The new age of rap in Egypt is shaping up quite nicely. It's no longer a battle between the ‘top four’, but a sprawling battlefield with all manner of rappers fighting for his or her piece of the pie.
One rapper whose development has been interesting to see is Uzu, a man who first emerged on SoundCloud under a different name. He quickly evolved a much more polished sound, heard on releases such as ‘Gowa El Zone’ and ‘El Ga7ed’, two tracks that served to build anticipation for the rapper’s of EP, Safqa, with inventive Egyptian producer and SVNBIRDS founder, 77, who has worked with the likes of Egypt’s Felukah and Sudan’s AKA Keyz.
A collaborative album through and through, the EP finds a middle ground between both collaborators’ visions and approaches, and the result is a seamless coming together of two distinct voices. They’re aided by executive producer by, Ahmed Sherif and Youssef Mohsen, founders of Uzu’s label, VOV, alongside SVNBIRD’s Creative Director, Dony, VOV’s in-house producer and mixing engineer, On-Mars, also involved.The album kicks off in a jazzy manner with ‘Bali f Bali’ which incorporates a chilling saxophone line and a build up which rises to the drop of Uzu’s heavily-affected vocals. 77 combines East and West by conjoining typical trap percussion with Eastern drums a theme that persists throughout the EP. The track ends but the show goes on as it merges onto the second track, ‘All In’, in which dulcet guitar riff acts as the main body of the instrumental and are accompanied by hard-hitting 808s and reverberated melodies. Uzu lays out crisp delivery alongside smooth Sudanese rapper, Soulja, who brings his own unique delivery to the mix.
77 flexes his production skills a little more on ‘Photoshoot’ with a North-African inspired beat with an Afro percussive groove which make for a unique blend of sounds, all while Uzu keeps it playful with his bars. He then pours his heart out on ‘Mawasem’, the melancholic moment of the EP. He speaks of his battles, internal and external, in his music, his life, the creeping doom of doubt. A gloomy beat provides a fitting backdrop, as 77 and fellow SVNBIRDS producer, Bugi, keeps it simple with a sorrowful piano progression and heavily-reverberated pads to add space and depth.
Uzu is back to his playful self quickly with 'Nikes', with 77 providing an equally playful and all round jolly mix of Eastern drums and pleasant guitar riff, the most memorable bar coming as he announces, “Moshkelty kabbartak, bas enta paxelt.”
Things come to a close with ‘Okhtein’, which sees 77 pull together a classic South-Western sound with an Eastern twist, a closer that speaks of much of the album, Uzu once again simply having fun, making a zillion references that will tickle any Egyptian - a growing signature of the rapper.
What’s next for Uzu? Well, there’s no reason he can’t kick-on and wade through the sea of rappers in Egypt - and El Safqa offers a good launchpad. There’s a wit and intellect to Uzu’s bars that shouldn’t be dismissed because it’s dressed-up in humour and pop culture. He also seems to have found a kindred spirit in 77 and more work between the two can only benefit both.