Breaking: Malikah


First lady of Arab hip-hop claims her crown


February 01, 2011

It’s hard enough being an independent voice as a female in the Middle East, besides taking on the testosterone-heavy world of hip-hop. Lebanese MC Malikah is one of just a handful of Arab female rappers, but she’s managed to establish herself as one of the most respected artists in the regional underground scene.

“Being an Arab woman who MCs is difficult,” she says. “You have to work twice as hard to earn the respect of the audience. That won’t stop me, though. I want to show that women are more than capable of being successful, well-respected artists with something to say.”

Malikah (Arabic for Queen) first made her mark in 2002 at the age of 16, after winning a local hip-hop competition. Since then, she has been hard at work developing her style.

“I used to go by the name LIX when I first started rapping, and I used English as my main language,” she says. “In 2006, when the war with Israel happened, I felt the need to write a track for my people. That’s when I realized that English didn’t fit with my real identity, so I decided to rap in Arabic instead. My new hip-hop persona was born and I became Malikah.”

The following year, Malikah astonished producers with her assured performances on MTV Arabia’s flagship show MTV Hip HopNa (think American Idol meets Making the Band). She was eventually one of two finalists who were jointly proclaimed “Best MC in Lebanon.” It was through that show that she met Dogg Pound (Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg’s crew) producer, Fareed “FredWreck” Nassar, and started working with him.

“Ya Imra’a,” her Arabic-language track for the Hip HopNa soundtrack, stood out from the rest of the album, as Malikah encouraged women to keep their heads up despite all the social obstacles they may encounter in the Middle East. “Women! Scream freedom in the name of every woman who cried and argued in the name of humanity/We want to be educated, we want to progress/Shine, excel and dictate our own lives!” “Fred suggested I should write about Arab women and since one of my main messages is female empowerment, I quickly agreed,” she explains.

Her collaborations have included work with everyone from Beirut Biloma (the track “I Wanna Dance in Beirut” went on to be a hit single), to Cheb Mami, Hasna, Aks’ser, and DJ Lethal Skillz – the brains behind Lebanon’s 961 Underground Crew, of which she is a member. And Malikah has taken her skills overseas, performing in Dubai, Oman, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Switzerland, France and Canada.

“I love performing abroad,” she says. “It’s amazing how much support we get from the crowds. People all around the world respect Arabic hip-hop now. In France and Switzerland, even though 90 per cent of the audience doesn’t understand Arabic, they still cheer for encores, which is the ultimate compliment for an artist.”

Malikah is currently putting the final touches to her debut album, The Coronation, with contributions from The Mighty Thor, Dubai-based Underground Procedures and Zoog, representing Lebanon.

“FredWreck has contributed and he’s currently producing the album. He even arranged for his good friend Nate Dogg to be featured on one of the tracks,” Malikah says proudly. “I’m really excited because the album has some incredible collaborations and really strong messages. I view it as my greatest artistic accomplishment. The Coronation is my coronation.”