Ghost's School of Hip-Hop Culture

Meet the Emirati MC hoping to make the leap from student to master

By Adam Grundey
Jun 06, 2014

LAST YEAR, EMIRATI MC GHOST RETURNED TO MAKING MUSIC after a four-year hiatus. “I needed to take a step back and really evaluate what I wanted to do,” he says. “At the time, I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t going to school, I was solely focused on music.” Now, with a full-time job and an MBA nearly completed, he’s “back on track with the music.” Not that he ever considered giving it up for good. “Every decision I’ve ever made has been based around ‘Am I going to be OK making hip-hop music if I choose to do this?’” he says.

Ghost began rapping in his mid-teens, when his family were still based in Virginia, U.S.A. He’d spent years memorizing other people’s lyrics (he cites Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. as his main inspirations – “one had the passion and the other was an excellent story teller”) and studying hip-hop culture as a whole with an obsessive intensity. “I became passionate about graffiti, beatboxing, DJing... all the elements that came along with it,” he says. “And I fell in love with MCing. I saw what rappers could do and how they could manipulate a crowd. That blew my mind, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll give this a shot.’”

But when his family returned to the U.A.E. in 2005, Ghost found no semblance of the vibrant hip-hop scene he’d left behind in America. “There was nothing,” he says. “No homegrown artists.”

He did find a few like-minded people to collaborate with, including Kaz Money (now a member of The Recipe), and continued to work on his craft, releasing his debut mixtape in 2009 – the same year he began his break from music.

During that four-year gap, though, he found not much had really changed for rappers in the U.A.E. “Hip-hop still isn’t fully accepted here yet,” he says. “Because what they see here is what they see on TV, you know? Sex, money, materialism... And unfortunately, that’s what [much of] hip- hop is today. What hip-hop was supposed to be is fading out, turning into something else. A lot of people associate it with negativity, but my job is to hopefully change perceptions in this region.”

To Ghost, that means talking about “current situations, current surroundings.” But as a relatively well-off Emirati, does he have life experiences that people can relate to in order to change perceptions? Much of the best hip-hop is born out of struggle. It sounds like Ghost has a fairly comfortable life.

“Well, I do have life experiences that were negative, from when I was in the States,” he says. “But when I rap about them, I’m not telling you to go out there and do what I did; I’m sharing my mistakes for you to learn from it and try and avoid those mistakes.

“Today, I try to focus on how I’m living here,” he continues. “My struggle now isn’t about violence or the streets, it’s the industry here and trying to break through, and make people believe that an Arab artist can compete with the top, top artists in the world. Hip-hop is global. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you’re at, if you’re talented, you’re talented.”

Ghost says his new work – he’s currently working on his sophomore mixtape, Training Day – is “more mature, hopefully.” “I’m much better off now than when I was in the States,” he says. “I’m living good man, my life is on track. I’m proud of that. And to be making music on top of that? It’s a beautiful thing to me.”

As well as Training Day, he’s also working on an album with Sphinx from Egyptian hip-hop duo Arabian Knightz and L.A. rapper Deen, who has Afghani and Pakistani roots. “The ambition of this project is to have these different cultures combine and show how unified three people from the Middle East can be and how good we can sound together,” Ghost says. The trio are calling themselves Weaponry. “It’s not necessarily guns, it’s more about using the pen as a weapon to deliver a message and how powerful that can be.”

Ghost is hopeful those two projects will help raise his profile in the local scene again. But don’t expect him to be satisfied with becoming a ‘name’ in the Emirates. “I’m not about getting the attention,” he says. “I’m about the culture itself.” He prizes the respect of fellow MCs over commercial success. The 25-year-old says he was recently praised by Young Noble, one of Tupac’s Outlawz crew. A mutual friend had played his track to the rapper, and later called Ghost. “He tells me, ‘Noble was bumping your music and enjoying it.’ That means a lot more to me than being mentioned on the radio or whatever. He’s telling me I’m good enough to do what I do. That’s a personal milestone to me. That’s what I’m gunning for.”

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