The Recipe's new single is more than merely a piece of music – it is a manifesto. Death to Get Here is the UAE hip-hop heavyweights first new material in three years, breaking a burnout-inspired hiatus that nearly tore the group apart.
Also the trio’s first release to be sold commercially, the track is sitting pretty at the top of the UAE iTunes charts, just days after its release last Friday.
Their intent was always clear. Amid UAE producer Bangzy’s slick beats and unprintable, bragging rhymes, it is the sound of a group re-announcing their art to the world.
“I kill myself every time I write,” declares the chorus, but “suicide never felt so right”.
After all but splitting up and shelving an entire album of material, it took, they say, “death” to get where they are today.
“It’s a mission statement,” says Aaron Leung, aka Perfect Storm. “It’s us letting everyone know we’re back.”
If you don’t remember them from the first time around, here’s a refresher: The Recipe started out in 2008 as a one-off mixtape showcasing the cream of UAE hip-hop talent. The brand soon evolved into a record label and live act, a fluid collective numbering more than a dozen artists and nearly as many nationalities.
“One by one, people left the country or got married,” says Lucky Schild, aka Swerte.
Slowly The Recipe evolved into a core trio of “third-culture” MCs: Swiss-Indonesian Schild, British-Chinese Leung and UAE-raised, Armenian-Italian Eddie Kasparian aka Kaz Money.
There was a time, around 2010 or 2011, when The Recipe were everywhere, playing as many as five shows a week.
“We even did a gig in Hatta,” says Schild, with a laugh.
“I think we are probably the hardest-working group in the region,” adds Kasparian.
The Recipe’s website boasts the subtitle “the most recognised rap group in the UAE” – such a claim should sound like swagger but, here, it seems more a statement of fact.
They are, after all, a prolific bunch. The Recipe’s online Soundcloud page showcases dozens of group and solo tunes, all posted between 2010 and 2012. But three years ago the trail suddenly goes cold. What happened?
“We burnt out,” says Schild, recalling the night they returned, physically and mentally crippled, from an Indonesian tour. “We, like, needed hospital. We said: ‘Let’s take a break.’ In our minds, it was going to be temporary – it just turned out to be a bit longer than expected.”
For two-and-a-half years, The Recipe disappeared from view, presumed dead, in an artistic sense, by many – or forgotten altogether.
“The UAE is a very transient place,” says Kasparian. “Within a year, people who got to know us had left – there’s like a reset button and you’re always reintroducing your band. Sometimes I wish we could erase the past and start new.”
But while The Recipe were absent from the public eye, they were still making music.
“To be honest, we created an album that we thought was a bit weak,” says 34-year-old Kasparian, who works as a human resources executive by day.
“It got stale for a stage,” Leung agrees.
While each of the band members – who were interviewed individually for this story – differ in their accounts of these lost years, they are unanimous about the two phone calls that pulled them from the brink.
The first came in late 2013, when The Recipe were invited to warm up for Cypress Hill and Afrika Bambaataa at Atlantis. It was an honour big enough to reconsider retirement.
The second call, a few months later, came from veteran New York hip-hop producer Glenn Toby. The two events may be linked.
“He was like: ‘You guys have done so much, I didn’t think this kind of passion for hip-hop existed in the Middle East,’” says Schild, a 32-year-old sound engineer. “He was interested in the fact that we’re from a mix of cultures and backgrounds. He said: ‘This is Dubai, a bunch of people who’ve come from all over the world to make something.’” After meeting face-to-face in Abu Dhabi, Toby offered to produce The Recipe.
It was a soul-searching moment for Leung who, after so many barren months, was set to leave the UAE for good in just a few days’ time. Another reason to reconsider came when, in the same week, The Recipe were offered the chance to warm up for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at their gig at du Arena in April last year.
“I was leaving – I had packed my bags, I’d had two going-away parties, I had already found a place in London,” says Leung, 30, who works as a copywriter. “I never even got a refund for my plane ticket.”
With Toby signed up as creative consultant, the band spent six weeks holed up in Dubai’s Tone Town Studios, recording all-night sessions while juggling their day jobs.
The results will be shared soon via an old-school mixtape paying tribute to the genre’s masters that started The Recipe on their road.
First, however, there will be a video for Death to Get Here, which was filmed last week, and then more singles. There's no shortage – Leung estimates they have "three to four" albums-worth of material.
Further ahead, there is talk of tours in Asia and the Middle East. But while much of The Recipe’s fan base is based abroad, they still face the challenge of international scepticism.
“Whenever people hear you’re from Dubai, you get pushed into a corner,” says Leung. “There’s a lot of talent here that never gets anywhere, because no one takes us seriously. Maybe we can help do something to change that.”
Death to Get Here is out now on iTunes. Hear more at soundcloud.com/therecipedxb