Rap music made its way into the Maghreb countries in the early ‘90s, via cultural exchange with France, the second biggest home of the genre after the USA. Forerunners of the scene included Muslim from Morocco, and Algerian M.B.S. Rap. The genre started expanding eastward into the rest of the Arab world, and it was not long before it reached the Levant - Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon - as well as the Gulf countries. Both men and women have excelled in the genre to the extent that Arabic rap has became one of the biggest underground scenes in the region.
This list offers a taste of what is happening in rap, hip hop, and trap through the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.
1. Ijramen Anhen - Msallam Hdaib (Emsallam) Ft. Krist Alzou'bi & Al-Wesam prod. TheArchiducer
As a rapper and painter, Emsallam has created a special place for himself in the scene with his unorthodox and fearless approach. From taking Arabic Tarab to a completely different dimension and mixing it with trap, this guy literally does whatever the fuck he wants, and you can’t put it into a box. After watching the video, listen to Ana Rassam, featuring rappers like Alwesam and Krist. When it comes to production, Emsallam works almost exclusively with TheArchiducer.
2. Dallouni - Bu Kolthoum
The Syrian rapper Bu Kolthoum was originally a producer, and released his album Bo3bo3 last year. Mai Morad, ShiBoBa, and American rapper Vinnie Paz all took part in the album. As he said to me in an early conversation, Bu Kulthum is dominating the Boombap, but this doesn’t mean that he stopped creating original sounding stuff. He’s also willing to experiment and make music that is not necessarily rap, like his singles Zamilou and Ter7al.
Follow Bu Kolthoum on Facebook and Soundcloud.
3. LAWLA - The Synaptik
It’s common for Arabic rappers to have another job that has nothing to do with music, and in the case of The Synaptik, the Jordanian rapper is also a doctor. The Synaptik has numerous standout songs, but this one sticks out the most, beefed out with poignant lyrics and an impeccable flow. What also contributed to the track’s success was the producer Badr Azem AKA WiKidz, who was able to lend great music, while still giving space to The Synaptik. If you like this, another track of his is that comes recommended is Sheikh Tawoos.
Follow The Synaptik on Facebook.
4. Mosem El Deba3 - El Rass
When you listen to Lebanese rapper/producer El Rass’ music, you’ll notice how dense and deep the lyrical content is, in contrast to the accessible production of the music, which makes it easier for the average listener. The whole thing comes together nicely - the idea, the lyrics, and the music. Mosem El Deba3 is one of my favourite tracks because it draws me into a very specific mood, one different than seemingly intended by the song. El Rass is now working on a new album and has released a new music video for Hat.
Follow El Rass on Facebook.
5. Fight back - Osloob ft Naissam Jalal
What happens when jazz meets hip hop? When Palestinian rapper Osloob met the Syrian/French flute and nay player Naissam, they joined their talents to put forth a sweet concoction. Although their fusion feels proper, the genre is still a little bit heavy for the average listener’s ear. The experience is certainly new, and deserves your listening.
Follow Osloob on Facbeook and Soundcloud.
6. Hamllan - Shab Jdeed Ft. Al Nather
Ramallah-based rapper Shab Gedid joined forces with producer El Nazer to present a different sound of Arabic rap. I think it’s important in any scene to make something different, and this on its own sets a unique mood to the music that makes the listener come back for another taste. It’s not only about the producer and the music, but about the sound as a whole, from the rapper’s voice to how autotune is applied.
7. Asob Asfalt - ShiBoBa
The Saudi scene is known for a multiplicity of beefs between the rappers, and how they insult each other in the tracks. This is called "diss," shortcut for disrespect. For Saudi rapper ShiBoBa, his success in dissing is what made him a household name, because of his writing and ability to rhyme and flow smoothly. However, he’s not only about this, as his album hosts standout tracks such as Al Khetta Ba.
Follow ShiBoBa on Soundcloud.
8. RABBI I7ASIBKOM - Klay BBj ft Armageddon
Tunisian rapper Klay started his career in 2010, and has since fully proved his presence. Consistency was his key - maintaining his style since day one is not an easy feat considering the fast change in the music scene, especially with the trap fever. In this track, Klay and Armageddon were able to make a hook that will make you repeat it as soon as the track ends.
Follow Klay BBj on Facebook and Soundcloud.
9. Wach Kayn Maydar - Shayfeen
Morocco was the first country in the Arab region to witness the evolution of rap to trap, as well as the use of autotune and high-level video production, which makes us say that Morocco’s videos are compatible with the genre and the current era. In general, production and music videos in Morocco have reached a very high standard, and Shayfeen’s videos are proof.
10. Gorasa - Flippter
Flippter is a Sudanese rapper, songwriter, composer and editor, and the founder of Dogar Entertainment. In Gorasa English and Arabic lyrics flow in and out of each other, punctuated with Flippter's somewhat staccato, hicupping flow. He knows how to employ silence and humor in his writing, mixed with punchy and poignant lyrics. The song aside, the video is nothing short of addictive; a visual masterpiece depicting Sudanese fellaheen swagged out in a mix of traditional garb and streetwear, with a cameo by Saudi actor and writer Mohammed Alhamdan.
Follow Flippter on SoundCloud.
Follow Dogar Entertainment on Youtube.