In a booming country like Kuwait, people usually follow in the footsteps of their founding fathers. A career in business, politics, law, medicine, or education is usually more encouraged in Kuwaiti society, which resonates as stable choices with a fast growing career path.
Kuwait, however, is fortunate enough to have produced two brothers who are on a mission to re-introduce the concept of music and challenge the status quo and in doing so have chosen a career very much different from the rest of the average Kuwaiti.
Going by Sons of Yusuf, this brother duo have established a huge fan base in the region after they dropped their first mix tape titled, “2 of Arabia’s most wanted” on December 12th, 2012.
Having lived in both Kuwait and California, Ya’koob and his younger brother Abdul’Rahman were surrounded by jazz and reggae music growing up and were both encouraged to pick up different instruments from drums to the saxophone. Now challenging the stays quo, they aim to reach new heights by appealing to a generation they say is in dire need of role models. As a production team, they have worked with Grammy award-winning artists Erykah Badu and Jay Electronica and aim to “build art and hip-hop culture in the Middle East, introduce the rest of the world to [their] culture and share [their] side of the story.”
Raised in a western society but still upholding traditional Islamic values, they seek to inspire a new generation of artistic talent. We got a chance to speak with them:
Fanar Al-Obaid: Tell us a little bit about how you first got into the music industry and the inspiration behind that.
Ya’Koob: Our father, since we were little, he’s always been a musician; he always taught us that we could basically do anything. He didn’t think that we’d be rappers but music, in general, was our main focus at home since we were kids. We studied in Los Angeles, California and then came back to Kuwait to do something here. Our family still lives in Los Angeles but we’re here to do something for our country, to help out, to give back.
Fanar: What is your music vision?
Y: Within ten, twenty years from now, the Middle East will be the main “hub” of the world. We want to be a part of that movement, the revolution, the change, the big era that’s coming.
Whether we do something or not, something is going to happen in the region. People are going to start making music or art in their own way, so we thought ‘Why not start doing music our way.’ Since it’s pretty silent right now, we’ll do it in the traditional,ara Kuwaiti Arabic way and see how it goes.
Fanar: Do you guys have one specific music genre you like to focus on? What is your music style?
Y: That’s a good question. It’s like a new genre you could say, it has Arabic and poetry. We’re trying to bring in new things.
Abdul’Rahman: Some people call it “Muslim rap” or “Arab rap,” which is a new genre.
Fanar: What type of artists do you guys collaborate with or have collaborated with, thus far?
Y: Erykah Badu, Shafeek Hussain, Bilal Salaam, and Jay Electronica.
Fanar: Has your music style changed since you first started?
Y: It’s been changing ever since. We’ve been doing this since forever and over the years it kept changing. At first when we were in school we used to be in a jazz band, I used to play the trombone and he [Abdul’Rahman] used play the saxophone. Our childhood was very musical with reading notes and all that. Then slowly we said, let’s start making music and going to studios. Our dad started taking us to studios and we actually started seeing productions. The experiences basically brought us here.
Fanar: Do you think there is a big hip hop following in the Middle East?
Y: It’s completely dead. Even our followers now are not hip hop listeners; we’re trying to give them a different perspective of hip hop. If you listen to our album, it’s strictly under-ground raw hip hop. You have to try to get into the Kuwaiti mentality to try and change it.
A: Not everyone listens to rap so you have to make it commercial, put in R&B and soul music. Ya’Koob is a producer so he adds in some Arabic instruments.
Fanar: What type of music do you listen to?
Y: I like Fayrouz, Sade, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Omar Khairat. Marvin Gaye is probably one of my top favorite artists.
Fanar: How have different audiences in the Middle East reacted to your music, in particular your video “Arabs in Paris”?
Y: We got feedback from all over, even from Arabs who were actually in Paris, Morocco and Jazair. Our audience wanted more from us because they’ve never seen anything like it. Even here [in Kuwait] they’re never seen anything like it. People talk about rap differently here. Outside [of Kuwait] they’re used to hearing it on the radio; here it’s more of a culture. It’s not like a “rapper gangster;” it’s more of a culture, it’s a color, it’s a way.
I haven’t told anyone this but I think we introduced Kuwait to hash tags; how to use hash tags for example. Our videos can show people how to dress up [in traditional Kuwaiti clothes] or something. You don’t have to know all my songs or memorize all the words, but I know I will give you a little touch of something that you might not know, but we’ve definitely added something to the culture. So we plan on continuing to do that.
Fanar: Lastly, what would you like to accomplish in the future?
A: We can’t stay quiet about things going on in the world right now. Some people are still poor, some people are still hungry, and some people are still dying. We want to make a change.
Y: We know we can’t change the world but we can try.