Currently Dubai’s most sought after producer, Rayan doesn’t just make music. He instills his philosophy and any artist who works with him not only walks away with a beat or a song, but with a re-established sense of self-awareness and direction.
He sat down with us to talk about UAE music and what the scene has to offer, and perhaps more importantly what it might lack. We were craving insight from the man paving the way for a line-up of up and coming musicians set to represent Dubai on the international music scene.
Before assuming the role of Metro Boomin in UAE, Rayan the Hip Hop/R&B Producer spent his youth-hood in Abu Dhabi and went on to lead a successful Metal band who earned their stripes tearing up stages across Europe and as far as Asia. They gained the attention and respect of some of the biggest new-wave metal bands in The US for their music and live performances.
Now based in Dubai, Rayan works with thirty separate acts and his craft is at an all-time prolific high. Yet we sense this is just the tip of the iceberg of what could go on to become a dynasty left behind in the UAE.
Tell us how Rayan came about.
After I graduated from the UK, I was back in the Gulf with a double-masters in Biotechnology and Stem Cell Research and a steady job in the Pharmaceutical industry. However, I felt I was only working that job for the money, and I was sure there were plenty of other ways to make money. So, one day I said “I’m done”! I quit my job a few years ago, and at the time I had no idea I was going to be a producer. At that point I had no real equipment to make music. I had nothing except my laptop. Some of my peers shared a few tips on programs I could use, but I pretty much started from scratch. I went started as a garage band, amateur level understanding of how these programs work to where I am now. It took a while, but I kept at it, and soon enough (by 2015) I had my first fully produced, mixed and mastered album that I’d done myself.
"I quit my job a few years ago and at the time I had no idea I was going to be a producer"
It started becoming a fulltime thing after I was approached by a big upcoming local metal band here in UAE. After hearing my first full body of work they asked me to help mix and master their album for them, which acted as a catalyst for me. I got a couple of more projects on the go and word started getting around. Rappers started approaching me looking for beats. They wanted something different to what they were finding on YouTube etc. Things just spiralled from there. For the past two years now I’ve been working as a full-time producer, songwriter, audio engineer, and occasionally even do music videos and digital distribution.
What attracted rappers to someone with your background?
So, luckily because of my past experiences with band work, I would add elements like some electric or distorted guitars, different time signatures with the drums, or throw on gated synths, which I think was refreshing for both sides. When it came to writing hip hop and trap records, I used what I grew up on, from bands like Linkin Park and KoRn to singers like Craig David and Marvin Gaye. I no longer think in the frame of a genre. It is what it is. You have a canvas and you want to paint something.
How would you compare the level of local musicians internationally?
This is tricky one to answer in so many respects. We have the same level of musicianship as anywhere else in the world, but we don’t have the same level of artistry. I would not pay money to go see a lot of local artists here in the UAE. Not because they’re not talented, they are super talented! I just don’t feel they put as much effort and time into translating what they represent as artists. What are they trying to evoke? I feel so many are caught up in the rat race of trying to catch on to other waves, rather than showing the world what they stand for. A lot of people here are not able to distinguish between a singer, a vocalist and an artist, which is where the problem begins. It’s okay to not be an artist, but it’s vitally important you at least know where one line starts and the other stops.
"An artist is someone who reminds us of human emotions"
A lot of musicians call themselves artists and when you ask them why, they don’t have a clear answer. It’s simple, whether you are using paint or pro tools, an artist is someone who reminds us of human emotions and that’s it. That’s your job, and which emotion is your area of expertise.
I’m an advocate of developing talent, but more importantly to accentuate their emotional expression in whatever way possible. My job is not to write a dope beat. I can write beats do the mix and master, but that process is so sterile. That part is just the ‘how’ to be honest.
I want to know why are you an artist and what you do. Everything else is the how you get there. I wish more people understood it’s not about what you use. It’s a very sterile process to using computers and software. But it’s incredibly moving when someone comes in and talks to me and says I want my music to give out this... I want to remind people of this… I tell them; Ok, now that feeling has a sound.
With that I get to mix genres. I tap into my understanding of how this artist feels and bring in elements from different genres. When they instigate a feeling that I haven’t felt for a very long time, I then know where to go back and find a sound that I know will convey the emotion of that artist.
So, you're not experimenting when you fuse genres, is it fair to say you're cherry picking certain sounds?
No, I am cherry picking emotions. Right off the bat, I'm not a big fan of sampling. Out of the last 150 or so songs I finished last year I've only sampled 3 or 4 of them. I will actually pick up the guitar or play the piano until i get that riff or phrase.
I find it interesting when you have genres like rap, hip hop or metal because they represent a certain frame of thinking. They each have a culture behind them, which is harder to break out of. That forces your music to stand for something, and I appreciate that. Their sonic sound is a result of what they’re trying to serve. I don’t want people simply to just like a song and move on.
The only way to achieve audience retention is if you emotionally connect with them. Our attention span is at an all time low. People aren’t going to wait around to convince themselves if they like what you’re doing. You have 15 seconds, if that, but if people are emotionally invested in the first track they come across your music with, then they will never let it go.
So you're able to introduce something which the musicians' audience need, in ways that the artist themselves might not necessarily see themselves?
Yes. Exactly. I try to turn that intangible feeling into something tangible.
I take a lot of pride when an artist claims one of their own songs as one of their favourite, not one where they sang best on it, because this means they are a fan of their own song. Talent is a tool, it means you’ve been given an advantage or a tool, but you have to know what you want to build.
We know how to do music here but we don't know what we’re about yet. We have a music scene but no music culture.
In terms of music, what gives you faith in UAE?
There is a growing resurgence in the number of artists. The amount of songs and tracks coming out is awesome, but it's what those tracks end up doing that's important.
I think that's why when you look at artist to artist here, if you're true to yourself, and how you feel about things, then there is no competition. Competition is a corporate word. It’s a word that originates with the definition of having the knowledge that you are against someone else. So when I hear an artist talk about competition, then you are no longer doing it for all the reasons we just spoke about. You have already broken the cardinal law of; you do it to give an emotional pallet, you're providing a mood or feeling that people will tap into. Whether the other person is providing the same mood makes no difference, because if you do it the right way and you do it according to you, it will never sound the same.
When we do get a music culture here, if you get two artists that have the same specs, you'd never confuse the two. You would never mistake them. In a city with this many music lovers there's so much to go around for everyone.
So when we develop the right intentions and vision as artists and materialise it, that's when we develop our sense of identity?
Yes, and that's when someone else from another country says I'm totally about what he or she is about. That's when you see proper collabs or co-signs or perhaps the likes of OVO or CashMoney opening a label here, because none of those labels see anyone here doing anything that's emotionally valuable to them.
I think we focus too much on 'making it' here. I think when we develop a music culture here, where the city has a sound, then we have a chance for the rest of the world to actually pay attention. The world is watching us make up our mind rather than us actually doing it.
“I think when we develop a music culture here, where the city has a sound, then we have a chance for the rest of the world to actually pay attention”
XXXTENTACION is one of the most artistic new age rappers because of what he represents. He represents a generation of kids in music, and he has the likes of Drake etc. watching and noticing him... and people are connecting!
There's so much culture in music but we don't embrace it. We have our own culture here in Dubai. People leave and eventually can’t wait to come back. When they were away they say “this doesn't feel like Dubai, I'm a Dubai kid”. A lot of people in Dubai feel the same and share so many view points. My response to that is how does that feeling 'sound'? Put that sound together so that maybe someone out there might sample it or be inspired by it. Take Kendrick for example when he sampled that Manchester rapper on his last album. He didn't sample him because he was fast at rapping. It was an emotional decision.
What do you think happens next for UAE’s music scene?
The only way I can answer that is if i think about how I felt about the scene ten years ago. I’ve been involved with it so much with band work that I look into the future, by looking at what happened in the past. Dubai with everything that I’ve said is still somewhat a special case because of its transient nature. It gives Dubai a very cosmopolitan vibe, but it’s also a problem because artists have very low retention with their music. People don't disconnect with old artists because they stopped liking them, but because they're not here anymore.
I feel it may happen in Abu Dhabi before Dubai, purely because that city has a longer residency rate per person. However if Dubai becomes a place where people want to lay a foundation here, if it becomes a destination city rather than a transient city, then I can see the growth of the music culture in Dubai being exponential.
Unfortunately, part of our music ecosystem is that artists' source of food changes every three years. They need to re-develop every three years or so, and then there are artists that don't have enough time to develop music for consumers that are from a more developed country [art-wise]. But that's why we go back to the artistry, because if you're doing it for the wrong reasons, you might not last long term with this nature of the city.
If we do it right and tap into our emotions, then consumers will notice us. What's funny is we already have the likes of Travis Scott, Drake, Future and Cardi B out there all mentioning Dubai already for us! There's a song by Travis Scott called “Dubai Shit” and we're sitting here wondering what's gonna happen to Dubai in ten years. It could happen tomorrow if you're doing it right. Travis Scott must have been in Dubai recently... Future was certainly in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago. Can you imagine if Travis Scott came to Dubai, and came across something that emotionally connected with him, and took that back to Atlanta? It's not happening because we're not doing it right. We're basing it on technicality, skills, mixing, mastering or production. I think we're being helped by all these huge artists and we're being helped by Dubai being a touristic city, but not we’re not using it well enough. Who knows how long we’ll have this window? Who knows what city will be the next hot spot tomorrow?
So what’s the antidote?
People are looking at the result before looking at the purpose. I want everyone to start the right way. It’s about your music pollinating. If you do something the right way it will go a lot further. People are looking at the result, before looking at the purpose and the process. If your song represents a view point, or something that's worth something to other people, that's when they get invested in what you represent. We don't have that yet.
Magic Jordan recently said "Music is something I'm still trying to resolve".
There is no success in music. There is no condition in music upon which you are successful. There is no one unit of measure, you can't go by like or views, and you can't measure how much someone loves your music. For me, you are successful every time you have elicited an emotion in someone. For me, if you set out as an artist with the right foundations, that’s when you’re going to achieve something really special.
“People are looking at the result, before looking at the purpose”
All that being said, what artists should we keep an eye out for in 2018?
There are so many to mention, but right off the bat from the artists I’m working with I would say artists like Menon, Shebani, Hamza Hawsawi, Tina Yamout, Aman Sheriff, and Freek have incredibly big plans for 2018. It’s genuinely music that I believe is novel but incredibly relatable, it’s very exciting knowing the 12-month plan ahead for all of them. Outside of those I’m a big fan of what MohFlow and the guys from HRMNY are doing, it’s incredible to see so much expression coming out of such a small pond. The world will start to stand up and see. I believe its closer than we think.
About the Writer
Faariss Khalil is a British musician who currently lives in Dubai. As a former turntablist from Bristol his experience of growing up in a thriving music scene has fuelled his passion to uncover new music in the UAE.