Jordan

Rhymes from the Rafters

Writer

Vivian Tabar

Photographer

Laith Majali

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Satti went from lone fan to rapper seemingly overnight. But his actual journey has been a long one, steeped in rap education. This pursuit is ongoing; Satti studies hip hop like a devout student. A rigorous practice culminated from hours of listening to music, writing lyrics and scoping out underground MCs – habits he developed early on. All the while, shuttling between carpentry in Irbid and rap in Amman.

‘I’ll be lucky if I can make this a full time job. To just focus on music. That would be something,’ he says, with unfading optimism. With only three years on the mic, Satti, born Ahmad Yaseen, has quickly built a reputation in underground Arabic rap. Currently finalising his debut album under Immortal Entertainment, the release will feature beats produced by Arab hip hop heavyweights such as Osloob, Damar, Boikutt and Edd Abbas. ‘I was that lucky,’ he says of being able to work with the very producers he sought guidance from.

Jordan’s hip hop scene is thriving with rappers, who mostly originate from East Amman. Less cosmopolitan than its counterpart and hardly a hub for hip hop, Irbid is Jordan’s second largest city. More like a big village, Irbid has two main commercial streets, two universities and holds the world record for having the most Internet cafés on a single street – most of which are now closed.

In Irbid, Satti is an anomaly. Walking along its main street, he stands out among the city’s more conservative residents. Time has made him immune to the stares and jokes that he’s really from America, or that his oversized t-shirt can make four more. The eldest of three, Satti spent his youth working as a carpenter with his uncle after school to help support his family. Growing up, he was the only kid he knew that listened to hip hop.

His introduction to rap was purely accidental: in 1996, a family friend visited from the States and brought with him two cassette tapes: Nas’ ‘Stillmatic’ and Ras Kass’ ‘Soul on Ice’. ‘I had never heard something foreign other than Mariah Carey or Celine Dion. I had never heard hip hop… It was very strange for me. I saw this cassette and I listened. And I knew, this was good.’

The discovery set in motion a search through Irbid’s few, limited CD shops. Only able to find 2pac and The Notorious B.I.G., Satti struggled to understand his first hip hop beef. Shortly after, the Internet came to Irbid and Satti was connected to the outside world. In the era of slow dial-up connections and long downloads, Satti spent hours scouring the net. ‘Everyday I was on a mission to find someone new. Some days it worked, others it didn’t,’ he remembers.

With no schoolyard freestyle battles or radio stations to influence him, Satti’s musical palate developed independently, including sounds from Nas, Masta Ace, Sean Price, The Roots, Black Thought and J Dilla. Drawn to rap’s fierceness, Satti took on the role of rap ambassador, yet struggled to recruit fresh converts among a peer group more concerned with ‘cars and football.’

More than ten years later, with a library of over 20,000 songs, Satti still hadn’t discovered Arabic rap. Isolated from the scene unfolding across the region, it wasn’t until 2010 that he finally came into contact and decided to try it for himself. ‘I started late and I have to catch up,’ he says. ‘I always think, what if I started earlier, what would my situation be.’

In 2011, he started releasing tracks, followed by a mixtape, all recorded using his home PC and a computer microphone. A newbie, Satti eagerly sent each track to the MCs and producers he admired. Many were quick to embrace him, providing feedback and tips, and were shocked to learn that his lyrical skills were recently acquired. It wasn’t until he dropped the song ‘32 Crimes of Destruction’ that he gained the attention of fellow rappers, specifically Immortal Entertainment. The song elevated his status and soon saw him teaming up with Immortal.

On the bus to Amman, Satti sits in his usual seat. ‘I hate this place,’ he says as the bus rolls out. ‘But I miss it when I leave.’ On the ride, he taps his fingers and nods his head to his iPod. With his faithful rhyme book near, he silently constructs future lyrics. At times political, at others playful, his lyrical content ranges from ‘diss’ tracks’ to poverty and politics. ‘I want to make people think with my lyrics,’ he says.

His debut album, due at the end of the year, is titled ‘Groom of the North’, a play on Irbid’s nickname as the ‘Bride of the North’. It is both a dedication to Irbid and a declaration that Arabic rap can and will flourish outside of the Middle East’s big cities.

At Immortal’s studio in Amman, Satti sits crammed on a leather sofa among local rappers. With them sits The Joker, an aspiring rapper from a Palestinian refugee camp. The elders admire the powerful flow exhibited by the young talent, a chance discovery made while conducting rap workshops in the camps.

‘Satti is a titan,’ says the stout 17-year old with a timid smile, hardened by life in the camps. Later, on the balcony, Satti smokes a cigarette with The Joker. ‘Inta wiskh [you’re dirty],’ Satti compliments The Joker. ‘Just practice your flow some more, and you’ll be a monster.’

This article appears in the issue42Buy Now