As the year comes to a close, XP Music Futures and SceneNoise team up to bring you the standout releases we loved from Middle Eastern and North African artists across genres throughout 2023. From UK-inspired garage coming out of Egypt from the likes of Nour and Hady Moamer, to masterfully produced hidden gems we’ve been blasting on repeat from artists such as AMMAR 808 and Kosh, to rappers like Dafencii and Ziad Zaza making waves with their wholly distinctive flow, here are our favorite tracks of 2023:

Dafencii - El Maktoob [MDLBEAST Records]

With ‘El Maktoob,’ Sudanese-Saudi rapper Dafencii made his return from a brief hiatus where he grappled with his personal struggles. On the track, Dafencii revisits the thought process he underwent through his introspective lyrics and air-tight flows over a laid-back drill beat, produced by LukeBox.

Majid Jordan - Chill Pad Deluxe [OVO Sound]

Majid Jordan’s hypnotic track ‘Chill Pad Deluxe’ envelops listeners in its ethereal soundscape, where Majid Al Maskati's silky vocals, coupled with Jordan Ullman's nuanced production, create an immersive sonic experience that transcends conventional genre boundaries. The song's laid-back tempo and atmospheric layers invite contemplation, setting the perfect backdrop for a late-night drive or much-needed alone time.

AMMAR 808 ft. Bellassan Mihoub - Doudou Brahim [Shouka]

On ‘Doudou Brahim,’ we are treated to an electrifying blend of AMMAR 808's signature futuristic soundscapes with traditional North African melodies, where Bellassan Mihoub's raw and impassioned vocals add depth and cultural richness to the song's narrative. The pulsating rhythms, coupled with intricate percussion and dizzying synths, create an infectious energy that invites movement and celebration.

Kosh - Hurry Up [Casa Voyager]

Kosh’s ‘Hurry Up’ off his latest EP ‘Get it Done’ on Casa Voyager shouldn’t work - it's a stuttering, syncopated disarray of electro and drum n’ bass and sounds you might hear off your kid's toy noisemaker. But it really works. We expect nothing less from the artist who has made a name for himself as a leading figure in Morocco’s dance music scene, particularly with his signature intricate warm and energetic releases that blend retro influences with club-ready sonics.

Elyanna - Mama Eh [Universal Arabic Music/Republic Records]

Finding a balance between her pop sensibilities and Middle Eastern influences, earlier this year Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna showcased her captivating vocals and infectious energy on her track ‘Mama Eh’. The release infuses traditional elements with contemporary production, creating an upbeat anthem that celebrates her cultural richness while embracing a modern sound that has reached audiences across the globe.

Shkoon - Al-Furat feat. Metatext [MDLBEAST Records/WTR]

Shkoon's collaboration with Metatext, ‘Al-Furat,’ masterfully blends emotive melodies and rhythmic intricacies, fusing traditional sounds with contemporary electronic production. With textured layers and compelling beats, Shkoon and Metatext create an evocative journey that beautifully bridges cultural echoes with modern electronic allure.

Ziad Zaza - Sam3 Akhina [Beatroot Records]

While exploring new sounds and styles on his latest album ‘Zaza El Waseem,’ Egyptian artist Ziad Zaza ventured into a style of orchestral trap in ‘Sam3 Akhina’ that complemented his signature raspy vocals and off-kilter flows. In the track, Zaza’s lyrics recount tales of betrayal among friends, and while this has been a recurring theme in the rapper’s discography, the specifics have gotten more complex as Zaza has found more success.

Mishaal Tamer - Cigarette [Arabian Knights Records/Empire]

Leading the way for pop music coming out of Saudi Arabia, Mishaal Tamer’s signature blend of pop production, heartfelt writing, and expressive singing style is perfectly encapsulated in his 2023 release ‘Cigarette’.

Bedouin Burger - Nomad [PopArabia]

Bedouin Burger, featuring Lebanese multi-instrumentalist and producer Zeid Hamdan and Syrian singer Lynn Adib, brings us 'Nomad.' This track displays Hamdan’s lush, intricate strings and Lynn’s powerful vocals. Hamdan, known for his role in the indie-electro pop band Soap Kills, and Adib, with her classical music background, create a melancholic sound characterized by stunning guitar strums and soulful vocals, as well as mournful lyricism. 'Nomad' represents their most toned-down release to date, distinct from their other works like 'Dabkeh' and 'Zamel'.

HearThuG - I Want To Make You Dance [Fraise Records]

Part of the "Fruit Medley Vol. 2 [STRWB008]" compilation by Fraise Records, Tunisian producer HearThug delivers a perfect slow-burning moody club track, complete with his trademark penchant for acidic, tectonic sounds. Warning: You may just want to dance.

Cairokee - Telk Qadeya

In solidarity with the people of Palestine, Egyptian alt-rock outfit Cairokee released the track ‘Telk Qadeya,’ in which Amir Eid's poignant lyrics question the credibility of those who claim to be angelic or noble while turning a blind eye to the principles of justice and equality. Since the band’s founding, their music has been known for its ability to capture the essence of societal frustrations and criticism. 'Telk Qadeya' serves as a powerful expression of disillusionment towards a world that often speaks up for humanity but fails to address the suffering and injustices happening within it.

Nour - Wana [Ra Records]

Egyptian singer-songwriter Nour’s ‘Wana’ has taken the young artist to new heights, as her blend of UK grime, neo-soul, and jazz instrumentation has found its way into countless playlists and DJ sets alike. Paired with her personal and contemplative songwriting, it’s no wonder that ‘Wana’ has gained Nour so much success in such a short time.

Moayad & The Synaptik - Mashi El Hal [MDLBEAST Records/Badiya Studio]

In Moayad's 'Mashi El Hal,’ the former comedian, now rap virtuoso, laces his whimsical rhymes and cultural references into an upbeat drill instrumental in an eccentric fashion. Along with a colorful music video to accompany the release, Moayad truly comes into his own as he is portrayed in a digitally rendered teacup, donning flamboyant wigs, orchestrating an ethereal symphony, and engaging in a myriad of playful antics.

Hady Moamer Ft. Ahmed Bren - Manseetesh [Leqleem]

Though he has been an established producer in the regional music scene for some time, even earning a Grammy nomination for his work on Drake’s ‘Certified Lover Boy,’ Egyptian artist Hady Moamer only made his rap debut in 2022, and since then, he has continually evolved his sound. On ‘Manseetesh,’ the young rapper does this by looking to R&B-inspired melodies and flows, which he pairs with a danceable sonic palette of hip-hop and UK garage.

Vinyl Mode - Shoft Alhala (Vitess Remix) [MDLBEAST Records]

Pioneering Saudi DJ/Producer Vinyl Mode gives fan-favourite collaboration with Khaleej rapper Moayad ‘Shoft AlHala’ a dance floor-ready remix courtesy of French producer Vitess. If you were grooving along to this banger before, here’s a level-up.

Abo El Anwar X Husayn - Blanco

Egyptian rap trailblazers Abo El Anwar and Husayn teamed up earlier this year on ‘Blanco,’ where the duo capitalized on the Jersey club beat trend that briefly took over the Egyptian rap scene. On ‘Blanco,’ the seasoned rappers exchange lines as they complete each other's sentences throughout the track’s catchy hook. This playful singing style proved to be the song’s biggest strength, as it soon took TikTok by storm, with users pairing up to recreate the back-and-forth between the two rappers on the social media platform.