Throughout the past half-century or so, the global hip-hop scene has witnessed an electrifying surge of creativity and influence from all over the world. While the genre's roots lie in the Bronx, New York, hip-hop has transcended borders, with lyricists taking to it as a form of expression of their innermost feelings.
The MENA region isn’t exempted from that, at the intersection of tradition and innovation, wave after wave of artists have emerged, blending their local musical heritage with the universal language of rap, creating a captivating sonic tapestry which, unfortunately, is often under-appreciated or overlooked by the global community. ‘The Safe-House Travel Diary’ is here to change that.
Self-described “Guerrilla storyteller,” Hip-Hop enthusiast and mom of three, American-Lebanese Soha Yassine has begun to turn the spotlight onto the Middle East and explore the rise and impact of Hip-Hop in misunderstood places.
Inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s lyric about ‘venting in the safe house’, Soha travels across the Middle East, meeting in-person with artists in their respective ‘safe houses’ - the places where they live and create - to have honest conversations about their inner and outer worlds and understand what their music says about life where they're from and the experiences that shape their art.
“Why do I insist on talking to rappers in their homes? Because I am looking for authentic conversations, not interviews. People don’t lie in their bedrooms,” reads a post on Soha’s social media. “This has been a deeply personal experience for me, a long journey home. I have always loved how hip hop is the chosen voice of the dispossessed in places like Lebanon.”
With each season, Soha travels to a different country producing episodes that are sonic collages which recall the memorable experiences and conversations she has had during her exploration. For her first season, the journalist decided to go back to her roots and bring it back to her motherland: Lebanon.
Dubbed “Three nights in Beirut”, season one follows our protagonist during three 18-hour days zipping around Beirut on a motorcycle, meeting with rappers in their houses and conversing about their experiences and how their art reflects life in their country that has been plagued in a humanitarian crisis since 2019. You can hear from everyday ‘Bedroom rappers' and ‘Soundcloud artists’, as well as established Lebanese rappers like Chyno with a Why?, Nuj, and Ziggy.
The first episode of season one just dropped last Saturday, where Soha takes us through the origin story of the podcast and how her curiosity pushed her to take an impulsive trip to Beirut, exploring its raw hip-hop scene and how it holds a mirror to society.
To learn more about the story behind the series, SceneNoise spoke to the inquisitive podcaster herself.
When asked about the hidden meanings behind the logo, Soha explained that the logo is supposed to look like some kind of passport stamp. Since the Safe House is essentially a travel show, she wanted her graphics to resemble vintage travel elements. The centre has wreaths of olive branches which reference the South of Lebanon where she’s originally from, with the microphone down the middle as her weapon. Around the edge is the moon, representing her daughter Amina whom she calls Moony, and the sun, representing her son Kareem, as well as stars in the sky, which endearingly represent her baby girl, Medina.
“I think that there are a lot of mums who have big ambitions and who are juggling a lot of things like having children, who then don’t talk about what’s happening behind the scenes,” Soha reflected, when asked about balancing motherhood with the podcast. “Not only was I out there hustling going all around Lebanon, I was breastfeeding an infant at the time too, and I had two other kids at home whom I was really concerned about and constantly reassuring that I was just a facetime call away.”
When asked about what to expect in season one of the podcast, Soha answered: “An honest and vulnerable approach to understanding what life is like in Lebanon right now, while also reconciling my own feelings of survivor's guilt and of being lost and not understanding where I belong.”
The host disclosed that she has already recorded seasons two and three, but is keeping their destinations hush for now, however shared that her dream is to travel across all of the Middle East. “I want to go to Iraq to explore the rise of anti-imperialist rap that reached mass appeal during the US invasion in 2001, and to continue my exploration of the Shi’a part of my identity.” Other countries that Soha wishes to visit include Syria, Indonisia, Sudan, South Africa and, “of course, the epicentre of Arabic rap, where it really all started: Palestine."
“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish with the podcast which is a hip-hop story told from the perspective of an immigrant Lebanese-American Muslim woman, which is a perspective that is really under-represented,” voiced Soha.
“Right now I'm trying to prove to the powers that be, the decision makers, that there is an enthusiastic and passionate audience that exists for content like this.” In an effort to increase artists’ exposure, each episode of the Safe House Travel Diary comes with a curated Spotify playlist of local artists, providing listeners with a sonic portrayal of the different socio-economic layers of each region.
‘The Safe House Travel Diary’ is available for free on all the major platforms or on the official website. Episodes will range from only about 8-12 minutes and will be released weekly. In upcoming seasons Yassine will expand her exploration to cities across the Middle East, North Africa, and the rest of the world.
If you are interested in music, travel, or learning about the world, The Safe House is a must-listen.