The Egyptian Rap Scene

A New Phase in Egyptian Musical Culture
Three rapper on stage. (Getty)
Photo for Marwan Pablo singing in concert. (Marwan Pablo FB official page)
Photo for Wegz singing in concert. (Wegz FB official page)

In the last few years, Egypt has witnessed a great change in music production and style. We have seen new types of songs like rap songs and mahraganat in the scene, each of them with a big audience and fan base. Though the art of rap did not meet great popularity in its beginning, the situation now is different and rap is now one of the most popular trends in Egypt. Let's explore together the world of rap in Egypt and why is it called the rap scene.

The Egyptian rap scene refers to all rap songs produced in Egypt. The hits made by many singers in this field make this category of singing flourish and compete significantly with existing styles. It also gives the Egyptian art scene vitality and energy that did not exist for a long time.

Abyusif, Wegz, Marwan Pablo, Marwan Moussa, Shaheen "the Genius," the Joker, Afroto, and others…all these names have become repeated recently in Egypt especially among a large number of Egyptian youth who love the art of rap. Before we know more about this art, its famous singers and productions, let's know first how the scene started.

RAP ART AND ITS HISTORY IN EGYPT

Rap is a genre of singing and one of the main branches of hip-hop culture. It is about speaking and repeating a song with a certain rhyme, and it is also the delivery of rhymes and wordplay to match the rhyme without committing to a specific melody. Rap was spread in the United States of America at the beginning of the seventies by African-Americans from the Bronx, New York. It expanded globally since the early nineties, and its fame increased in Egypt in the last few years.

The early generations of rap in Egypt are Way Crow Family from 1998, Egy Rap School in 2000, and MTM in 2003 whose song "My Mother is Traveling" achieved a huge success.

Rap started to appear in Egypt in films, for example, in the 2008 movie Waraqat Shara, which is the first film of the trilogy “Chico, Hisham Majed, and Ahmed Fahmy” directed by Amir Ramses. Ahmed El-Fishawy participated in a rap song in the movie, which was later known as "The Song of Waraqa Shafara."

Shortly afterwards, Ahmed Makki's first film, "H Dabour," included rap music as an official song for the work under the title "Jadaan Tayebeen." Two years later, the independent film "Microphone" was produced, written, and directed by Ahmed Abdullah, starring a group of young singers, including part of the Y-Crew team, Omar Baflout and Shaheen. Later, cinematic and dramatic works included rap music, as in most of Ahmed Makki and Ahmed Al-Fishawy's works.

Then, rappers continued to appear and increase until the appearance of "Mahraganat," which also depends on music and words with a quick pace but differs in the way singers deal with topics. While rap songs were known for presenting political issues, mahraganat talks more about the problems of the lower-class as it talks about these issues in their own tongue.

Mahraganat is a mixture of rap and techno, or electro-folk music which started in late 2007 and developed into a form very close to rap songs but with an Egyptian folk quality. The content of mahraganat songs often talks about the problems of poverty, marginalization, drugs, and friendship while its music relies on loudness and fast rhythm.

FROM RAP TO TRAP

Rappers continued to develop the rap style until reaching the "trap," which is considered a part of rap music. Originally, trap is an English word used to describe drug dens in America from which a musical genre emerged. It is a mix between rap and hip-hop and based on a dancing rhythm with words tending to sadness, darkness, and melancholy. Trap uses simple vocabulary close to street language instead of the depth of vocabulary on which rap depends. Sound is produced as the musical element of the melody by using the "Auto-Tune" program instead of sampling pre-existing beats as in the old school rap.  This is considered the new school of rap started in Egypt by Marwan Pablo and Abyusif in 2015.

"I like rap songs because they are real and express reality. People like rap because it depends on the satire which existed in the Arab culture poetry many years ago," Islam Mohsen, call center agent, told Majalla.

WHAT DISTINGUISHES RAP AND TRAP ART

All rap performers write the lyrics by themselves and the rapper is interested in the following elements in the songs— flow, diction, idea and content, and verbal complexity.  What distinguishes rap tracks nowadays is the "battle."

"I listen to all rap songs especially Wegz, Pablo, Marwan Moussa, Shahin, and Abo Al-Anwar. Lyrics and words are the things I like the most. Also, the songs' vibes that express the person as compared to other types of music," said Amina, 27, a political science major.

The "battle rap" is a duel song between two people or two teams of rappers, during which one of them tries to defeat the other and exploit the opponent's weaknesses, the success of which depends on the skill in singing this genre with the audience judging the winner.

"When I first listened to rap songs, I did not like them. It was the old school rap using the same beats and conventionalized sequences of words with no variety. But after listening to the new school I liked it a lot" Medhat Saleh, 28, a law major, told Majalla.

"I liked Abyusif the most because he expresses himself and his feelings honestly in his songs like his album in 2018 ‘One One.’ I found myself in his tracks," Medhat added.

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE LIKE RAP SONGS AND OTHER DO NOT?

Among people from different social and age levels, I found that the majority of rap fans are young, specifically the ages between adolescence and 30.  But the surprise also is how many people, not only youth, listen to rap songs at weddings or social gatherings. The majority mentioned that they mostly enjoy the lyrics, the mood, and the music. They stated that the songs are from reality which confirms the honesty of the content. Others said that they do not like rap songs today because they include sexual words.

"I listen to Marwan Pablo, Wegz, and Abo Al-Anwar, and I liked that the words are creative and unique, not repetitive like other songs. In addition to that, the music is very enthusiastic and the words are from the street so this art is close to people," Mohamed El Shamy, 26, video editor, told Majalla.

"Regarding the ideas they presenting, there is an ongoing struggle between rappers in their music tracks such as who is better than the other which is reflected in the lyrics of challenge between them in their songs. For this reason, they are close to the youth and they understand their thinking," Mohamed added.

Nagwa Reda, 25, a video-journalist, said to Majalla that what attracts her to this type of music is the music itself as it gives her the power!

The most famous rap singers in Egypt and the Arab world are Abyusif, Marwan Pablo, and Wegz and their songs became a trend during the last period on social media, which plays a great role in the spread of rap songs.

For example “DORAK GAI,” the famous track for Wegz, achieved 63 M views on YouTube. "GHABA," the latest for Marwan Pablo, was released last month and achieved 11 M views on YouTube, becoming a trend for weeks in the whole Arab world.

Rap art success among adolescents and youth may come to present a type of art based on words that include what this group experiences, and we do not deny that it provides a bold and honest expression of their lives, whether we agree with it or disagree.

Music is an art like other arts. Every time we witness a new and different style, it will have its fans. Whether you like this style is not the issue because we have different tastes, and that is what happens with music. But the sure thing is that music is an evolving endeavor to which each year brings changes and new techniques. We cannot predict that the rap scene will continue as strong as it is today, but it is certain that it currently has a great popular base and ubiquitous presence.