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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Dubai teenager is a surprise hit on YouTube with Dubai malls rap

Rohit Iyengar has generated quite a storm on the internet with his hip-hop video The Malls of Dubai.
Rohit Iyengar at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Rohit Iyengar at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

"I'm in Dubai. I'm going to the mall. There's so many to choose from, I don't know where to go. You got big ones, small ones and all of them are awesome. There's so many to choose from, I don't know where to go."

The words are from the Dubai teenager Rohit Iyengar and can be heard on his track The Malls of Dubai, which has become the focus of growing internet attention over the past week. Uploaded to YouTube at the end of August, The Malls of Dubai video has sailed past the 13,000 views mark and is rising at a rate of about 1,500 a day.

"I didn't expect it to get so much attention so quickly," says the 16-year-old aspiring producer, who is studying at Raffles International School. We're talking, quite aptly, in the Mall of the Emirates, which also happens to be Iyengar's favourite. "Usually it takes time, over a few months. But this has happened just over the past, like, 10 days."

In the video, Iyengar - who originally hails from Mumbai and has posted numerous songs online - raps enthusiastically (and earnestly) about the various malls across Dubai, either while in the mall in question or using computer effects to have images of the malls appear behind him.

"For some cool water features, go to Festival City," he says, while next to one of the many water features in Festival City. "You got some ice, you got some fish. Plenty of places to get your dish," he raps while in Dubai Mall, no doubt referring to its ice skating rink, aquarium and many dining establishments. He doesn't forget Dubai's smaller shopping outlets either, giving shout-outs to the likes of Lamcy Plaza and Al Ghurair Centre.

There's even a shot of him singing at Dubai Duty Free in Terminal 1 of the Dubai International Airport. Did Iyengar really buy a flight simply to get the footage?

"I was going on holiday anyway, so thought I'd take the opportunity," he explains.

In all, The Malls of Dubai took Iyengar about three months to put together. Alongside singing, writing the music and playing the instruments (mainly synthesizer chords), Iyengar - who also plays the guitar and drums - edited the video afterwards. And in charge of the camerawork was his mother, Sandhya Prakash, who, he says, has been very supportive.

Unfortunately for Iyengar, as is the current case with almost anything posted online, months of work - good or bad - can be dismissed cruelly with just a few mouse clicks. And, perhaps understandably, a rap about Dubai's malls hasn't been met with universal approval. Much of the online attention directed at The Malls of Dubai has been negative, ranging from simple YouTube "dislike" ratings (which, at the time of writing, were slightly trailing the "likes") to out-and-out (and often misspelled) nastiness in the comments section. One individual claimed he had registered with YouTube simply to log a dislike, while another - hiding behind the online pseudonym of Grizzly3124 - went so far as to call Iyengar a "disgrace to society". Given that Grizzly3124's YouTube subscriptions include something called GearGirlsTV, sixpackshortcuts and Xbox, we could be forgiven for disregarding his opinion.

Although there are also numerous comments urging Iyengar to ignore the naysayers, he does not seem at all fazed by the criticism: "It's just saying something bad about someone because you can and nobody knows who you are. It's not helpful."

The comparisons between Iyengar and Rebecca Black - who shot to fame after the video for her song Friday went viral earlier in the year - have been coming thick and fast. Friday racked up more than 150 million hits online and received a barrage of hate in response, including death threats. The Malls of Dubai, like Friday, is somewhat catchy and features the use of autotune on the chorus, distorting Iyengar's vocals.

His difficulty in deciding which Dubai mall to visit sounds much like Black's lyrical concerns regarding which seat in the car to choose on the way to her party.

But despite the derision that surrounded Friday, Black - still only 14 years old - has gone on to use the publicity to continue her music career, with her debut album due out later this year on her own RB Records label. She recently appeared in the video for Katy Perry's single Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).

Iyengar might not want to follow in Black's footsteps (he's actually hoping to study film production or audio engineering in the US), but there could be a link for his follow up to The Malls of Dubai. "I've actually thought of doing a local version of Friday," he says.

Naturally, this track would be called Thursday. You heard it here first.