Peter Holslin races hot-rods on Coachella weekends
The Egyptian rappers Sadat and Alaa 50 Cent got their start by launching Auto-Tuned raps over FruityLoops beats and dueling drum-set rhythms at wedding parties in their hometown of Salam City, an hour’s drive outside of Cairo. Now, these pioneers of the city’s “electro cha3bi” festival rap movement have become bona fide sensations. Kids recognize them on the streets. The Dutch DJ crew Cairo Liberation Front taps them for international mixtapes.
Sadat ventured to London with other electro cha3bi artists last year to work with Kode9 and Mumdance for a workshop put on with the help of Rinse FM. And last month, he and 50 (who seems to have dropped the “Cent” from his name recently) racked up over a million YouTube views in a feature on a track by Saudi Arabian rapper Qusai.
In times like this, you have to be happy for the artists you love, but you also have to worry a little about the direction their music will take. Will the edges be sanded down? Will the wrong people get involved? Is it only a matter of time before fame begets corniness, and a Drake-assisted sad-robot remake of Sting and Cheb Mami’s “Desert Rose” comes as a result? Fair concerns to be sure, but it seems Sadat and Fifty are doing just fine.
To wit: “Hez Hez,” the duo’s new collaboration with Paris electronic outfit Acid Arab. Over pounding kicks and murderous mizmar, the two rappers sound more confident than ever, weaponizing their Auto-Tuned flows while dishing out chants and verses as a tough, tightly coordinated tag team. The track might not have the same frantic energy as their earlier material. But Acid Arab’s production does build on what the electro cha3bi guys have already set down, stepping up the mix and sound quality while retaining the spaced-out bruiser vibe that made this stuff so exciting in the first place. A promising sign for things to come, indeed.