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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Self-belief takes Lebanese-American rapper RSK to the dizzy heights

The artist talks to Saeed Saeed about his hit Woah Kemosabe and growing up in the UAE

RSK has found success with four million views of his latest video on YouTube
RSK has found success with four million views of his latest video on YouTube

The artist behind one of hip-hop’s hottest new tracks has landed in Dubai, where he will perform tomorrow night.

Lebanese-American rapper RSK (Rayaab Sammy ­Khonoyan), who spent five years in the UAE from the age of 5, has released a few singles during the past 12 months, but it is the 25-year-old’s latest, Woah Kemosabe, that has managed to burn up online platforms, registering more than four million views on YouTube and almost the same number on Spotify.

RSK admits the reaction to the track he released last month has been a gratifying surprise.

“I definitely didn’t know that it would do that well and hit such big numbers,” he says. “I mean, not long ago I heard that we reached No 59 on the hip-hop and R&B charts on iTunes, that is insane.”

That is not to say that RSK wasn’t confident the song would resonate, because he knew it had the right sound.

“At the end of the day, it is all about melodies and repetition so people worldwide can get it,” he says.

Woah Kemosabe does it job in capturing the hip-hop zeitgeist: there are the minimal and brooding productions by beatmakers Oohdem Beatz; staccato autotuned vocals; a guest feature by YouTuber Blaze; and the mandatory lush video clip complete with a mansion and blue Lamborghini.

And while popular with the hip-hop fraternity, the track is also gaining its fair share of industry attention. RSK landed in the UAE this week after a week “meeting 80 per cent of all the major record labels”.

RSK: "I guess what I feel is that I know I am on my way to something big"
RSK: "I guess what I feel is that I know I am on my way to something big"

“Traditionally, labels used to spend time developing an artist, but in 2017, they don’t have time for that,” he says. “They would rather push an artist who has the full package. At the end of the day, they can put you in front of the kids, but you need to have the songs to make that happen.”

He is no stranger to the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, despite having been born in the United States.

“My father had some business opportunities there [in the UAE], so I came along,” he recalls of his childhood. “I had good memories man, just playing with people from different cultures. Also, Dubai was still pretty much desert back then. It was nowhere as futuristic as it is now.”

It was in Lebanon, where he moved as a 10-year-old and spent a further nine years, that RSK developed his hip-hop game.

“When I was an 8-year-old, I was beginning to freestyle, it wasn’t really words, you know, just rhythms,” he says. “But it was in Lebanon that I began writing my own lyrics and felt like taking it to the next level.”

Unfortunately, RSK felt that he was stifled by the Lebanese education system, which prioritised the sciences over the arts.

“Art was put as the last segment,” he says. “These schools kept telling you that you had to learn your maths, English and business ... art was just an addition.

“But not everyone is a biologist or a businessman. I knew I had something else to offer, but I couldn’t show that with school or the venues who wouldn’t take what we did seriously.”

It was on his return to ­Houston in 2011 that RSK hooked up with the right people and developed his reputation through local performances and savvy social-­media videos.

With Woah Kemosabe now well established, RSK hopes the song’s success can help shed more light on other rappers he feels deserve attention.

“There are so many talented artists here that people should know about,” he says. “There is this Albanian rapper called G4shi [pronounced ‘Gashi’], he hit like 19 million streams on Spotify. Then there is [Syrian Dubai-based rapper] MohFlow who is great and I hope to meet here. It is a very exciting time right now.”

As for his own career, RSK says it is all about building things steadily. Ultimately, he is happy that his self-belief paid off. “I guess what I feel is that I know I am on my way to something big,” he says.

“I know what my value is and I am surrounded by people who believe in the product and what I am doing. This is a great feeling.”

RSK performs tomorrow at Club Sensation, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. Doors open at 11pm