Ten years ago when Hass Dennaoui (aka Big Hass) started his journey in Saudi Arabia with a music blog, little did he know it would eventually lead to the creation of Saudi's first hip-hop FM radio show titled "Laish Hip-Hop?" (meaning "Why Hip-Hop?"). The show's popularity skyrocketed as it was amongst the first to diversify from mainstream hip-hop and also cover regional artists.
Fast forward to present day and Big Hass is still the same person he was when it all started, Now based in Dubai, Hass continues to tirelessly advocate for musicians based in the region. He is also one of the few individuals who is truly driven by passion without any hidden agenda.
Hass blogs about the middle east music scene while juggling roles as an event host, radio presenter on Sharjah's Pulse 95 and of course a family man.
We sat down with the man himself to discuss about the tight-knit hip-hop community, family and his future projects.
What got you into music and how did you start off?
Well, believe it or not it was John Coltrane, the Jazz legend that got me into music. I only started learning English at the age of 14, because in Saudi Arabia, as a Saudi Citizen at the time, you were not allowed to join an international school and the Saudi schools had little or no English education. It was Biggie for sure that got me into Hip-Hop. I’ve always been and will always remain a huge fan of his flow and vibe.
The story of hip-hop and myself didn’t actually start until 2008. This is when I started my blog “RE-VOLT” which is a music blog I launched to support all sort of underground music. After launching the blog, I was hit with the Arabic Hip-Hop movement and I decided then to make the blog more Hip-Hop focused. I started travelling to a few cities around the region and documenting the local hip-hop culture in each city (Beirut, Jordan, Bahrain, Cairo). In 2011 and after 6-months of back and forth with MIX FM (Official FM radio in KSA), I was able to launch Saudi’s first & only FM Hip-Hop Radio Show “Laish Hip-Hop?”
I am so proud of the show because it was able to change the perception people in Arabia had about hip-hop and also breakthrough so many local/Saudi rappers onto the scene. It educated the public about the true essence of Hip-Hop and I feel blessed and thankful to Hip-Hop culture for giving me incredible experiences and connecting me with like-minded individuals from across the world.
Describe the current UAE hip-hop scene
Well, as a scene, I wish we would support our artists more. That being said, salute to all the Hip-Hop artists/individuals holding it down in the UAE. Hip-Hop is not just rap, it is also graffiti, breakdancing and Dj-ing. Those elements do exist in the UAE. I believe 'Rap' gets the highest attention here but it’s also important to acknowledge the other elements.
Speaking of rappers, I would say it is diverse: we have Arabic trap - an artist like Freek, represents the UAE really well. Then there's Moh Flow who is one of the hardest working artists in the Middle East and was able to prove himself numerous times with the hip-hop group HRMNY. Artists like The Recipe are still an asset to the scene, there is no doubt that they are a force to be highlighted.
The hip-hop scene in the UAE is culturally diverse, and a perfect example to illustrate that is MENON, who is a product of a cultural mix, and he brings this trait into his music. Furthermore, we have amazing artists like Jaysus, an incredible poet whose journey I can predict to be fruitful (I do want more music from him though). There's also Palestinian rapper FADL who was able to make noise, especially in the US market. I just feel it needs more support & more artists for it to be considered a productive scene. I could keep going on.
Let's also not forget the fact that there's a small Arabic Rap community, and artists like Big Smoke flow really well in Arabic. I'd also like to shout out two more names that I believe will make some noise in the UAE TAC & KAFV, expect big things from them.
What's the biggest hindrance that prevents artists in the UAE from going pro?
There are many obstacles in the UAE - and even on a regional scale - that prevent artists from going pro. It is important to say that society, especially in the Middle East/Arabia, is mainly subscribed to pop culture and whatever mass media is providing. Although the internet works as a good vessel to propagate one’s music but it takes some luck to get people listening to your content, for you to move forward and even reach pro level.
"In my opinion theres a certain disconnect between record labels and independent artists; there isnt enough support from regional record labels and history keeps repeating itself. There is a copy/paste phenomena that happens for every generation and that cycle needs to be broken."
While working with Anghami for over a year, I encouraged the company to pay more attention to the local music scene. They are starting to become more aware of the importance of supporting these talents but there is still a long way to go. There should be more investment into guidance from experienced and accomplished artists/producers from the mainstream music scene. Streaming services and digital media are the future and I hope that the local artists will be part of that ascendance.
Public performances are also limited to social events. There should be more locally-born music festivals whose sole purpose is to highlighting the potential we have. That is my vision with The Beat, which is a series of music events aimed to support local talents. Gradually, we will embed this concept of local music festivals into society, make it appealing and interesting so that people are intrigued and curious. And from there on, the ball will keep rolling. That being said, I have to shout out initiatives like Go Play The World & The Fridge Concert Series, they do a great job but again, we need attention and support from a large scale festival which I believe will happen soon.
A beat, a verse, and a hook walk into a bar. Bartender says who’s picking up the tab? Beat says I'm too tight. Verse just mumbles. And the hook says I'm the one who makes money these days, So i guess it's me! ... My question is... What are your thoughts on talented lyricists that get overlooked when a catchy hook is all it takes to blow up in today's hip hop?
There needs to be a balance. Even people need to re-educate themselves on how to listen to music. Just like it is a new, enriching and learning experience when you taste a new type of food, music is so diverse, the repertoire is vast. There is content for all tastes, and music for all ears. I know it is tougher than ever to stand out and make a statement and these one-time popping sensations with catchy hooks make people overlook quality lyrics and quality music. Lyricists and Producers usually get overlooked and that’s why I make it a point when sharing a certain song on my Instagram to tag the producer too, it's crucially important. It’s not always who dunks the ball, it’s also who the one who assists.
"There is no reason to give up. The road is tough no matter what we do. In my opinion, it is better to be relevant, consistent and recorded for history to trace back, than to be a temporary outburst."
What do you make of Trap music?
Trap music is a sub-genre that emerged from rap and dance culture music. It has become increasingly popular in the last few years, but it actually broke through in the early 2000s. It seems to appeal to the younger generation, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as these Trap artists know their hip-hop history, acknowledge the origins of rap and although trap music is known for mumble rap and banal lyrics, it is important to create a relatable association between the artist’s identity and his music, instead of just blunting out meaningless words on an appealing Dubstep beat. From a psychological point of view, repetition of short words over by a “dope” beat is bound to be engraved in our minds.
"Not all lyrics are pure, most of it is trash and ear pollution, but people are too distracted by the beat to notice. Most young people don’t want to pay attention to meaningful lyrics - they want to ‘vibe’."
A regional success for Trap is UAE-based rapper Freek, who has succeeded in merging trap music and Arabic lyrics, reflecting his Abu Dhabi upbringing and embracing his culture and identity. There is a story to tell, and that’s the hook.
Where do you think the future of recorded and live music is heading
I can't speak much of recorded music, since I am not a producer or a Dj, but I know for a fact that more young artists are going towards connecting with local producers and putting music out there to the world which is really great. Dubai, is a very special city because there are a lot of artists out there who only do covers for the nightlife events and that’s ok, but I personally believe an artist’s journey starts once they actually start expressing themselves with original tracks and I’d want to see more of that happen.
"As for 'live' music, I’d want it to be respected a lot more. I’ve been to events where the artist is singing their heart out and people are eating burgers, and noone is listening."
Having said that, there is nothing better than watching an artist perform LIVE, I love it and I’d always recommend people go out and show love and also RESPECT IT.
In the Middle East there might be a stigma attached to being a female rapper as opposed to a female pop star. What are your thoughts on this? and how can it be overcome?
With the rise of feminism, I can say that there is more women empowerment to join all fields, whether in society, workplace and even the music scene. Although there have been many female MCs - like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte - who gained fame in the late 1980s as hip-hop was born, the music genre was dominated by men and even their lyrics were offensive towards women. That being said, it’s ironic that we see more female pop stars than female rappers and let me explain why. Female pop stars were and maybe still are objectified even if they think they are not. Their image is what sells their music, and it is unwise to deny that. Mainstream music and record labels group both the voice and the physical appearance. It is a package and it is been an amalgamation that has worked for as long as women were in music.
But like I said, I hope that with the rise of more independent and aware women, better choices will be made, uncanny passages avoided and they can do anything.
"Female rappers have yet to be introduced into the hip-hop arena, mainly because our regional society will describe her as a tomboy, or a woman trying to be a man, or that she is incapable, all mainly a list of lame stereotypes. I think women have every right to be in the arena."
I’m all for supporting female rappers. We definitely need more woman representation, and we can get to hear their side of the story, their issues, their struggles, a different point of view, a different perspective - and that’s always refreshing.
We know Big Hass - perhaps the most popular hip hop promoter in the region. But give us a little insight into Big Hass the family man and the working dad.
Bless, I am just a human being that truly loves the Hip-Hop culture and I try my best to showcase and support our local scene. Being the father of an Autistic is the best title I have though, he’s my hero, he’s why I wake up everyday and do what I do. He inspires me daily. I do believe that it’s a duty for me to express that Autism is NOT a DISEASE.. It’s a way of life and a way of understanding. We need to give autistic kids the freedom to express themselves, show them love and not box/label them.
"My wife is my better half and someone who believed in me from Day ONE!, she’s the only person on the planet that truly knows me 100%."
I moved from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Dubai, UAE exactly 2 years ago just to give my son better therapy and a better environment and I am proud that I made this call, it has been tough because I was always the man in Saudi, MCin events, good job, etc, to come here & start a new life was difficult but blessings to God, I feel I was able to make great connections here and show the world why I am passionate about what I do. I was able to join Anghami, I was able to get on the radio (Pulse 95) and I was able to launch and continue my vision for live events (THE BEAT DXB) and lastly, launching my YouTube show “Buckle Up” I will continue to work and support the scene, simply because I am passionate about it and I genuinely love giving back.
If America called, and asked What's the best and worst thing about our music scene right now, what would you say?
The best is we have original sounds and cool talents. The worst part is that there aren’t many outlets and platforms to showcase those talents.
Who is the most underrated UAE artist in your opinion?
I would say ABRI, the dude is a legend and his talent is remarkable.
Whats next for you? Any cool current or future projects?
More Buckle Up episodes, so stay tuned.
Follow Big Hass on Instagram and Twitter @bighass. To watch the latest episodes of the Buckle Up Podcast click here
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.