Words you thought would never go together. We have the exclusive interview with Saudi Arabia’s most famous hip hop radio deejay.
The Middle East doesn’t have the shiniest reputation in the Western World. From the rigid laws of Islam to the constant conflicts and upheavals we have watched, almost daily, on the nightly news, it’s a culture that has for centuries continued to challenge our Western ideals. It’s hard to imagine that a culture where seemingly everything is forbidden would anything in common with a culture where any and everything goes. And then there was hip hop.
Hass D, a Saudi radio deejay who was educated in UAE and Lebanon and spent a year in South Africa, is changing the minds of people, across the world, about hip hop music and the cultural identity of the Middle East. After establishing the first FM radio to play hip hop in Saudi Arabia, “Big Hass”, as he is known to his listeners, is all about “spreading good music around and letting people know that there is art outside your MTV top 10″.
Where were you born and educated?
I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and got part of my education there, but then moved around to the UAE, Lebanon and I stayed 1 year in South Africa (was hoping to become a Pilot – but it was very expensive to do so)
My English came from simple listening to basketball games late at night & my passion for my music. I actually started listening to English & speaking it at the age of 15 , when my father (may his soul rest in power) moved us from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates because back then Saudi’s were only allowed to enter Saudi Schools where the English language was not really taught. So he moved us there. I had and still have a passion for the great game of basketball and I remember listening to the commentators discuss the game and I got so much into it , in addition to listening to some music. I got into Biggie a lot and he was someone I loved listening to!
How did you come to love hip hop music?
I have always been into hip hop and rap but in 2009 I discovered a great movement – which is the Arabic Hip Hop Movement in addition to some artists (from all around the world) that were trying to get their voices across either through Radio or TV – but didn’t get the chance to for whatever reason that is – we all know the complexity of FM radio & how certain songs gets on rotation just because of the fact that the DJ gets paid to play them – I decided I want to do something about that & have my own “breathing space” – a blog came together – I called it “Re-Volt” where I showcase Artists/Art that don’t get the exposure they deserve and its been a blessed journey.
I would like to call myself a music activist as I am just a regular guy but with a passion for music and a belief that music can elevate minds through its lyrics.
Let’s talk about your radio broadcast. How did you start? What kinds of artists do you feature? What has the response in Saudi Arabia been like?
Well, as anyone with a dream, it wasnt easy. When I started my online Radio Blog “Re-Volt”, I wanted to show that art and especially Hip Hop has a huge message that is misrepresented by what the mass media has been showcasing – so I used to host shows every week online – but the listener-ship was not that big – it used to get to 150-200 people tuned in but that’s it. I kept fighting and posting interviews with artists, trying to showcase their talents to the world. I featured nearly all Arab hip hop artists. I am blessed to say that I have interviewed the artists that are making a huge impact in what they are doing. Hip hop is universal and for me its a bridging tool. It has allowed me to connect with great minds such as Omar Offendum, Lowkey, The Narcicyst, Shadia Mansour, Arabian Knightz, DJ Lethal Skillz and many more….
After so much hard work, I became known online as “Big Hass” and as a supporter of real hip hop and real art. I wanted my message to reach more people, so I thought of pushing the idea to FM and broadcasting to an entire nation and the world. Of course I faced lots of difficulties. I wanted to open my own FM station (which of course turned out to be a very costly business), then I wanted to host my own Hip Hop Show. I have tried a lot of Arab nations from Lebanon, UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. No one agreed to playing “Arabic Hip Hop” which was strange to me since we are in an Arab country and if they didn’t support this movement, who would? I decided not to give up and to my luck, 3 or 4 new FM Radios opened up in Saudi Arabia. One of them was “MIX FM” who I presented the idea to and after talks and a lot of convincing, they agreed to give me an hour every week to host what became “SAUDI’s 1st FM Hip Hop Radio Show”. The uniqueness of this show is that I play songs from the Arabic Hip Hop world and tracks that never got played on any mainstream radio station before – simply because it elevates.
What is your show called and where can we listen?
The show is called “Laish Hip Hop?” which stands for “Why Hip Hop?” in English and it airs every Thursday from 1-2 PM (NY TIME) on MIX FM (Saudi Arabia). It streams live from the station’s website to the world. The response have been amazing. Since I can gladly can say that I am changing the perception of what people thought hip hop was. They thought it was all about gangs, drugs, drinking, bad language-which is NOT the case. In a way it’s a voice for the voiceless that started in the poor areas of NY and expresses views of its community.
You obviously have traveled quite a bit. What are some of your favorite places and why?
I was in the US for the first time ever last year and it is definitely right up there. I enjoy Beirut, Lebanon a lot due to its diversity. The underground scene in Beirut is one of the best in the Arab region. I also admire Paris. But my love goes to my hometown Jeddah always!
Hip hop in Arabic is growing phenomenon especially in Europe. Why do you think that is?
Because its poetry. Most of the population of the world is young now & hip hop speaks to these souls. Hip hop is poetry with Music. It can lead you to elevate minds through certain lyrics that can sometimes change the way you think and this is where the positive and conscious hip hop comes and plays a big role. I think the youth are getting bored with the same rotated songs getting played on the radio. They want to hear something different. Something that talks about their concerns, what they feel, what they’re going through in their community. The power has shifted to the people. That’s for sure.
If you could be a hip hop radio deejay anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I would love to be in the Bronx playing Arabic hip hop to the community there and showcasing the amount of talent we’ve got. Arabic hip hop artists sometimes use both languages, Arabic and English, to widen their amount of listeners. I believe the Bronx is a passionate place to be. It would be an honor to deejay there someday.
Have you met any artists that really made you ‘starstruck’?
Yes, I have already met majority of the Arabic hip hop artists. They affected me with their passion for good music and lyrics. I still would like to meet KRS & Mos Def someday.
If you could interview any artist in the world, who would it be?
That is a very tough question! I have interviewed lots of great artists, but one of the people who I would like to do a video interview with is Mos Def. He has shaped his career in a great way. I would love to ask him couple of questions.
What are 3 travel items you can’t leave at home?
A picture of my wife & baby, hard drive that contains around 2 GB’s of Hip Hop, the Quran
Hip Hop in the Middle East is mostly in Arabic, right? So for people who don’t speak Arabic, what are the general themes in Middle Eastern hip hop and what can we learn about Middle Eastern culture through music?
It can be both English & Arabic. Some artists actually rap in English and have some Arabic into it, others are all Arabic. It depends.
The themes vary between political, social, and humanitarian issues. I would say if you really want to judge Arabic hip hop, take a look at 2011 since it was a year of uprisings & revolutions across the Arab world. And guess what? Hip hop was mainly used to express views or even to show solidarity to one another and open up the eyes of the world, as the song #Jan25 that was performed by Omar Offendum (Syria/USA) , The Narcicyst (Iraq/Canada), Freeway (USA), Amir Sulaiman (US) and Ayah (Palestine/Canada) showed solidarity to the Egyptian revolution and also was featured on hip hop blogs worldwide which opened the eyes of so many people. Also tracks from Arabian Knightz feat Shadia Mansour during & after the revolution in Egypt. Tunis, Libya, Egypt and Syria all have used hip hop as a tool of expressing their views and alerting the world.
The Middle Eastern culture is rich with great history and great Art. Omar Offendum for example takes the poetry of legendary Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani, and translates some of it to English in order for the Western world to understand it. Using his rap skills, he incorporated English and Arabic beautifully.
Lowkey is another artist that uses hip hop to elevate. Just check out his videos on Youtube and you will know what I mean.
Tell us one thing about culture in Saudi Arabia that people may never know.
We are not terrorists! This is the picture of the Middle Eastern culture that is projected – which is the wrong. During my visit to the US last year, I have met some great Americans that hosted me to their homes and they were shocked that I am from Saudi Arabia, simply because I love basketball & hip hop just like they do. I was able to change the perception of what the American media portrays us through a simple visit. Simply by being myself.
Lawmakers in Amsterdam are seriously considering making pot illegal in Amsterdam. If you could get on a plane right now to Amsterdam, would you smoke one?
Nah! Not interested, haha! But if there is a big hip hop show, I would love to!
You have certainly been to hip hop clubs in your travels so you have seen people dancing to hip hop music. Are Arabs good hip hop dancers in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries? Which country in the Middle East has the best dancers?
Break-dancing is part of hip hop! And yes there are awesome dancers out there in the Arab World. I would suggest Lebanon and Jordan as the top in that field. Saudi has 2 or 3 great groups, but they need time to mature and get better. We as Arabs love to dance! It’s in our nature .
For people who want to travel to the Middle East, what are the ‘must-visit places’ and why?
Wow, a lot of places. The underground scene and diversity of Beirut is a must try. I would say come to Jeddah and see the culture here in Saudi Arabia. Cairo, too. Amman, to get a chance to see the Dead Sea and Dubai, fast lane life! It’s crazy out there!
Who are some of your favorite artists representing the Middle East right now?
The Narcicyst, Lowkey, Omar Offendum, DJ Lethal Skillz, Shadia Mansour, Run Junction, Arabian Knightz, Fareeq El Atrash, and many, many more….Check out my Mixtapes under “Bridging Cultures – Part I & II”
If you have any artist in the world perform in Saudi Arabia, who would it be?
Brother Ali, Amir Sulaiman, Mos Def and Knaan
Hopefully you have read our ‘about us’, lol. Tell us why you are Nomadik.
Simply because I am a music activist. I won’t stop giving the message that hip hop, like travel, is a bridging tool. Real hip hop is being misrepresented by the media. But I want to be one of those souls that is changing that and give the true image of hip hop.
Salute to Nomadik Nation! Thanks for having me. Check out my blog
www.revoltradio.blogspot.com and connect with me.