Photo by Adrian J
James here, I'm the fella who wrote the UAE rappers piece. After that I got quite a lot of people sending me emails about their music, most of which was shit. BUT I did get an email the other day from Skinny, a Saudi born rapper based in LA who's actually really good.
Skinny's a pretty interesting guy. He's a Saudi Muslim whose latest song is called "Pussy Money Kush", which, as you can imagine, gets a lot of not best pleased comments from his fellow countrymen who disagree with what he's doing ("you're going to hell", "you should die" that sort of thing). He's got a bit of a Lil Wayne look about him and seems pretty nice, and not someone who should be murdered by angry fundamentalists.
Skinny was born and raised in Jeddah, known for being the more open city in Saudi, which is much like saying "the most likable judge on The Voice" or "the best looking Arab dictator". There he grew up on black market cassettes – Saudi not being known for its free trade of rap music.
There have been some nods to hip-hop in Saudi culture before. Qusai is a Saudi rapper relatively well known in the Arab world as a hiphop artist and TV presenter. But Qusai’s song about how much he loves his dad (not to be confused with fellow Saudi rap group Desert Heat’s song about their mums) is in a pretty different line to Skinny, who manages to get away from the faux profundity that permeates through Arab rap. "Pussy, Money, Kush" (as much as it sounds like a A$AP Rocky rip off) comes with a video filled with Rabbis in saunas with Sheikhs, women clad only in lingerie and balaclavas, and a midget priest.
Photo by Mason Zain
What's the thinking behind that multi-faith orgy? “I just wanted to show people I understand that we don’t get along politically but when we leave the country and we meet people, we hang out with them, we all love the same shit.” In this case – Pussy, money and kush.
With answers like that it becomes less of a surprise that an article in the Saudi Gazette called him “ambitiously facetious”.
But he's ambitious in other ways too. He's been asked to do shows out in the Middle East, and he really wants to- but not just any run-of-the-mill minor-rapper tour, “I wanna do a huge tour…I don’t wanna do a club. I want a stadium tour.”
He seems to have settled on a Dubai gig some time next year. He’d love to go do something in Saudi but the chances are slim, “maybe when I’m bigger” is all he says.
Currently LA based, there are those in Saudi who'd rather he didn’t come back. “People say I’m going to jail when I come back home, I’m gonna get beheaded- some crazy comments. It’s weird, they’re stuck to this thing - not to put down anybody but I don’t think they’re used to it yet, people don’t understand. I don’t think they’ll understand until there’s a bandwagon – ‘oh he’s on E!, he’s cool now'.”
Photo by Adrian J
Skinny says that despite his hedonistic music, he's still a good Muslim boy. He stays away from alcohol, still regularly prays, and is "really close to God.” But with lyrics like “Excuse me father I have sinned/ I just told this little broad to come undress me with her twin”, he understands why people are questioning his faith. “It’s expression, it's art, I’m not telling you to go do drugs, I’m just telling you my life…. It’s just music man, and they misunderstand the concept of a mixtape, it's just – I don’t know – you gotta take the bullet, what else am I going to rap about? My other stuff I’m dropping is going to be really cool, I definitely want to make music that’s more personal, more melodic, it's more real shit but I can’t drop that right now, people don’t know me. It’s like a stranger coming up and telling you about their issues and you’re like, ‘I don’t even know you, why should I care?’ I have to drop my more ignorant music first to get some attention and then say 'oh by the way, listen to my real music now'.”
But there are other choices that Skinny can't shy away from. He has eight permanent tattoos, considered haram by most Muslims. “I got Biggie and Tupac and then I got Frankenstein and Marilyn Monroe - you can’t have outer beauty without inner beauty, I got Bob Marley, I got Elvis, Benjamin Franklin and my mum."
Do his parents know? "I was seeing my cousins like my pictures of them on Facebook and stuff, but they don’t even know I’m their cousin! That’s the crazy thing. But yeah I had to call my dad and let him know. He was like ‘You got a tattoo?’ and I said, ‘No, I got a lot of tattoos, you’re going to find out, its better you hear it from me first'.”
Skinny's tattoos via his Instagram
While Middle Eastern rap continues to fight with its own identity, stuck between insincere parent-praising hip-hop and uncouth flaunting of ill-deserved wealth, Skinny, despite his glib attitude, is treading new ground. At the very least, his music is quite listenable and his videos look like they were made by a real rapper.
“That's my message for back home. Hopefully, I can show them what a real music video’s supposed to look like. Not a hummer, a gold chain and sharpie tattoos on your knuckles.”
Reppin’ the Gulf.
Follow James on Twitter: @duckytennent
Read more like this: