Mustafa Ismail aka FREEK is a 26 year old Somali rapper who is taking trap culture one step further in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East. Though Arabic trap is spreading like wildfire, it is still in its early stages , making the 247k views that one of Freek’s videos garnered even more impressive.
The eccentric rapper grew up skateboarding on the streets of Abu Dhabi from the age of 12, and reminisces about the days when all he had was his skateboard and mp3 player, though at that point it wasn’t hip-hop that was blaring through his headphones; before he got into hip-hop, Freek was a metal head, listening to bands such as Slipknot, Korn and Killswitch Engaged. He has always had a love for “hard beats”, but hip-hop lured him in due to the way it allows a person to express their feelings, stating that it is “deeper than any other genre”.
He now incorporates the best of both worlds; the lyrical aspect of hip-hop and, “hard beats” that he loved about metal. Although heavy metal is a completely different sound to hip-hop, its influence on the genre does surface; notable examples of this include Kanye West’s usage of the Metallica font for his Yeezus logo, which inspired a resurgence of the “coolness” of metal within hip-hop and beyond.
A Somali trap rapper out of the UAE is definitely not something you see everyday. This highlights the power of the internet in full effect, and is reminiscent of Rich Chigga (now called Rich Brian) - an Indonesian rapper who learned English on Youtube in Jakarta and cemented himself in the American rap scene thanks to his breakthrough hit “Dat $tick”. The internet erases the borders that previously existed, allowing artists to easily gather inspiration from various scenes and showcase their talent.
Freek’s music draws heavily from the hard drums, triplet hi hats, loud kicks and snappy snares which are a staple of trap production, made popular by superstars such as Young Thug, Future, and producers Metro Boomin and DJ Esco. Young Thug in particular, with his emphasis on melody, is a clear musical influence on the young Somalian, who merges melodies with an aggressive flow that is very popular in the trap scene today.
The young artist, who along with rapping is a comedian and Youtube artist, has gathered a following beyond the UAE, all the way to Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, and even as far as Canada.
It’s clear to see that Freek stays true to himself, even though some of his videos might seem like typical American trap videos, with him and his crew rapping along to the track, aggressively, nearly shouting at his audience. But delve deeper and you will see some interesting aspects, notably, the way he blends this trap aesthetic with elements that belong to the traditional UAE. In the video to his song, “Man Antom”, you can clearly see the American trap influence in the cinematography and dramatic use of different colored smokes, however it is filmed in Bastakiya, one of the oldest residential areas of the UAE.
There are also some symbolic incorporations to his visuals. In the song, ‘’Wadha’’, where he lies in a bath filled with Laban Up, a staple of the UAE streets. Growing up, FREEK could not even afford to buy Laban Up regularly, he can now swim in it. He explains:
“Through the music video, you will see a lot elements and it symbolizes something. For example, you see me in the video lying down in a bathtub filled with Laban Up [a popular yoghurt drink]. When I was a kid, I used to like to drink Laban Up but I couldn’t afford a lot of it, and now I can have as much Laban Up as I want”.
Freek mainly raps in Arabic to avoid competing with trap artists in the US and Canada – the fact that he raps in Arabic differentiates him from already established rappers. He prefers to create his own lane and take trap in the region to the next level. Describing himself in a few words, Freek states that he is a “global citizen”, which makes perfect sense for an expat living in the UAE his whole life, being surrounded by people of all nationalities, and most importantly, having never lived in his native Somalia.
Freek has definitely managed to create a buzz around his name, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down.