Raising the Bar with His Rap Bars

Every few years, a new genre takes over the music industry, and in 2020, rap and hip/hop are all the rage. In Egypt, especially, the rap scene is trending at an all-time high, with a whole new wave of young artists and rappers dominating the music game on radio stations. One of these fresh faces gaining attention is Shahyn, a rapper who has been making music in his hometown of Alexandria since 2008. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey sat with the rapper to talk music, how he stays sane in a crazy world and his thoughts on possibly venturing into acting.

As a young high school student, Shahyn felt a calling to hip/hop. His mind was set on creating music, even as his parents were against him making a career out of it.

While admitting that once he took the decision to pursue music, his school grades declined, Shahyn insists he had no regrets. While music remained his great passion, he humoured his parents and went on to study Computer and Information Systems at the King Mariout Academy. Eventually, however, his parents came around to the idea of having a career in music. “My mother and my late father were actually stage actors, and that’s even how they met. But because of their own parents’ expectations, they quit their passion and led a conventional life instead. After I graduated from school, my parents started paying more attention to my music and attending my concerts. They realised how serious I was, and that’s when they became supportive. They insisted that I continue chasing my dream and not give up like they had done,” explains Shahyn.

Shahyn was never into following the trend or doing the type of music that’s most-listened to. He has a flair for experimenting with different sounds and genres that aren’t necessarily the most popular in Egypt, and it seems like this has paid off in the long run. Now, more than ever in Egypt, rap is dominating the music scene and the once underground Egyptian rappers have become mainstream. Their music is streamed daily by the general public, not just by rap fans. Shahyn admits that social media was a huge help in establishing the genre in Egypt, since before that, underground rappers didn’t have a platform on which to share their music and reach crowds. People didn’t know where to look for rap music in Egypt until platforms like Facebook came in to save the day. “We used to sit at home and play around, making videos and deciding on what to upload. Facebook wasn’t up yet so we used the webiste 4shareit. We uploaded the track and people downloaded it directly without streaming. So that was how we started,” he recalls.

Eventually, the scene started to pick up, and what was once a dream for Shahyn, became closer than ever. The rapper started to see a glimmer of hope that he could make it. Slowly but surely, he started booking concerts and events at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and other cultural centres. Although he describes them as ‘unentertaining’, he explains that they were still really great opportunities for him to improve his live performing skills and gain new fans.

Shahyn didn’t rap because it was the thing to do; he did it because he loved it. He was lucky enough to witness the genre rise in popularity these past couple of years. “The new generation really helped the genre become mainstream. Back in the day, the number of people who attended our concerts was 100 to 200 maximum. They were mostly younger crowds, so they’re all grown up now. There also wasn’t Spotify or Anghami or streaming services, so that helped a lot as well,” he explains.

Although he succeeded in making a career for himself in music, Shahyn insists that if he had not, he still would not have wanted a desk-job. A nine-to-five job is something that he just can’t see for himself. Having been pretty good at basketball as a youngman, and having trained for several years as a player, he says that if he hadn’t become a rapper, he would have definitely tried to make it as a basketball player.

In a genre like rap, where rappers are expected to consistently release hit after hit, inspiration does dry out sometimes. However, Shahyn doesn’t seem to run out of inspiration, even though he has a habit of doubting himself after every big release. Somehow, he always finds a way to one-up himself. He recently released a handful of viral hits including Elvaranda (The Terrace) and Sout Baga’a (Swan Sound).

“Inspiration never lasts,” he says, adding, “Every time I produce an amazing track, I believe it’s the last one. I never feel like I can outdo myself. But I’m a moody person, so I write whenever I can, and somehow I manage to make something better than what I have done before. I have two or three pieces that I’m working on now. Each time of the day needs a certain vibe and these songs are like that. If I tried to listen to them at night when they should be listened to in the morning they wouldn’t really fit… it’s weird.”

“In the past, I used to tell stories from my imagination,” says Shahyn, whose songs are a balanced blend of relatable and extravagant themes. “I stopped that. Now, I only tell stories about myself. A lot has happened in my life, I have lots to tell. We all have tracks that include metaphors or ego-trips; they’re not precisely true but it’s kind of like fun fiction. Luckily, there are certain age groups or types of people that like these metaphorical fictional verses,” he adds, highlighting the fact that while personal music and stories connect with audiences more, they still also dig the flaunty and fun, lighthearted hits.

“I believe that we all suffer from mental illness of some sort,” confesses Shahyn, whose own demons lend a helping hand in creating his best music. “The way I deal with it is through expressing it through rap. To me, writing lyrics is like therapy. Maybe someone can hear my tracks and relate to them and it can serve as some sort of therapy for them too, while others might see it as just fun. That’s why I take a long time now to write lyrics; because I want something relatable, unlike in the past. The most important thing to me is that I’m happy writing music and people are happy listening to it,” he explains.
Another factor that contributed much to Shahyn’s recent success is his great team. Shahyn explains that it took a while to find the perfect team, but once he did, it was magic. “They’re gifted and they took over everything, social media, PR, brand; I trust them fully. They do everything I want without me even saying it; we do everything in perfect sync since we’re so used to each other. They took over the parts they know how to do better, and together we do amazing work. Corona gave us a dosage of depression, but we invested in a lot and soon it will all come out. The secret behind my brand or the exposure I’m getting is my team,” he explains.

Shahyn in the Gamed Heek music video

While released just a couple of weeks ago, Gamed Heek (Cool Like This), his latest release produced by L5VAV, has already garnered over 600,000 views on Youtube. The music video, directed by Nayrouz Abouzid, with assistant director Mahnaz Aziz and executive producer Bosaina Ismail, features Shahyn, painted in acrylics and wearing a crown, rapping about how people aren’t as great as they think they are. In a way, he’s humbling both himself and the listener. Although uncommon to do so, since audiences like to be lifted up, the track has been on repeat by fans. One of the mysteries of the video is that it features the voice of a prominent singer on a phone call with Shahyn, but his identity has remained secret, leaving people guessing. The song is catchy and witty, and Shahyn looks like he belongs in a Michael Angelo masterpiece.

Shahyn in the Gamed Heek music video

While Shahyn seems to be reaching new peaks in his music career, he says that he doesn’t want to just stick to music. He has thoughts of venturing into acting, especially theatre acting, which his parents did for while. “I want to be an actor by the time I’m 40. I just want to try it. I don’t think I want action roles. I feel that I fit more in drama. I don’t think I would really fit in comedy, but I still would want to try it. Maybe it would work!” he exclaims.