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Hip-Hop: It's not just a concert in Cairo

Ahram Online attends a lively, interactive hip hop concert, whose dance, graffiti and music has taken root both as entertainment and as a messenger in the Arab world

Edgar Mannheimer, Saturday 14 Jul 2012
EgyUnits
EgyUnits performing at Hip Hop concert
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"Yalla, 'ool maaya Hib-HOB!” (Everybody say: Hip-HOP!) chanted the rapper Killa to the small crowd at El-Geneina Theatre on Thursday night.

Hip Hop was born in the late 70’s in the Bronx, New York City, but has since then spread throughout the US and the entire world. One of the evidences of this is that such a hip-hop themed night could exist in Cairo, Egypt to kick off the weekend. 

Hip-Hop is a rapidly expanding form of self expression. Many young independent musicians adopt this genre in Egypt. Even the famous actor, Ahmed Mekki, tried his strengths and released rap records. 

Hip-Hop is traditionally associated with three main themes: the physical act: breakdancing, the musical aspect: rap, and the art form of graffiti. Graffiti, especially after the revolution, can be seen all over Cairo, mostly of revolutionary slogans. 

The first rap performance that night was by a duo called Asphalt, who rapped more upbeat, and energetically. They used the instrumentals of the American rap duo, Outkast’s song, B.O.B as the beat to one of their songs. B.O.B is a very upbeat song, itself a musical experiment between drum and bass and Crunk (southern hip hop). 

They also performed the parody song Zenga Zenga, which pokes fun at Gaddafi’s bizarre way of speaking. One of them jumped up and down with a green umbrella, similar to one Gaddafi held in a famous interview from an obscure location in Tripoli. 

Next came EgyUnits, a group consisting of a band with guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and two lead rappers. Their sound and style resembled many similar experiments that mix hard rock and rap in the US, like the group Hed P.E. from California. They even adopted their fashion; wearing white t-shirts, black shorts and white socks pulled up to their knees. 

Last was Killa who wholeheartedly rapped his lyrics and flowed like no previous artist. He seemed much more in tune with his music and more fixated on releasing himself and getting all he wanted out of him. 

At the end of the show, he was joined by E Money, of the well-known group, Arabian Knightz, who had been sitting in the crowd with his friends and his fellow group member, Sphinx, watching the previous acts. When he got on stage he commanded the theatre; at once demanding everyone get out of their seats and come to the front of the stage. 

E Money captivated the crowd and was definitely a success. One could tell that the crowd had come to see him more than anyone else, probably because Arabian Knightz is one of the first successful and one of the most influential groups in Egypt today. Each one of the three members: E Money, Rush and Sphinx, have several verses and entire tracks in English. Sphinx grew up in Los Angeles, California. 

Rush told Ahram Online in a telephone interview that his influence ranges from Tech N9ne from Kansas City, who raps in a rapid-fire fashion, to KRS-One, and Wu-tang Clan, both NYC groups, but with completely different styles. 

When listening to Egyptian rap one often gets a notion that their influences come mainly from more universal and famous artists like Eminem, or Dr Dre. Rush agreed, “Rappers in Egypt need to expand their influences, and not just listen to the greats like Eminem, Dr Dre, and 2Pac. Diversity is always positive for the music and the culture. I like to keep my influences all over, so I don't get stuck in one category.” 

One thing all these groups had in common, however, was a deep political message against the former regime and its brutal censoring of expression. Asphalt performed a powerful song called Aayez (I Want) rapping about the demands of the average Egyptian regarding civil rights, freedom of expression, poverty etc. 

This is one of the strongest links between American and Egyptian rap, and also a major reason why rap is so popular in the Arab world. Rap is and always has been an urban form of resistance music. When asked whether he considered himself a political rapper, Rush replied to Ahram Online: “No, not really, I wouldn’t want to categorise myself into that one genre; I represent my generation, not just the revolution.” 

He went on to explain that because people are taking them as leaders for some sort of movement, that some forms that may be popular in American rap, they simply don’t touch, such as objectifying and degrading women. 

Commenting on the political situation, Rush said he had boycotted the second round of presidential elections - as many leftists did - because it didn’t offer him any option that he wanted. “We were stuck between Shafiq, who’s just like Mubarak, and a religiously conservative party, the Muslim Brotherhood.” 

Because of hip-hop’s revolutionary and ever-changing spirit, members of the community may feel threatened by a religiously conservative party taking power, as they may come to censor some of the rapper’s lyrics, just as the Mubarak regime did. Rush claimed, however, that he and his generation were giving him a fair chance to lead the country. 

“Am I optimistic about the future? Yes, in general I am. I believe in the power of the people, and they have become more resistant to B.S.” 

Rap in Egypt may not be as big as in the US, but it is a growing force, with more and more youth getting into it. Social networking tools makes it easier to listen to and get ahold of the music, as well.

Egypt, already abounding in graffiti, is bound to see an explosion of hip hop artists rapping on social issues and breakdancers inspired by the music in the post-Mubarak era.

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