that we found out that we’re actually the first ones to ever do it in Dubai,” he told MILLE. “From that moment I took it upon myself to build a platform, make interviews, curate playlists, create posts, basically, do everything that’s not been done like creating an album,” the 20-year-old revealed.
Quickly turning into an important space for all those genuinely keen on getting involved, the past few years of work and labor have just recently materialized into the release of a first collaborative project, inviting some of Dubai’s confirmed or up-and-coming talents to shell some bars together to uplift each other, uphold the Emirates’ creativity, and author a new chapter in the country’s ever-evolving culture.
In total, eight tracks were jointly conceived, gathering over ten artists to represent the sound of hip-hop in the UAE. Serving as an homage to some of the architects of the growing scene, The Album Vol.1 is the first sonic statement of its kind to hail from the UAE and the wider GCC. In Kelaita’s own words “it’s the first effort to put so many talented people in the same room, many of which hadn’t met before.”
He said: “We’re all part of the first generation of expats, which means that we’re the ones that decide where we want to be, what we want to do, how we want to do it, and how we want to represent ourselves. This project is just a step in that direction.
”We started in March, and it was never supposed to turn into something as big as this. As the ball kept on rolling, more and more people wanted to get involved, pitch in, and help however they could, and it became this community initiative I am so happy to see come to life.”
Available on all streaming platforms since last week, the collection of tracks includes some familiar faces, such asDyler and El Bebo, as well as fresh newcomers like Mo Ed on some hard-hitting beats. There’s also an introductory letter by music journalist Big Hass.
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Relentlessly proving that there’s more strength in unity, Kelaita concluded his passionate speech about this debut album by emphasizing how he wants to show that becoming a rapper in the Gulf is indeed possible, that history is in the making, and that with a good amount of will and patience anything is possible — even turning the UAE, and more specifically Dubai, into an unmissable hub for what is now still perceived as a niche genre.