For the Dubai hip-hop talent Fadl Saadeddine, 2012 was a good year. So what does 2013 hold?
Local rapper poised to burst onto the scene
When the 23-year-old Dubai rapper Fadl Saadeddine took the stage as part of the festivities surrounding last month's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he might have permitted himself a little smile of satisfaction. He had grown up listening to American hip-hop and noted how more and more of its stars had begun to play in the Emirates. He had even formed a rap group in eighth grade (his classmate, now known as The Khalipha, joined him for his most high-profile gig to date). And he had watched UAE-based rap acts such as Malikah, The Recipe and Sain all enjoy rightful acclaim.
It made the first line of Saadeddine's debut album, Two.17, all the more apposite. "I've been waiting long," he raps on To Whom it May Concern, "but I've got my chance now."
It's one of the standout tracks on Two.17 and the culmination of years of hard work for Saadeddine, who goes by the name of Fadl on stage. Hard work because, as he freely admits, music is not yet a full-time career. He moved to London in 2008, found a studio and producer and made a mixtape, but at the same time he was studying for a master's in global political economy.
It's not, one would suggest, the usual route into hip-hop stardom.
"Music has always been a passion," he says. "I love hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk, jazz and, of course, Arabic music. Every time I came back from class I'd listen to music or start working on it. But then I'd always put on a documentary, news programme or read the paper before I went to bed, too."
Thankfully, Saadeddine doesn't rap about the economic foundations of the world order - although he hasn't ruled out a political track or two in the future. For now, Two.17 reveals an artist very much at ease with contemporary and classic hip-hop. There's more than a hint of Kanye West's heavily Autotuned album 808s & Heartbreak, and the presence of Kurtis Blow's son on Bout 2 Blow suggests Saadeddine knows his music history. Blow was the first commercially successful rapper.
"I do like Kanye and it was great working with someone like Kurtis, who has the heritage," he admits. "But more important to me was making each track sound like it could have come from a different album. So My City has a soulful touch to it. Bout 2 Blow is more hard-core rap. Won't Stop is more R&B. Rocket was the first track I used Autotune on. I'm quite happy with it."
So he should be. In fact, perhaps the only surprise is that Two.17's radio-friendly sound hasn't been noted in the Emirates thus far, especially since every other track seems to reference Dubai in some way.
Strangely, living in London might have been a help and a hindrance: certainly his music is slick and well produced but there's the sense that his location made him less visible in the UAE. Still, Saadeddine's back in Dubai now, for the moment working in his family business but one breakthrough song away from being able to devote all his attention to music.
"There is a lot of potential here in the UAE," he says. "I think the success of The Voice shows that the talent just needs the stage to perform. I certainly want to do more gigs here and set up some collaborations with local artists. For me, it feels as if you can't just concentrate on the music anymore. You have to be as up to speed on the marketing. But if you devote too much time to that, the music suffers. So it's a delicate balancing act."
Not least when Saadeddine has his full-time job to think about, too. But with the debut album and Red Bull performance, 2012 has been a positive year. Next year promises just as much, as he sets up his own studio, releases two new singles and works towards a follow-up to Two.17. And with those big US acts such as Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg and Eminem visiting the Emirates, the appetite for his style of music is certainly there.
"Oh, Eminem," he says, somewhat wistfully. "I got my dates mixed up so I couldn't see him. I was so disappointed because his story means so much to me: someone who didn't fit the traditional image of what a rapper should be or where they should come from but made it through determination and trusting their instincts."
Saadeddine won't miss such gigs for much longer. He's likely to be playing at them.
Two.17 (MCU Records) is out now, available to download from iTunes and other music stores. Fadl is streaming a live performance at www.yp2s.com from Friday. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/fadlsmusic