Based in Dubai, the Lebanese artist told us about her journey in hip hop, female rappers in the United Arab Emirates and her vision of feminism.
How and when were you introduced to hip hop?
I was introduced to hip hop at a very young age. I remember that when I was about 9 years old, I would watch MTV and listen to hip hop on my Walkman. But MTV was definitely how I was first exposed to hip hop music and culture.
How did you start rapping?
I started rapping around the age of 11 after listening to a lot of hip hop music and becoming more inclined to it than other genres. My younger sister was actually the first person to inspire me to rap, as she used to write poetry and rap before I did. That’s how we started to do it together. She stopped rapping and now she is a full time photographer. Shout out to her for she is the one who shot the picture attached and helps me with many of my photo shoots.
Which artists did you listen to while growing up?
I listened to a variety of artists growing up here are some of the names I can share Tech 9ine, Lil Wayne, 50Cent, Fabulous, Missy Elliott , Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, DMX, Lauryn Hill, Busta Rhymes, Chris Brown, Akon, T-Pain, Tyga and many more.
From a euro-centric point of view, we get the impression that it is hard for a woman to be rapper in the UAE. Would you say it is a cliché?
To be honest, it’s not easy to be a rapper, whether male or female, in general. But being a woman from the Middle East that raps defies a lot of the societal norms so it can be slightly more challenging. However, it’s that challenge that keeps me motivated and keeps me going as I’d like to set a precedent for all future female rappers.
Do you know other female rappers in the UAE? If so, are you collaborating with them?
As far as I know, I am not familiar with current female rappers in the UAE who are active or who I am personally in touch with. But from the region in general, we do have more women joining the hip hop scene and I am open for collaborations for whenever it feels right.
How would you define your own music?
I don’t like to put myself in a box, that’s why I love what I do. It allows me to express myself and I enjoy being the undefined, when everything is possible. I can flow in a free form artistically/musically and people can expect the unexpected each time.
Who are your female role models?
My mom definitely comes first when it comes to role models in my life. She is an incredibly strong, independent and inspiring woman. We might have different outlooks on life, as it wasn’t easy for her to understand my vision of being an artist, especially as a rapper, which is a form of art that no other woman from our region has internationally succeeded in making a full a time career out of. I appreciate that she didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams and we are at a place where she can see the outcome and understand my future vision.
I also grew up admiring women like Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Alicia Keys, Angelina Jolie, Raya Abirachid and Nadine labaki.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, how would you define your own feminism?
To me, feminism is the movement that normalizes the equality between Men and women. Meaning that a man and woman are both free to choose who they want to be, and how they’d like to behave without being defined by pre-existing social norms. I’m a believer in balance, we can be stronger together, but we can be just as strong on our own if we choose to. The time for putting men and women in boxes that define them is over. A woman can do it all, even if she doesn’t have to, a man can do it all even if he doesn’t have to. It’s how we choose to live, and what we choose to do with our lives without the restrictions of gender roles.
For that, I can say that I am a feminist and that I love celebrating our womanhood. However, I am also very big on leaving these terms behind and embracing “individuality”, which is what I would like to shed light on the most. I believe that if as individuals we understand how to utilize our emotional intelligence and physical abilities in the best way, it will serve us a lot more. At this age and time, we should no longer be only defined by our sex, but by our essence and true capabilities.
What are your upcoming projects?
I am actually announcing this first here: I am currently working on a couple of projects with my label VVIP and one of the most exciting ones is called France. It is a collaboration between the label and EZOW, who is one of my dopest fellow artists in Dubai. This song should be out around September, before Paris Fashion Week. Before that, I am going to release a single in August, which I am very excited about! Shout out to my team and family who are making this happen Saber, Sydney, Charli & Danni !
What do you think about Madame Rap? What should be changed or improved?
I find Madame Rap impressive ! You guys have reached out to me while I’m in Dubai, which means you’re doing great research and are scouting for artists purely for being artists and you’ve been incredibly kind and patient. I love that there is a magazine supporting your niche! I will definitely be keeping a look out for you and show you love as deserved.
Find N1yah on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Soundcloud .