Posted by Ali Qutmiera on March 10, 2020 in Blog
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you have probably heard a number of songs from Kendrick Lamar, Drake or The Weeknd. What isn’t as apparent to the masses, however, are the behind-the-scenes producers making everything happen. Behind all the legendary artists listed above, is in fact producers or managers of Arab heritage, utilizing their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to create the mainstream music that has defined a generation.
Farid Karam Nassar (Fredwreck) is widely considered to be the godfather when it comes to producers. Having toured with Snoop Dogg and worked with iconic artists such as Ice Cube, Britney Spears and Eminem, the Palestinian-American has utilized elements of his Arab heritage to create a unique style that resonates with people. Fredwreck got his big break when he became a producer for Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records label, and then went on to work with Snoop Dogg’s record label Dogghouse Records. He gained notoriety on Tha Dogg Pound-affiliated material and has produced tracks for artists such as 50 cent, Westside Connection, Kurupt, Nate Dogg and more. In a 2018 CNN interview, Fredwreck was asked how his Middle Eastern roots influenced his music and career, in which he enthusiastically stated, “In Middle Eastern music you have the quarter tone…I have a wider range of musical tonality that I can go to. The beauty of Arabic music is the quarter notes.” Fredwreck has even introduced American hip-hop influences to current, popular Arabic music through endeavors such as “Hip HopNa” on MTV Arabia, along with “Beit el Hip Hop” on Wanasah TV.
Noah James Shebib (40) is a Lebanese Canadian producer, best known for his musical collaborations with Drake. In fact, he has produced all of Drake’s albums and is one of the three co-founders of the OVO Sound label. On top of this, 40 has produced for Alicia Keys, Jamie Foxx, Lil Wayne, and Action Bronson. 40 and Drake have forged one of the most successful collaborations in the history of rap, by challenging the status quo and connecting to audiences through a complex emotional struggle. Powerful songs such as “Marvin’s Room,” which collectively put the majority of us in our feels was mixed and mastered by Shebib, so that it was "very dark and quiet and muddy and with the vocals cutting through like a razor." 40’s style has been instrumental in creating the Drake we know today – from his slow-jam like tracks, muffled drums, and minimalistic instrumental approach, 40 has revitalized hip-hop by taking an entirely different road.
Ghazi Shami is a Bay Area native of Palestinian descent who founded the record label and distribution company: Empire Distribution. Ghazi is a music technology graduate of San Francisco State University and a former director of Urban Music at Ingrooves. EMPIRE was founded in 2010 and went on to become one of the most successful distribution companies in the world of Hip Hop. EMPIRE has worked with a plethora of artists, ranging from, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Trinidad James, Snoop Dogg, XXXTENTACION, Tyga, Anderson Paak, Brockhampton and more. With eight Grammy nominations and one win, from Morgan Heritage’s “Strictly Roots” – EMPIRE is set to rock the digital age, headed by Shami and his unique, tech-savvy spirit and forward-thinking approach.
Oliver El-Khatib is Drake’s co-manager and one of the three co-founders of OVO – the other two being Drake and 40. El-Khatib is of Lebanese descent and is accredited for building Drake’s global image and empire. Prior to the rise of OVO and Drake, Oliver was part of a DJ crew called the Lebanese Dons with Noah “40” Shebib, he was also drawn to the fashion industry and volunteered at a clothing store lounge; it was at the lounge where El-Khatib met Drake. Oliver’s humble rise in the industry stemmed from his early dealings with Drake at the clothing store lounge – built of trust and a tight-knit friendship, Oliver had blind faith in Drake from the get-go, “I didn’t even want to be in the music business. I didn’t care. It was Drake that I believed in, so that’s what I wanted to be a part of, and I was going to be a part of however [way] I could.” From humble beginnings with an old friend, El-Khatib built a conglomerate that dominates American culture. From launching their own festival called OVO Fest to collaborations with Canada Goose and Jordan Brand, El-Khatib has proved to be the wizard behind the operation. As Drake said himself, “I let Ollie take the owl, told him brand it for me.”
Wassim Slaiby, who also goes by Tony Sal, is the CEO of the XO record label, a partner in Maverick Management consortium and the manager for The Weeknd, French Montana, Belly and Massari. The epitome of hustle and hard work, Sal fled the Lebanese Civil War at the age of 15 without his family. With no guidance, Slaiby went on to co-found Capital Prophets Records in 2002, which allowed him to breakthrough into the industry. Now, at the pinnacle of the music industry, there is no sign of Sal slowing down.
The Arab influence in Hip Hop does not stop there – there is a plethora of artists ranging from Majid Jordan who were discovered by Noah “40” Shebib, Belly, who signed to XO in 2015 and actually convinced Wassim Slaiby to get into the music business. On top of this, there is the notorious DJ Khaled and Moroccan American French Montana, who have dominated the industry as of late. Lastly, with a shameless shout out, my best friend Tarrek Abdel-Khaliq of the Peach Tree Rascals recently signed to 10k Projects!
Arab Americans’ footprint on American culture is everywhere, but in Hip-hop – a music genre that arose from the poetry of struggle and perseverance – it has found a home.
This blog post was written by Spring 2020 Policy Intern Ali Qutmiera.