Arab identity all 'rapped' up

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

The Arabian Knightz band use Hip-Hop to express their views

CAIRO: Karim Adel Ali Eissa, aka “A-Rush , and his band, the Arabian Knightz, are ready to make a scene. Their banner song, “Stand Up, says it all: with an addictive Hip-Hop beat and English verses dramatically punctuated with fervent rapping in Arabic, they call for Arab unity and proclaim their Muslim identity while demanding understanding among the regions and religions of the world.

And while they’re passionate about promoting their ideals, they wouldn’t mind making a little money while they’re at it, either.

But unfortunately for A-Rush and his fellow rappers Hossam L’Hossainy( aka “Ghetto Pharoah , Ehab Adel (aka”E-Money), and Hisham Mohammed Abed (aka”Sphinx ), developing their Arab rap scene has been a struggle. Not that the music isn’t thriving. In fact, Arab and Muslim rap and Hip-Hop is actually a popular, and relatively lucrative, underground musical phenomena-just not in the Middle East.

According to a BBC documentary, Muslim rap music reaped $1.8 billion (LE 9.85 billion) in 2004 in the United States alone.

“The people who buy this music, basically, are the Muslims in America, said Sphinx.

The Arab Knightz say the industry has grown rapidly in Europe, as well as Asia. But although this is a consumer audience they’ve tapped into, their dream is to develop an underground Arab rap scene here, in Egypt and the greater Middle East.

What makes underground, specifically, so appealing? “It’s the message that’s underground, says A-Rush, “It’s a real message. It’s about expressing yourself, not about what people want to hear.

And what the Knightz want is to express the political and religious issues they believe in, such as the idea of “Arabia , or one Arab nation, peace among all religions, and criticisms of some government policies. Yet this is what is making a Middle East centered Arab rap scene so hard to sustain.

From a political standpoint, the Arabian Knightz worry their content could incite government censure. But by harnessing the potential of the internet, the Arabian Knightz have developed a plan.

A-Rush explained that, “On the album, we scratch the surface as hard as we can, without getting in trouble. But on the underground album, on internet tracks, we’ll just break right through the surface.

In fact, the real uphill battle lies in the financial and cultural challenges they must overcome. “We’re still introducing the real stuff because people here listen to the fake stuff, A-Rush said.

He and his colleague Ghetto Pharoah lamented the state of Hip-Hop in Egypt: the only variety that saturates the market here is the mainstream American style hip hop, whose songs deal mostly with drugs, sex, and violence-a far cry from the political and religious sensibilities that underpin even the most trivial clubbing music that underground rappers like the Arabian Knightz claim allegiance with.

But these rappers are still rare. Shouting out names to each other and rapidly counting their fingers, the band finally concludes that no more than thirty or forty musicians comprise the Arab rap scene, all of whom they know and collaborate with personally. They excluded, of course, what they call “the youngers, or the younger artists emulate the styles of 50 cent, or Eminem. Adel says they often lift entire lines from these popular American rappers, unbeknownst to their fans.

The biggest problem is just getting Egyptians interested. “It takes Egyptians a long time to absorb Egyptian Hip-Hop. It’s a culture shock, says A-Rush. Although Egyptians have been enjoying the Western Hip-Hop scene for years, they’re only used to hearing the genre in English. If they can get over the shock though, A-Rush finds that they really enjoy the music, because it relates more to their lives.

This is just more fuel to fire the race to get established in Egypt: the tantalizing potential of lavish success. A-Rush gushes at the thought: “I think the first people who break open the underground scene are gonna make a lot of money! And it will break open the underground scene for other rappers.

The Arabian Knightz strongly believe that if they could get more exposure, Egyptians – and Arabs in general – would be faithful fans. Already, those they have cultivated have proven devoted helpers. A-Rush cites the “street team they organized to promote their music by selling mix tapes on the streets. While some did get percentages of the sales, others agreed to sell 100 copies in exchange for getting one tape for themselves, free.

The band is big on using the traditional underground methods, such as selling mixes and getting independent clubs interested in them, but they’ve also set their sights on some bigger goals.

They already made an appearance on the very popular Arab television talk show, “Razan on the Middle East Broadcast channel. Ghetto Pharoah says they’re aiming even higher now, hoping to appear on “El Beit Beitak, on Egyptian local channel two, which has the highest viewership in Egypt.

Sitting around a café talking big dreams and minute schemes, the young men who make up this band could make any listener restless. They seem so close, yet so far away, the epitome of waiting for a big break.

“It takes that one hit in Egypt to make it here, says A-Rush ” We’re looking for that one hit-the right one.

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