The things social media can do for an artist is further cementing its disruption of music industry norms. Bosnian rapper Minel (real name Minel Fific) is riding a wave of excitement and attention, both from within the industry and from fans, on the back of his entry into last month's Nicki Minaj's Megatron Challenge.
Named after her latest single, the star rapper created a social media competition in which rappers were asked to submit their own versions of the summer anthem. The rules were simple: rap your own lyrics over the song's original beats.
Minel had been living in Dubai as an aspiring artist short of confidence. It took his partner to snap him out of it. "I was in bed and she called me up and told me about how everyone was talking about this challenge online and posting their stuff," he says. "And then she tells me, 'I heard what they are sending, and it is pretty bad'. So I woke up and went online and checked out the competition and I was like, 'Yeah, I think I can do this.'"
With only a minute to play with (the duration of an Instagram video post), Minel crafted various versions of his boisterous raps in three days. He followed it up by shooting a mini video with Dubai director Stepan Dmytriv, which has him rapping along while driving down Sheikh Zayed Road. In the back seat is a group of friends, one of whom is holding a doll resembling the Cookie Monster.
The reaction was immediate. "I posted it on my Instagram account and in a couple of hours it had 6,000 views and hundreds of people liking it," Minel says. "Two days later it was Nicki Minaj who liked it. I was so excited that I couldn't really fathom what was going on."
The icing on the cake came when Minaj posted on her account that a line from Minel's entry was "now my fave bar of all time". While Minel didn't win the competition – he came in third – his entry set off a chain reaction (let's call it The Minaj Effect) that had him holed up in the studio pumping out songs.
"My team have been speaking with Minaj's team and they gave me a challenge to record six songs in 10 days to know what I am all about," he says. "Now the thing was I kind of fell sick during the first few days, so I did these songs in about seven days. That was basically no sleep and simply working."
While Minaj's team are reviewing the songs, the tight deadline from the star's management was exactly the motivation Minel needed to showcase his talent. The six songs will now go on to form his debut EP, to be released later this year. When that project is out, it will not only be a victory for Minel, but also the local hip-hop scene. The tracks were produced by Dubai beat-maker Yazeed Oweis and recorded in a Business Bay studio belonging to the fledgling local music label Alpha Entertainment.
Minel says it is only a matter of time before the UAE will have a hip-hop star to call its own. He knew the main ingredients, such as the talent, facilities and overall vibe, were already there when he relocated to Dubai last year, having spent time in the US and Bosnia.
"The thing about Dubai is that it loves hip-hop," he says. "And all the big rappers, such a Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott, know about it and love coming here.
“Dubai loves to be first at everything, but when it comes to music it has yet to have its first international star. I would like to fill that gap.”