Arabian Knightz seeks unity through hip-hop
Egypt's foremost hip-hop outfit Arabian Knightz push a strong message of political progress and pan-Arab resistance on Uknighted State of Arabia.
Although they have performed in the underground scene for years, the group have rarely been heard on state-dominated airwaves. They attracted international attention for their revolution song Rebel, which samples Lauryn Hill's song of the same name, during last year's uprising. Now, their debut album brings together some of the biggest hip-hop names in the region, with tracks featuring the Syrian-American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum; the first lady of Arabic hip-hop Shadia Mansour; the UAE's own The Narcicyst; as well as well-known artists from both North America and Europe. Five years in the making, the album is co-executive produced by Fredwreck, who has worked on tracks for Snoop Lion, Cypress Hill, KRS-One and 50 Cent.
Tell us about your new album.
It has very heavy content and we took our time with the music itself; it has live music and is very cinematic. It's not just beats with 16 bars and hooks. You'll feel it more as a musical and each song is totally different from the next. Really, you close your eyes and see pictures in your head. We targeted as many topics as possible and experimented. In one track we mixed in shaabi [Egyptian street party] music. The song that talks about revolution was recorded four years before the revolution.
The album features the well-known regional names Shadia Mansour and DAM as well as the Syrian-American Omar Offendum. Why did you choose to collaborate?
I've always been a fan of collaborations. The messages go from Arab unity to global unity. It shows people that unity is going to start from here - in this troubled region with a conflict that's dividing the whole world - so you must start understanding the people that live in this region. A song called United has 25 rappers from all over the world, but it's the statement of the entire album: hip-hop ain't dead, it never died, it just moved to the Middle East.
What's in it for the well-known producers who have collaborated on this, such as Wu Tang Clan's 4th Disciple and the co-executive producer Fredwreck?
These guys are being heard in a region where they didn't think their music was known or would have appeal, and they get to know a name from somewhere they didn't care or know about before. At the same time, they want to support what they see us doing here. It's like what hip-hop was in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, before it got corrupted by big media interests. And we're doing it without the backup they had. We didn't have Dr Dre in the studio teaching us to rap, we taught ourselves. It's really a matter of respect for what we're doing.
Has the music of the Arab Spring had a lasting impact on the world?
After the revolution, people became very curious about the words "Arab" and "hip-hop" being in the same sentence. Music changes their perspective on things. People don't have to rely on the media in the Western world to hear the things our generation thinks about. They can hear it in songs, interviews and documentaries that are produced [in the Arab world]. We're peaceful people trying to be released from oppression and they can connect to that. The level of oppression isn't as big in Europe as Egypt, but it's there, and there is still a change they can create in society. Art and music play a huge role in revolution, and I see in Spain that people have picked up a lot of what we've done. If it wasn't for [the Egyptian musician] Ramy Essam taking his guitar to the protests and other artists' songs [being played] all over mobile phones in Tahrir Square, the artists in Europe wouldn't have been as active in the protests going on there now.
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Updated: August 20, 2012 04:00 AM