May 28, 2021

From Rap to Trap: The Khaliji Migrant Finds his Aesthetic

This article explores the trajectories and artistic productions of Arabic‑speaking hip hop artists of migrant background in the Gulf countries (especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia). More specifically, the article describes the recent emergence of a new hip hop scene led by second‑generation migrants, whose lyrics appear as more politicized than those of citizen rappers. While these artists face criticism by local audiences on the basis of their foreign origins – often used to delegitimize their position – the article suggests that hip hop provides them with a language to express their specific experiences as migrants– the informal neighborhoods they grew up in; their critical takes on kafīl‑s, the police, and systematic exclusion; or their experiences of unemployment and discrimination. The article further suggests that these very experiences grant their artists the “street credit” that citizen rappers would lack.

The article looks both at tracks and videoclips produced by the rappers as well as some of the discourses held about them– in the media and in the comments section of YouTube videos or online forums. It also points toward a number of issues – the question of how ethnicity and social class are mobilized in the lyrical, linguistic, and parodic creativity of the songs, and in controversies and discourses surrounding the artists; the question of state intervention, either through financially co‑opting the cultural industry or through censorship; the question of migrant experiences, that are rarely expressed elsewhere, and how they are made visible through hip hop productions.

* read the full paper at Arabian Humanities

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