Dubai’s emerging hip-hop scene is finding its voice

Dubai —  Think of the United Arab Emirates and you might not immediately think of hip-hop, but in recent years, Dubai has become home to a small and dedicated group of artists who rap in Arabic about local culture.

Perhaps the biggest star is Mustafa Ismail, better known as “Freek,” a Somali rapper who was born and raised in the UAE. He has toured countries including the UK and performed at shows that featured the likes of Future, Gucci Mane, and Wu-Tang Clan.

“There’s a culture here,” said Ismail. “There’s a story to tell, and people like me that grew up here want to hear a story of a kid that grew up in UAE, or Dubai. This is what hip-hop is all about.”

In 2022, the scene was given a boost by the launch of GXR Records – which represents 14 UAE-based artists, including Freek – and RAPDXB, a platform that curates playlists and hosts interviews. RAPDXB recently released its first album, featuring some of the UAE’s leading rappers.

“The hip-hop scene in Dubai is growing,” said Ismail. “If you see the hip-hop scene in Dubai 10 years ago and now, it’s a huge difference. It is even going to get crazier.”