Shout out to the Emirates: how the UAE is a synonym for opulence in rap music
From songs about nights out in Dubai to Abu Dhabi trips, artists feel right at home here, writes Saeed Saeed
If you are fan of mainstream hip-hop and you live in the UAE, you know you’ve got it made. Barely a weekend goes by without Abu Dhabi or Dubai hosting a leading name for a club appearance – last week we had rap superstar 50 Cent performing at Base nightclub in Dubai Design District, while Tory Lanez played at Drai’s Dubai on Friday night (January 25). There is also an increasing number of hip-hop culture events and festivals around, including the popular street culture festival Sole DXB.
Hip-hop has also become a mainstay of the country’s big events, with rappers occupying key performance slots at the Abu Dhabi Formula One (where, over the years, there have been sets by Eminem, Jay Z, Jay Cole and, most recently, Post Malone), RedFestDXB (with G Eazy headlining in February) and the New York Abu Dhabi Arts Centre concert series.
But, you know what? That love goes both ways. The reason rappers genuinely appreciate the UAE is not simply down to the performance fees on offer and the A-grade hospitality. They, instead, see a deeper infinity between the country and their own lives. The mixture of hard work, careful planning and fun that is responsible for the UAE’s growth seems also to be the combination of qualities that rappers recognise as inherently hip-hop.
The aspirational nature of the UAE also taps into hip-hop’s spirit of aiming big. From getting out of the ghetto to becoming a mogul, hip-hop lyrics often trace an artist’s growth from poverty to riches, and the UAE has been increasingly mentioned as both a key stop once they have made it, and as a metaphor for a journey to success.
The country has been name-checked by many artists in lyrics that celebrate the good life and suggest they have “made it”. Dubai has also become an adjective in the hip-hop lexicon, denoting flamboyance and success. As a result, an increasing number of artists, such as Cardi B, Fat Joe, Lil Wayne, Ace Hood and Lanez, have chosen the emirate as the setting for music videos.
'That rags to riches tale'
New York transplant Jonny Sierra, a Dubai-based brand manager and international music consultant, who has managed UAE club tours by artists such as Ja Rule, Lloyd Banks and Young Ma, says the affection rappers have for the UAE is real, and is deeper than the gloss of their videos.
“Everyone loves an underdog story, and that is really what the essence of hip-hop is about,” he says. “It is that rags to riches tale, it is that Rocky story.
“It is more than the glitz and the glamour. If you really dig into it – the story of the UAE – it is really about showing the world that you too can become successful if you have ambition and work hard, particularly a place like Dubai. I would say that Dubai is hip-hop, or at least shares major elements of its philosophy.”
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the some of the lyrics that have referenced the UAE over the past five years.
Numbers on the Board freestyle by Ludacris (2014)
The energetic rapper knows Abu Dhabi better than most of his peers, having performed in the emirate often, including at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Formula One’s Beats on the Beach. Of course, he also shot the blockbuster action film Furious 7 in the capital that same year. His reference to Abu Dhabians’ favourite colour is a testament to his local knowledge: “For real, my Ferrari is Abu-Dhabi blue / Luda’s moved more crowds than a tsunami blew.”
Is There More by Drake (2018)
Drake posts about his love for Dubai repeatedly on social media, and so it is no surprise that he name-checks the emirate in this song, which was part of last year’s record-breaking double album Scorpion. Ever the introspective rapper, he uses Dubai to ask himself an existential question: “Is there more to life than goin’ on trips to Dubai? Yachts on the 4th of July, G5 soarin’ the skies?” Yes, Drake, we feel your pain.
Anybody by Young Thug (2018)
The debut single by the Atlanta rapper lets us know what he is aiming for: Dubai-level opulence. Thugga is clearly fond of the emirate’s shopping scene and he wants his fans to know where got his threads are from: “Drippin’ my swag, Dubai tags, I’m new”. Or does he mean Dubai in the metaphorical sense here? Who knows?
Loose Cannons by Dr Dre featuring Xzibit (2015)
While it would have been awesome if hip-hop legend Dr Dre mentioned the UAE in his rhyme, we have to settle instead for the much-respected Xzibit to drop some local flavour in this song. In his gruff growl, the rapper mentions Dubai as the location for a birthday celebration – and apparently, it was a bit fancy: “Spent my birthday in Dubai / Skyrise surprise and I’m dressed like a spy.” Clearly, Xzibit was living his best life right here in the UAE.
Man Don't Dance by Big Shaq (2018)
The follow-up to his viral hit from the previous year, Man’s Not Hot, this one is about the British rapper enjoying the riches of that successful debut single. And he clearly enjoyed himself by taking his partner to Dubai: “I’ll take you to Dubai (to Dubai) / We’ll eat breakfast in the sky, the Burj Khalifa.” We like that his dreams are realistic – he just wants some eggs up at At The Top.
Learn Truth by R.A The Rugged Man featuring Talib Kweli (2013)
Okay, so this may be over five years old, but the use of Abu Dhabi here, and by none other than rapper Talib Kweli, is so brilliant that it needs to be appreciated. However, it does require some Dan Brown-like skills to decipher. In this barrelling track, Kweli states: “Dodging the Abu Dhabi or dodging the paparazzi.”
What does that mean? Well, according to the website Genius, which features annotations on rap lyrics by super-fans, and sometimes the artists themselves, Kweli’s usage of the capital city refers to its Arabic translation, which is “father of the deer”.
A male deer is known as a buck, which in hip-hop parlance also refers to bullets (as buck is general slang for buckshots, the hunting shells used to kill deer). Hence, “dodging the Abu Dhabi” essentially means avoiding trouble. We love his cerebral lyrics.
Benevolent by Torey Lanez (2018)
Lanez, who performed in Dubai last night (January 25), knows the spots to hit in Abu Dhabi for a full-throttle party and, apparently, it was all too much for him: “I woke up in the hospital at 2pm / Abu Dhabi club party, try do me in / Paramedic talkin’, tell me in the ambulance / I could barely, just the ambiance.”
Dubai Drip by Tyga (2018)
With Tyga such a frequent performer in Dubai, it’s fitting that he has a song with the emirate in the title. The track once again uses it as a synonym for the gold standard when it comes to luxury and looking your best self or, as he refers to it, his “Dubai dip”: “Dubai drip … In-mashallah marshmallows on my wrist. Buggati on the strip.”
Updated: January 26, 2019 02:34 PM