For the Record| What is it like to be an Arab rap battler?

Annahar had the chance to sit down with the rapper and understand how “The Arena” functions.
by Chiri Choukeir

9 September 2019 | 19:57

Source: by Annahar

  • by Chiri Choukeir
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 9 September 2019 | 19:57

Rapper Illiam and Al Darwish, with Co-founder Chyno in the back. (Annahar).

BEIRUT: Last week, Beirut witnessed something different. The city brought underground Hip Hop and Arabic rap even closer to its fans, audiences, and artists as it stretched the topic onto panels and talks, performances and acoustic sessions.

SCUM Week (Street Culture and Urban Music) ended with what might be considered the most interesting event of all: The Arena Rap Battle.

The rap battles usually consist of three rounds, each rapper gets around 2-3 minutes of space to talk and rap about their opponent. Although there’s a lot of dissing involved in the process, there’s a lot of deep meanings and messages between the lines and rhymes.

“I think that’s what we are, we have enough experience to know that we are responsible for what we say, we say them, and then we take full responsibility ourselves,” Nasser Shorbaji, known by his stage name Chyno and the co-founder of the Arena, told Annahar. “There’s no platform that requires taking responsibility for that freedom of speech, but we definitely advocate it.”

But how does one prepare for a rap battle, and what to expect when battling?

Hani Al Sawah, known as Al-Darwish, is one of the most prominent figures in Arabic rap, although he only had three official battles. Annahar had the chance to sit down with the rapper and understand how “The Arena” functions.

Q: How do you describe your experience in SCUM Week?

A: It’s one of the best things that happened in my life. I played an artistic role, I was surprised at the number of people who came to our KED performance as part of SCUM Week. It surprised me, the amount of enthusiasm that attendees had, and the amount of energy they had.

This festival proved to me that there’s so much left in Beirut. For a small city, the people are so different and there are so many layers for the societies and communities. 

I feel that emotionally, this means a lot to me because we are essentially involved in public matters.

Q: How long have you been battle rapping?

A: This is my second year with the Arena and my third rap battle. This Excludes the street rap battles we used to have on the streets in Syria.

Q: How much improvisation is put into Battle rap?

A: There’s no improvisation, at least in the Arabic rap world. This culture has not yet begun; you can’t put anyone in front of the camera for five minutes and expect them to give you content.

Q: Does rap become at some point personal in the battle? And after the performance, is everything left there or does it get out sometimes?

A: It really depends on the person. There shouldn’t be lack of respect or physical violence. 

I considered myself a cultured human being coming to say what I want to say. After my rap battle with Kalash [Lebanese rapper], we hugged.

Q: You present a very high level of thought and philosophy in your rap, who influences this evolution of thought?

A: I have a tight relationship with the Arabic language. This relationship allows me to fact check anything I write in case I want to write a metaphorical or a personification line. But how the sentence is essentially built because of this tight relationship with words, it allows you to change any metaphor with another metaphor and the effect is the same. 

Q: Do you amend some of what you wrote on the spot due to the reply of the other rapper?

A: When I was battling rapper Kalash, I originally wrote four rounds, but the battle only lasted for three rounds. So yes, I do amend. 

I'm not battling to humiliate, I battle to get into the minds of the audiences who are in the age range of 17 to late 20s. They don’t know me as an artist, but know me as a battle rapper and follow and love what I do.

Q: How do you see progress of in the Arabic rap scene in Lebanon and the MENA in general?

A: Hip-Hop is more of the music of this generation. I believe this after reading multiple articles on this topic, and how widely spread rap is. In many areas of the world, if you’re a university student that doesn’t listen to rap, you do not belong in the mainstream.

The problem that Arabic rap faces till today is the roadblock between what is entertainment and what carries a message. The problem is that rappers that are blowing up and becoming very famous, are rappers that create material that is closer to pop.

I don’t want to be sophisticated, I want to be closer to the street culture for the people on the streets to understand.

There are rappers, that decided to do Arabic pop rap. They started to breakthrough the Arabic world, and that is creating something positive for us. In my opinion, there is definitely progress but it’s slow.

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