Sherif El Zimaity: On Dubzy & Dubzymania
Having grown up in the home of Hip-Hop, New York City, Sherif El Zimaity, AKA Dubzy, is hell bent on bringing the true essence of Rap to Egypt. And his latest EP does just that. We speak to the rapper and producer about his inspirations and musical journey...
Dubzy aka Sherif El Zimaity just put out a sick Hip-Hop EP, titled Dubzymania. We played it around the office a couple of times and both Hip-Hop heads and those who don't go near the genre unanimously agreed that they liked it, from the sharp, relatable wit to the old school music vibes. It is safe to assume that this album will go over smoothly with every demographic. With Dubzymania out we had a little chat with Dubzy himself, or the man behind Dubzy, Sherif El-Zimaity.
Who is Dubzy? What is his angle at making music/rapping?
Dubzy is kind of spin-off of Double D, my former stage name. My friends started calling me that and it just stuck! I like it more! Music has been a part of my life for as long as I remember. I owe most of my music knowledge to my parents, especially my dad who was a musician and bassist in a band during the 70s music scene in Egypt. They covered a lot of Rock, Pop and Funk tunes, whatever that was popular at the time. I remember by the time I was four, I was addicted to the Beatles and Michael Jackson. My upbringing is highly based on old school music with a high variation of genres and artists. I love old music.
Over the years I dabbled with the violin, percussion, drums, taught myself the guitar, started singing. I started writing poems and small rhymes around 13. I would scribble them down in my notebooks in school, probably in all my sciences classes. By this time, I was so deep into Rap and Hip-Hop and since then I’ve been studying the art. Then I thought to myself “why don’t you start writing to beats?” and that’s how it all began. I would download instrumental versions of my favourite Rap tracks at the time and just sort of do my own thing out of it. It’s like any art, you gotta feed that creative side of your brain and absorb everything, study the greats and study the underground, bring them together and then it comes out in the writing. You start to find your own style and sound and it’s all inspired by your favourite artists.
I don’t usually write meaningless songs. I tend to write about the human condition, I try to have some kind of philosophy or psychology in my rhymes. I write about my own experiences and my observations of the world. I use a lot of metaphors. People forget that RAP stands for Rhythm and Poetry, and I’m adamant on keeping that poetry and imagery in my lyrics.
What inspired you to make an old school Hip-Hop album? What are you hoping to achieve with this record?
Growing up in New York City in the 90s, it was inevitable that I would bump into Hip-Hop as NYC was the home to East Coast rap. My background is all old school music. For those aren’t experts in Hip-Hop history, rap music is born by sampling old funk/blues/rock songs. One of the first Rap songs to gain mainstream success was Rappers Delight by SugarHill Gang and is basically a bass sample of Chic’s 19979 hit Good Times which is basically a Disco Funk track. Since then, sampling old music has been an instrumental part of Rap, and in a way, Rap wouldn’t exist without these other genres that preceded it. Another clear example of this is Vanilla Ice’s sample of Queen and David Bowie for his claim to fame hit Ice Ice Baby, so you see it’s all connected.
Michael Jackson is probably the only artist that has successfully recorded songs in almost all genres. He did it all. From his early days doing Disco, Funk and Soul tunes then growing into a Pop icon but still including elements of Rock, Rap and Dance.
That is what I want to do with my music. I want to bring all those old elements back into the music. I want the funky bass lines, the saxophones, the horns, smooth keys and groovy beats. My aim is to bring Hip-Hop into other music and vice versa. I want to push the boundaries of Hip-Hop while maintaining that old school flavour. I want people to be able to just put on the records and enjoy the music. I’m very passionate about what I do and I just want to spread the love to fans of good music.
What is it like making Hip-Hop records in Egypt? What are some of the advantages and what are some of the obstacles you face?
I came back to live in Egypt in 2005. I’ve always recorded for fun, just because I love what I do as hobby. I immediately explored the Hip-Hop scene in Egypt and joined a group of emcees for a performance at Sawy Culture Wheel back in 2006 and 2007. Eventually, I found myself mainly doing solo work with a few collaborations here and there. I had stopped performing and worked on my solo material since but was never truly satisfied until I wrote the tracks on this EP. Performing twice at VENT alongside BamBam and Abyusif definitely helped me get back on track with my ambitions.
I think the advantage of what I do is that I’m very selective and picky with the instrumentals I use, the lyrics I write and who I collaborate with. I think the sounds you hear on this EP aren’t exactly in line with what others may be doing. I like to keep it simple, melodic and memorable.
In terms of obstacles, I can only rap or sing in English and French. I wish I could rap in Arabic, I think that definitely limits my audience reach in Egypt/Middle East and I sort of have to depend on my English speaking/international audience. I’ve had several requests to start writing in Arabic so that’s definitely something in the works. Hopefully it won’t be a disaster!
What makes a great artist and record in your opinion? Who are some of your international idols and local idols?
I think a great artist is one who sets to limitations to his craft. One that appreciates all artistic elements whether it be music, poetry, painting, dancing, fashion… Even the art that is found in nature. I believe there are beautiful things in everything around us and people just gotta have the ability to appreciate the smallest things.
As a musician, I believe that in order to evolve you have to be open to criticism, no matter how harsh, learn from it and always work on improving. Being humble and down to earth is key as well, no good comes out of big-headed artists, especially in the underground scene.
My friends really helped made this EP a lot of fun to work on. Omar El-Masry aka Dumbo gave four awesome verses giving each track something special. And Ali Hafez did some excellent saxophone work on the feel-good track "Chillin". It was a real pleasure making music with them.
It’s great to be friends with most artists and musicians on the local scene. BamBam is a longtime friend of mine and I’ve always admired his extensive and slightly complicated vocabulary which makes him unique. Listening to his flow structures and rhyme schemes has definitely affected my own writing. Another undeniably great emcee is Abyusif. I never knew someone could rhyme in Arabic using Western flow structures. It’s not easy to rap like that in Arabic. Outside of the Rap scene I’ve always been a huge fan of Hany Mustafa and Egoz, they’re a great band and Hany’s got a lot of soul when he sings. Idlemind were great back in their day. When it comes to the electronic music, I’m drawn to DJs and producers such as Gaser El Safty, Aly Goede, Neobyrd, Shiha and Hussein el Sherbini (who include a wide array of relatable music in their mixes).
On an international level, I wouldn’t have ever picked up a pen without 2pac, Biggie, Dre, Eminem, Nas and Jay-Z. I wouldn’t have loved music if it weren’t for the Beatles, MJ, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Kool and the Gang, Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, the Commodores and the list goes on and on.
Right now I’m really digging Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiacso and J.Cole. I’m also into a lot of Indie music these days like Alt-J, Florence + the Machine, Jungle and tons of underground producers such as Gramatik, Pretty Lights, Nosaj Thing, Freddie Joachim, Proleter and Kognitif.
What are some of your future plans?
I’m working on a new project and I already have new material being finalised. For this project, I want to collaborate with different artists in the Egyptian music scene, stepping outside of my own comfort zone in order to deliver something fresh and new. I’m definitely looking to have more shows at any venue to increase exposure and gain more experience for live performance. I’ll be releasing a lot of songs on my SoundCloud over the course of the coming months.
I have a couple of side projects that are trip-hop oriented and will be more focused on singing and vocals than rapping. I’ve been rapping for twelve years so I think it would be good for my creativity to work on a different project.
Maybe get signed one day… who knows? Till then, keep making music!
Checkout Dubzy on social media:
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