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Egypt: Rising for Justice

Young Pharoz

After wowing the whole region on the X-Factor, Hip-Hop trio Young Pharoz are back in Egypt. We talk to them about parents, record labels and the pressures of being famous, ahead of their gig tonight...

This summer, Hip-Hop trio, Young Pharoz, entered X-Factor and soon after were snapped up by none other than Sony Records and are well on their way to becoming THE biggest thing in the world of Hip-Hop in the Middle East and, maybe one day, beyond. The instant fame shows like this provide its contestants can be a big weight to carry, but it seems Ayman, Mesho and Shahd are absolutely taking it in their stride. Ayman is quiet, reserved and meticulous about what he says, whilst Mesho talks with all the bravado you’d expect from a rising Hip-Hop star minus the doucheiness. Meanwhile, Shahd sits in between them, in absolute delight; bubbly and always smiling. They’re very different personalities but on stage they perform with an acquired synchronicity that makes for superb entertainment. On the show, the talented boys made their quick-fire spits accessible to millions, juxtaposed with Shahd’s Pop and RnB choruses, landing them in fourth place (the highest ranking group) and securing a huge launch to their careers but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Ahead of their first performance in Egypt tonight after the end of the show, we had the group in to talk about their rise to fame, problems with their parents, and not being allowed to use certain emoticons...

First thing we’ve noticed is you guys are very stylish and well dressed here… so who the hell styles you on the show!?

All: Laughs

Mesho: Some Lebanese guy. We don’t get to choose…

Would the sneakers we’re currently wearing get us into a Hip-Hop crew?

Mesho: It’s not about the clothes; it’s about who you really are and what you represent. It’s about telling the truth… It’s about representing yourself through your music…It's about...

It’s about the X-Factor?

Mesho: I don’t really care about the X-Factor.

Then why did you go on the show?

Mesho: They called us.

You didn’t apply?

Mesho: Nope.

That’s not fair…

Mesho: It is fair…

You’re meant to audition…

Mesho: We’re that good.

How long have you guys been together?

Mesho: Me and Ayman have been working together for about seven years and Shahd joined the crew four years ago.

What made you let a girl in?

Mesho: Because we wanted to change the concept of Rap music in Egypt and in the Middle East. It’s not really appreciated in the region, so we wanted to change the concept by adding a vocalist. A lot of people only want to listen to traditional Arabic music, or just a female solo artist, so we wanted to put that with Rap, so more people would be attracted to listen. We present our Rap music in a totally different way: we’re not hardcore, and we don’t talk about dark mainstream shit. We talk about our lives in general, including the political and social problems that we have in the Middle East in a very sarcastic way.

What do you think about the Egyptian Rap scene today?

Mesho: It’s getting bigger but it’s still not appreciated that much. The media puts a spotlight on the bad outfits more than the good ones and every other rapper in Egypt thinks all that you need is a mic and a beat and you’re a rapper. So there are a lot of fake MCs.

Do you think it’s important to have a big ego in the Hip-Hop industry?

Mesho: Yes, charisma is one of the main elements of Hip-Hop.

Who do you think are the good Hip-Hop artists in Egypt at the moment?

Ayman: Joker, Zap Tharwat, Arabian Knightz. Ahmed Mekky is good but he plagiarises and he’s a director so you feel like he is constantly trying to tell a story, and not rapping about different stuff.

Mesho: And most of his lyrics aren’t even written by him.

Shahd, were you into Hip-Hop and Rap before you joined these guys?

Shahd: No, not really honestly but it was pretty cool because I always sang lot of different types of music so it was something new and interesting to do. I’m a lot more into it now, I like Lil Wayne and Kanye…

Can you rap?

Shahd: I’m trying to learn! They don’t believe I can rap…

Ayman: Not yet…

So how did each of you get into music in the first place?

Ayman: About 10 years ago, I was listening to Rap music and then I started to listen to Egyptian Hip-Hop and then a few years ago I thought I should try and write my own bars, especially as my grandfather is Mohamed Aly Baher, he wrote the film El Resela (The Message), and my father said that art runs in the family so I started to just right gibberish, bragging about myself in the beginning. Then I created my own band Young Pharoz, whilst Mesho had his own band at the time as well...

Mesho: Yeah, so he had a band called Young Pharoz and my band was called DYP AKA Disaster Young Pharaohs, I know it’s a stupid name but we were young…

Ayman: So we had some beef haha…

Mesho: Yeah, we had a little beef because of the names but I was rapping in English and he was rapping in Arabic so I thought there was no conflict but then after a year or so we had the idea of merging both crews together because we were the youngest in the underground scene. Some members were kicked out and then eventually we met Shahd and the whole concept changed.

Shahd: I began singing when I was 9. I had the main role in all our school concerts and stuff like that and then started to perform at concerts in the Opera House.

Do you write your own music?

Shahd: I do write my own music but it’s all about love haha...

So are you saying Hip-Hop artists don’t believe in love?

Mesho: Nope! Haha, it’s not that I don’t believe in love. I just think that 90% of the music out there is about love so I want to present something new and talk about the rest of the stuff that they’re not. If those artists start rapping about real stuff, I’ll rap about love.

Who creates your beats?

Mesho: After signing with Sony Records, we have a producer in Dubai but before we used to create out own beats or download free loops. But, the thing is we’re not that professional when it comes to creating a melody. I can create a rap beat but when it comes to the chorus, we’re a bit lacking so this is what we’re working on now, how to write melodies for Shahd. Apart from that, we’re looking around for Hip-Hop producers in Egypt who can make beats for us too.

Don't you think that most Hip-Hop producers in the Middle East produce pretty much the same shit?

Ayman: Yes definitely. It’s not like listening to a Mac Miller album. We listen to American rap a lot but it’s hard to translate that production for Arabic rap when working with an Egyptian producer who doesn’t listen to the same stuff.

Mesho: There’s a conflict between Arabic Hip-Hop and American Hip-Hop. Yes, they’re much more professional but it’s not Arabic so when it comes down to a western producer he doesn’t produce beats that a Middle Eastern audience wants to listen to and vice versa. We’re trying to find that guy in the middle who can find something in between.

Is it important to you to stay tied to Middle Eastern culture?

Mesho: Not really but we want to start with the Arab world and then hopefully go international. Raise the culture here first.

Are you still happy with the choice of going on X-Factor now knowing the obstacles you have to face?

Ayman: It's better that we’re more famous now and more people are listening to our music but there was a lot of restrictions to the point that sometimes it wasn’t even Rap what we were doing… like “You can’t say this, you can’t do this, on TV, you can’t say this…”

So if you could turn back the time would you still go on the show?

Mesho: We would because of one thing. The exposure. Before the show we didn’t even think that anyone would appreciate the music we’re making. We believe what we do is good but we didn’t believe a lot of people wanted to listen to this kind of music but that’s what the X-Factor show does. But right after, with all the restrictions of the contract, it gets hard.

Ayman: Yeah, we chose Rap because you can say whatever the fuck you want!

You can say fuck here man, we won’t restrict you…

Ayman: Haha, bezabt! For example our lyric “Horreya, 3adala, wel hazb el watany ma3aradeen,” which is obviously a play on words, and they made us change that.

Did you get into an argument with them about it?

Ayman: Yeah, especially with the executive producer who said we can’t say it on TV but, if Ahmed Mekky said it, it would be okay. This is the difference, between when you’re famous and you’re starting.

Have your lives changed at all since going on X-Factor and how?

Ayman: Yes, it’s cool but, for example, I can’t smoke in the streets…

Shahd: You have no private life.

Ayman: I can’t curse on Twitter no more... the contract with X-Factor said that if you curse, khalas that’s it.

What else did X-Factor say you weren’t allowed to do anymore?

Ayman: There’s a seven-page contract which lasts for two months after the show that’s so restricting to the point that there were stipulations like “When you use smileys [emoticons], try not to use these ones.” I swear!

Do you think you can make it on an international scale?

Shahd: Well, I sing in English and they rap in Arabic, so it could go both ways.

Mesho: That’s one of the main reasons we were happy to sign with Sony Records, it gives us a chance regionally and internationally.

Have Sony put restrictions on you as well?

Ayman: Yeah, but they’re not as ridiculous. For instance, they said the first single should not be about the revolution.

So they let you use any emoticons you want? Like this one: :p

Mesho: I can. But I wouldn’t...

When can we expect a first official release?

Ayman: Not sure yet, but we should be gigging around Cairo.

Mesho: And we’re going to London this month to attend a bootcamp by Sony UK, sponsored by Pepsi.

Have you seen any money yet?

Mesho: Nope.

What’s the craziest experience you’ve had with your fans so far?

Ayman: I got a message on Facebook saying “Please give me your number right now, my sister is dying and she needs to speak to you right now, she has a problem in her kidneys, and she needs to speak to you now before she dies...”

Call her! You should call her right now!...

Ayman: I can’t, that’s an old message…

Mesho: You guys sound like our manager, that’s exactly what he said!

Can we be your new managers? We’ll let you use any smileys you want…

Mesho: It’s not about the smileys. So weirdest thing that happened to me is I was on the street and there were Young Pharoz flyers and posters all over the place, some random people were walking around and started staring at one of the posters. One of the guys turns to his friends and starts bragging that he knows me and used to live in the same building, so I went and stared at him, I was like “You know me?” I had no idea who he was and he got kind of embarrassed.

Awkward. Are your ex-band members jealous now?

Ayman: Not all of them. I mean one that was kicked out three years ago, we posted a photo on our Facebook which said “I’m not against the system, the system is against me,” and he comments LOLLL. That’s it, which was quite funny.

Was there a specific moment after X-Factor where you realised you'd become famous?

Shahd: We were chilling in a café, and I heard our songs playing. I couldn’t believe it and people started coming up and taking pictures with me!

So what about your parents guys, did they come to the shows?

Mesho: My parents are actually against what I do. They would rather I focused on my education and gave up music.

Where do you go to college?

Mesho: AUC

Shahd: I’m studying Applied Arts at GUC.

Ayman: Applied Languages at Sorbonne, I live in France actually.

You’re at the fucking Sorbonne? How fucking cool is that…

Ayman: Not that cool.

This’s hardcore, we’re going to be honest our whole perception of you has just completely changed, before we were only half listening!

Ayman: Haha, I’m failing anyway!

So do you perform in France?

Ayman: There’s only a couple of people in my Uni who know that I’m sort of famous. Aside from that, when I’m walking in the street, no one knows me. I think the problem out there is I don’t have the same connections and in general, where I am, rap is immediately equated to the ghetto and the kind of music happening at my university is classical and opera!

That’s such a discrepancy between your studies and music career; how are your parents taking it?

Ayman: My mother doesn’t really support it. I missed the second semester of Uni for X-Factor but my professors thought it was really cool and a great opportunity so they allowed me to just attend finals. I told my mother X-Factor accepted me and she wasn’t happy. When I left she was on the sofa, I had my luggae with me and said “Bye Mum, I’m going to Lebanon for three months,” and she didn’t even react. I told her that I would go on TV and tell everyone you didn’t support me, and I did end up doing that! But she thought it was funny and laughed. She feels a bit better now about it.

Shahd: My mother is very supportive about everything and was with me the whole time. She’s just upset that I sing in English and not Arabic!

Mesho: My mum only watched a couple of live shows, my father and brother didn’t watch any of it, only my sister is supportive. My brother is very religious.

What would you say to other artists in the same position finding challenges with their family and society against what they do?

Ayman: Go for it!

Shahd: Dare to dream, and always smile…

Mesho: That’s your quote?

Shahd: Yes, that’s my quote, don’t make fun of it!

You can check out Young Pharoz perform at Sawy Culture Wheel tonight from 7:30.

Keep up to date with the Young Pharoz on their Facebook fanpage here.