It is time for the UAE hip-hop community to stand up.
That is the message behind KMulti's comeback effort We Taking Over.
Released last month, the song is a rallying cry for local artists to be seen and counted.
According to the Abu Dhabi rapper, real name Khalifa Al Romaithi, the Emirati hip-hop scene is active, but needs a bit of maturity to reach its potential.
“There are lot of talented Emiratis in the game but they are going through certain challenges to get their music heard commercially,” says KMulti, 32. “A lot of that is down to the lack of experience in the industry. There needs to be an understanding that we cannot do this alone. You need a team.”
These insights come from KMulti’s own experience.
Born in the capital, his love for the genre was triggered by hip-hop heavyweights such as Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and P Diddy.
KMulti combined these sounds with his love for Arabic poetry in his first major release – the 2011 ode for UAE National Day Ana Emarati (I am Emirati) with a video filmed on the Corniche and produced by TwoFour54's Ibtikar Creative Lab initiative.
KMulti returned to the fore again in 2018, when he was one of the winners of the Art of Zayed Prize – a creative competition commemorating the achievements of the UAE's founder – with his stirring tribute Wala Ma Troh.
While happy with the reception of both songs, KMulti experienced frustration regarding the sluggish pace of his career. He eventually realised he needed a plan for success.
"To be honest with you, I am glad that nothing happened for me at that time. I was not ready for it and if I was to be successful then, I would have become a different person … probably not someone I would like," he says. "So I took a step back and really began analysing things and asking myself what I wanted to do with my career."
That new-found determination resulted in KMulti signing a record deal with Dubai's Universal Music Mena.
We Taking Over, the first of a few new tracks to come out under this agreement, is a career reboot of sorts.
The kandoura has been ditched, well for now anyway, for urban clothing and shades, while the lyrics are full of hip-hop’s braggadocios spirit and witty punch lines.
However, while it initially sounds like a fully concerted attempt for mass appeal, KMulti still manages to represent Emirati culture throughout the track.
A collaboration with fellow local talent Adamillion, We Taking Over is a fine showcase of Emirati hip-hop. The thick Emirati dialects both rappers adopt is bouncy, rhythmic and flows smoothly over the boisterous production.
The track’s deft balance of confidence and culture was well thought out, KMulti says.
“That was important to me because I am not necessarily interested in creating pure hip-hop music or even promoting its culture,” he says.
“What I am more about is celebrating my culture, my language, my dialect and using hip-hop as a gateway to do this. Because I wanted people to know who I was, this song was more about me. There will be other songs discussing different topics.”
If anything, KMulti hopes his work will inspire other Emirati rappers to view their heritage as a bonus. With the genre firmly established as the “new pop music", listeners are ready to hear new sounds and perspectives.
He points to the success of another artist from the UAE, the Somali rapper Freek. His 2019 single Wala Kilma not only became a regional hit but resulted in a tour of the UK in December.
"That was really inspiring because Freek did it his own way. He raps in his own style and even his lyrics are delivered in the everyday language we hear on the streets," KMutlti says.
“The fact that his music can reach all the way to the UK proves that what we as artists must trust ourselves and be confident in who we are. If we do that, then people will relate to us and our work.”