When I was in Beirut last month the hip-hop heads I met there were touting Lebanese rapper El Rass as one of the most impressive of the current crop. Rima Marrouch did a nice piece on him for the LA Times on March 30. Here are some excerpts:
"His forte is the way that he is able to incorporate an understanding of nuance of language perhaps better than anybody," says Jackson Allers, founder of the U.S.-based Beats and Breath blog. El Rass, wrote Allers in the World Hip Hop Market website, "has emerged as a lyrical soothsayer for a new school of Arab hip-hop."
El Rass' signature style is an animated fusion of classical Arabic — an idiom seldom employed in rap — and contemporary wordplay gleaned from the Lebanese streets and elsewhere...
From his viewpoint, there is a kind of continuum of language and purpose from early Koranic verse to today's Arab-language MCs. The Arabic word taaliq (a commentary), he notes, has the same root as the word muallaqat, which refers to the first pre-Islamic poems.
"Arabs first wrote poetry, not prose[...][Reciting] the Koran is also close to what we do" as rappers.
...One of his favorite singers is Abida Parveen, a Pakistani singer well know for her interpretations of Sufi poetry.
...He is an equal-opportunity critic, lashing out at the Muslim Brotherhood, radical Islamists, Iran, Turkey, Gulf "tyrants," the United States and various Lebanese figures and mores, among other targets. Playing the part of disgruntled contrarian seems to suit him.
...His debut CD, "Kachf el Mahjoub/Unveiling the Hidden" (the title is from a Sufi master-work penned some 900 years ago), recorded with avant-garde musician Jawad Nawfal (a.k.a. Munma) was released last year on Ruptured, a Beirut-based independent record label. El Rass is working on tracks for a second album.
"My Arabic identity is a digital bedouism," he writes. "No nationalism, no nostalgia, only passion for creating our new identity. This is how I understand our revolution."
You can listen to El Rass here, on Soundcloud.
Do give a listen.
Here are some reviews of El Rass's first album.
Revolutionary Arab Rap provides a translation of the lyrics of El Rass' song, "The Volcano of Beirut," here.