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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 8 August 2020

Egyptian rapper Tac says Sole DXB inspires the UAE hip-hop community

His festival slot is the biggest show of his career
Egyptian rapper Tac collaborated with New York rapper Mazzie for a joint EP. Courtesy Sole DXB

Sole DXB doesn’t do supporting acts. Instead, up-and-coming artists who are chosen to perform are viewed as future investments that will go on to inspire the UAE’s burgeoning hip-hop community.

For the locally based artist, the road to the Sole DXB stage is not merely earned through profile, but through a body of work deemed as contributing to hip-hop’s evolution in the region.

The latest addition to that chapter is Tac. Residing in Dubai, the Egyptian rapper is readying for the biggest show of his career. By the time he takes the stage on Friday, it will be on the back of hours of rehearsals and good, old-fashioned studying.

“I am taking everything to do with my career very seriously. With Sole DXB I am the only regional artist performing, so this is a big responsibility,” he explains.

“I have been watching a lot of videos of concerts by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Tech N9ne to get some ideas. Now, I know they are playing huge places and I am not, but you can still learn great things about how to command a large audience. The point is there is always something you can do better.”

It is a work ethic that Tac, born Yousef El Mohandes, has applied liberally over the past two years.

Working as a sound engineer in a Dubai music studio, he was content making music for his own pleasure. The decision to share it with the public came on the back of encouragement from his peers and a bigger thirst for self-expression.

That drive landed him at Sole DXB last year, where he took part in a cypher (a hip-hop version of an informal jam session) hosted by music personality Big Hass. It was there he met US rapper and future collaborator Mazzie.

“I didn’t who he was at the start or what to expect,” Tac recalls. “But as soon as he took the mic after me, I just lost it. It was one of those moments where I felt all I was doing was rubbish compared to him.”

Even more incredulously, Mazzie approached Tac soon after and said he was impressed with his powerful and gruff flow. Before long, the discussion turned to working on a joint music release.

“We really loved each other’s rapping styles and we got along,” Tac says. “The next thing I know he says 'yo, we should do a project together,' and I was shocked by that.”

But Mazzie, who is affiliated with influential hip-hop label Def Jam, meant business. True to his word, he returned to Dubai earlier this year and the boys locked themselves in Tac’s home studio to pump out five songs in two days.

“It is really a beautiful story, man,” he says. “The fact that a great artist from Harlem, New York – a place close where the music was founded – can come all the way to Dubai to work with an unknown artist just because the music is good shows what hip-hop has to offer.”

That love for the art form permeates all over their joint EP S.O.U.L Broke Forever. Over 14 brisk minutes, both artists command a range of beats, some employing classic boom-bap rhythms while others channel murkier sonics of trap music, for a project celebrating the universality of hip-hop. The duo also complement each other well on the mic. Tac employs a flow that recalls Los Angeles rapper Xzibit, while Mazzie sounds like the quintessential New York rapper: urgent, fierce and with plenty of witty word play.

Both will once again reunite during the Sole DXB weekend. This time around, Mazzie will be in the crowds witnessing the hip-hop coronation of Tac on stage.

When it comes to the festival, Tac urges fellow local rappers to make the best of the networking opportunities the event presents. If approached right, Sole DXB can act as important creative and career catalyst. “The local hip-hop scene is good and I would say there is a community. But at the same time I feel that people, from artist to brands, are doing the bare minimum to support it,” he says.

“When that happens, the artists have to work together and that doesn’t normally happens. Now everyone has their own careers and agendas, I get that, but we need to understand that the best way to move forward is if it’s a joint effort. That, by the way, is happening, which is a good thing.”

Tac performs at Sole DXB on Friday, December 6. The festival runs from Thursday December 5 to Saturday, December 7. Doors open at 12pm on Friday and Saturday; tickets are Dh245 for a day pass and Dh375 for weekend pass; Dubai Design District, Dubai; soledxb.com

Updated: December 5, 2019 05:38 PM

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