Lebanese-Palestinian rapper Anees Mokhiber has been the talk of the internet since his Instagram Live with Justin Bieber on Saturday.
The night began with an assessment of what makes good honey mustard before Anees performed a few unreleased tracks, putting his willowy, uplifting flow on display. As the rapper, who lives in the Washington DC area, began performing his latest release Slip, Bieber streamed into the conversation.
Bieber's zeal for Anees's track was immediately clear as the Baby singer began mouthing along to the lyrics. "Yes!" he said, once Anees concluded the song. "Yes! You're so talented! Hailey's over here just tripping. Oh my god, you're so talented bro. Oh my god!"
Bieber then asked the Palestinian-Lebanese rapper to perform the song one more time, telling him that more than 60,000 people were watching the live stream. "They need to see this."
“I’m not going to turn down the opportunity,” Anees said, grinning ear to ear. After Anees’s encore, the two began unpacking the sources of their musical inspiration, talking about love and marriage.
"When you have someone you love deeply, writing these lyrics comes naturally. And I feel like that's what I see in your music," Anees told Bieber.
Several leading Arab musicians responded positively to the conversation including Makoo rapper Narcy, Yalla singer Zach Matari, Be Easy singer Massari, as well as Saudi hip-hop star and radio presenter Big Hass.
With only a handful of released tracks, Anees is a relative newcomer to the scene. He began making music in late 2018, after leaving behind a career in law.
“Had I remained an attorney and followed a path that depressed me, I would be dreaming of moments like these, not living them,” he wrote on a Facebook post following his conversation with Bieber. “My point: Chase your dreams. Do it. Your dreams are only your dreams until you make them your reality. I believe in you and anything is possible with enough faith, hard work and passion!”
Anees elaborates on what inspired him to drop law for music in an interview with the non-profit organisation Palestine in America in September.
“I was freestyling before all this. That's all I was doing every day. I finished law school in 2017,” he said. “ At that point in my life, right before as I was about to get my results for the bar exam, I was in a dark place. I was not mentally well.
"Just frankly I was depressed and I did not like what I was doing. And it was a tough crossroad to be at. Because when you get to that point in your life you work so hard to finally get a degree and in everybody’s mind start that career path you would think it was a time to celebrate, but for me it was a very challenging place to be at. The whole time I was freestyling. The whole time my therapy was freestyling.”
Anees released his first song Maybe in July 2020. Though he had already established himself as a freestyle rapper on social media, and was known for his jovial lyricism and lithe delivery, the release marked the beginning of a promising career.
"That was crazy," he told Palestine in America. "Everything I've done to the point of releasing my first single was social media. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, just advertising myself. To be able to finally put art out for people to interact with without being through the medium of social media was refreshing."
In an interview with Big Hass in April 2020, following the release of his buoyant banger Neverland Fly, Anees revealed that his aptitude for word play was clear from an early age and was rooted in his love for word games.
“Smart Mouth, Scrabble, Boggle, crossword puzzles, you name it. Finding ways to play with words, letters, syllables, has always been a rush for me. When I'm crafting rhyme schemes and word-smithing, I am truly alive,” he said, going on to list the musicians that inspire him, including Nas, Eminem, J Cole, Immortal Technique and Kanye West. “And, of course, we cannot have a discussion about inspired writing without at least reverencing the true Goat (Greatest of All Time) Khalil Gibran.” Naming some of his influences from the Arab world, Anees listed Omar Offendum, Narcy as well as the Palestinian hip-hop group Dam.
Anees’s conversation with Bieber, who has more than 169 million followers on Instagram, brought some much-deserved attention to the rapper, whose work we will all likely be seeing more of in the near future.
"I'm hungry. I want this bad,” he told Big Hass. “When I love something, when I'm truly passionate about something, there is nothing else I'd rather do. I can't do anything less than everything I can do. Every second spent working on my craft is thrilling. Every step I take in this journey is a micro-adventure. A story within a story.”