Meet Moh Flow, the UAE’s #1 hip-hop artist
Breaking into the music industry is something millions of dream about yet so few accomplish. Competition has always been tough and now with social media ruling the roost the floodgates are open for anybody to show off their musical talent. While it’s easier to get music in front of the masses, it’s also easier for everyone else to showcase themselves, making being discovered as tough as ever. Imagine the struggle of an upcoming recording artist born in a country listed on President Trump’s travel ban and living outside North America and Europe, the world’s music hubs.
That was the position singer-songwriter Moh Flow found himself in twelve months ago. Ironically it was Trump’s travel ban that gave the Syrian-born, hip-hop artist an opportunity when Spotify produced the award winning I’m with the band project featuring artists from the barred countries on the President’s list. “They [Spotify] made the video to highlight what a bad idea the ban was, so they brought artists from the banned nations together and had us work alongside A-list artists from the US and UK,” says the 26-year-old.
Despite the potential political issues it’s a topic he does his best to ignore as his stock as a recording artist continues to rise. “Personally I don’t speak about political situations because I’m already blessed to be living here in the UAE”, he says. “Nothing I’m going to say is going to change a political situation, maybe when I get more influential I’ll incorporate that into my music but for now we just want to build my profile for the art that I make. I actually tried to stay away from that type of political chat because I’ve never actually lived in my country so I don’t know how it is really. The travel ban didn’t affect my touring or getting a visa or anything.”
Moh Flow, along with his brother Ayham his producer, has been making music for years and has adapted his style from a young rapper to a singer and as his music has matured its grown in popularity. His mellow 2016 album This is Yo(U) was a far cry from his Inspired EP, released two years prior, with a more youthful sound. It was however, his calmer tone which really began to catch the eye of the public. His break came unexpectedly when he was still figuring out the best way to stream his music online but, unbeknownst to him, it had already taken off. “Streaming platforms opened up the world, in 2014 I released Inspired and after the album I had this mindset that I didn’t want people to pay to listen to my music. Back then I wasn’t as convinced about streaming platforms and their worth but by 2016 we were using them to host our music. I focused on SoundCloud at the end of the year I was just trying to get the numbers up but at that point the platform had become a bit saturated and we weren’t really able to crack it and get the numbers we were looking for. So I logged on to Spotify and found 250,000 plays on our song, All the Way and until then I really had no idea that there was traction on that record. That changed things for my brother and I and we realised how effective these platforms are for artists like us. And if you listen to music on Spotify, it suggests someone similar, and so on, so it was a really effective way for us to get our music out there.”
After years of grinding, the breaks finally seem to be coming Moh Flow’s way as he looks to build on his Spotify success but he admits being based in the UAE has meant getting music industry bigwigs to his music seriously has been a challenge. Even when looking to perfect his craft and offer his song-writing skills to mainstream artists via writing camps the reputation of those living in Dubai has often gone before him. “I go to writing camps once a year here and try to write songs that’ll be on someone else’s album. Like, Chris Brown or Rihanna will have 20-30 producers working with them, sending them songs that they choose for their album, and then they personalise their records. When we go to those rooms and tell them we’re from Dubai, the usual reaction is, “Ok they’re interested in music but they’re just a couple of rich guys looking for something to do.” The hardest thing for us is proving we’re not just doing it for a joke. Over time it’s gotten a bit easier to be more accepted because of working with Spotify and having previous albums out. Going to New York or Miami back in 2014 and 2015 for writing sessions was funny as people there were like, “These are the guys who don’t know what they’re doing, from the Dubai etc,” but it’s just like any other industry you have to prove yourself, no one is going to just give you a shot.”
Growing up in Saudi Arabia the 90s has shaped the sounds of his albums, which he credits to artists like 2Pac, Jagged Edge, TLC and Blackstreet who have all served as musical inspiration. The goal for the Dubai-based star is to create music without a barrier that his mum and auntie can listen to and enjoy as much as his fans. In fact, his family have played a big part in getting his music career off the ground. Just last year he and his brother were working part-time for the family interior design business, to help fund his art. He and his brother then started a own creative consultancy agency, which they still work on together. While Flow still does a bit of work on the family business he’s working on building his own legacy, with the goal being to own multiple businesses a record label and topping it off with a Grammy for his singing or song writing.
“Yeah, eventually I’d like to win a Grammy,” he tells MOJEH. “Whether that’s as a writer or a producer or artist I don’t know but that’s the ultimate goal. My brother and I have been making music for years now and so that’s what we aim for. Having a Grammy award in my mind makes me think of creating music that can stand the test of time, so even if I never win one it’s already benefiting my art because the thought of getting there is making me produce better music. We also plan on doing a world tour one day. I’ve done a tour in the US and we want to do a tour in of Middle East. The thing here is there are so many talented artists but there’s no circuit for them to tour. We were supposed to have a tour of Egypt, Lebanon and places but there are no real venues for young artists to go and perform. We want to try and help others create a shift in the culture and create these opportunities. I know a lot of artists here who are insanely talented but they don’t believe they can go as far as they want to with their music so they end up just letting go, which is really sad. In 2017 when I couldn’t get booked for a show to launch my album, I went ahead and booked my own show and the crowd was packed, so these are the types of things I’d like to encourage younger artists to do as well.
Encourage younger artists he will with his latest album Faith, as he aims to spread his voice on regional and international platforms so emerging talent in the Gulf can draw inspiration and ‘faith’ from his footprints. Each of the tracks on the album are a portrayal of his life as a child with Syrian/Palestinian parents, being raised in Saudi Arabia, moving to Dubai, and trying to create a global platform for Middle Eastern talent. “Honestly what’s different about this album is it’s a bit of a bigger sound so in the past three or four years,” he says. “The tough thing is being a non-native of American hip-hop culture and trying to fit in while having a unique stamp. A lot of artists tend to just blend in and their sound isn’t as personalised as it could be. What we’re trying to do is combine the production, song writing, the melodies, everything really. We try to incorporate our roots, where we’re from and where we live into the music because we don’t really have an ‘in’ to the culture. Incorporating the Middle East into the music is tough. In my previous album This Is You, it was kinda the turning point from where I stopped putting out music I thought people wanted to listen to, to things that I actually experience and how I live my life. That was also the part where I realised people were a lot more receptive to personalised music. Fans like it when you talk about things that they can relate to, like what street you’re driving on, having a dream about being on a billboard on Sheikh Zayed Road or making Dubai a hub for music or whatever. It makes a huge difference; I think it gives people something to be proud of when you talk about this city in your music.”