Nadine El Roubi, Reinventing The Arab Rap Scene, One Verse At A Time

As I heard the jingling music that my iced coffee made as I rotated the straw against iced cubes in the aqua blue glass, I listened to Nadine El Roubi, the Sudanese artist that is taking the music scene by storm. She got comfortable in her beige beanbag chair at her monochromatic apartment as she shared everything there’s to know about her 10-minute track, how she perceives her music, audience, and what’s next for her.

How would you describe Nadine?

Oh my gosh so this is funny; I find it weird to describe myself, usually, when I am having conversations with people, I am trying to keep the conversation away from myself first. But my friend described me the other day as insanely hot, talented, loyal, funny and smart… I’m just gonna roll with that.

However, if I were to describe myself, first of all, I am a Virgo. I feel like that tells people everything they need to know if you’re into that kind of stuff. I’m super meticulous and very detail-oriented, a perfectionist. I consider myself to be passionate and understanding and funny, I think I am hilarious.

That’s how I would describe myself and hope people would see me.

Who is your audience?

Honestly, I hope my audience is anybody that enjoys music. Who enjoys soul, hip-hop, and R&B. Enjoy listening to the lyrics and not just have something on in the background. I don’t want to attribute my audience in terms of any race, religion or ethnicity, or anything like that because I really hope it would be relatable to anyone.

What do you want listeners to take from your music?

What I hope listeners take away from my music is honestly to just be yourself. I’m very huge on speaking your truth, not censoring yourself; just being who you are.

There’s such a format around hip-hop because of its roots and where it comes from, you have to present yourself in a certain way or deliver in a certain way. I have never been hard or considered myself a serious person so it doesn’t feel natural to come across in an inorganic way in my music; I am just really myself and I hope that people will take from that and be themselves.

If you were to use 3 words to describe your music, what would they be?

Thoughtful, Unorthodox, Fun.

When and how did you realize music was your path? And how is the music industry different from other creative fields you were previously a part of?

It’s funny you say “path”… even on the days when I have self-doubt, I never question is music really my path? Am I meant to be doing this? I feel so comfortable in this space and I feel comfortable not because I necessarily feel like I was born to do it or that I have something special people don’t; I feel comfortable in this space because it’s slowly literally day by day revealing to myself who I am and what I am capable of and that’s why I love it so much.

When I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it was literally when I released my first song and it felt insane. It felt insane to have written a song that also has meaning to me and represents a particular moment in my life. And have it be consumed by listeners to then resonate with it in their own way is an insanely magical feeling that I have not been able to replace.

While music has always been with me, the moment that I truly realized that I needed to do this was back in 2017, I was at a friend’s house and recorded a song called “Throne” it was the first time that I have ever recorded a song with somebody else like a full song for myself… but the person I was recording with, I remember he looked at me and he was like “you need to do this for the rest of your life.” He said it with such conviction that I fully believed it.

I have been in so many different fields in the creative industry; I’ve done film, I have been an AD, I filmed stuff myself, I’ve done photography, I’ve written screenplays, and have my Master’s in Creative Writing so I’ve written prose. I’ve been in everything, I’ve always been into the arts but nothing compares to the feeling of releasing a song or being on stage and interacting with the audience.

Of course, every medium of art, every medium of expression is different; they have different conventions and you channel different parts of your creativity. For me singing, rapping, and writing stood out because it’s a very personal experience especially since I write my own songs.

I just think it’s incredible how artists manage to fit their stories and very deep thought-provoking themes into three to four-minute songs; I see hip-hop as the ultimate art form.

Growing up, who influenced you from the music scene?

I grew up on not hip-hop at all. I grew up on Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff, and like Taylor Swift; random artists. My parents listened to different things as well so I had a bit of The Eagles and The Beatles.

I had a bunch of influences growing up but I think when I went to university and started really listening to my own music, kind of not influenced by what my friends were listening to; being myself in my room and just searching YouTube and just understanding what’s out there. That’s when I started listening to Lana Del Ray, Kanye West, Drake.

Where do you see female Arab rappers in the music scene? Is there something that needs to be changed?

I think Arab female rappers in the scene are fantastic and considering the fact that it’s already “frowned upon” for women in our culture to sing or have a voice or do anything; the fact that there are women that are rapping and holding their own in a very male-dominated industry is incredible. Shout out to Perrie who is like my favorite of all time. Felukah also a favorite of all time; they’re killing it and there are so many others.

The only thing that needs to change is that there needs to be more of us and another thing, I am just waiting for the day when female rappers can be respected without the prefix of female rappers.

What issues are important for you to tackle through rap?

Everything. There’s an endless supply of inspiration in this universe, it’s a blessing. Some things I personally like to talk about are of course, female empowerment. Confidence is a big thing that I kind of touch upon; self-love, self-awareness, spirituality; you know, world issues. There’s so much to talk about.

Do you find rap a double-edged sword for your personal life?

Because I’m writing my own music, I can be selective of what to share and not share and I’m so open in my music. And I need to be more open actually, there are some issues that I still want to talk about that I haven’t talked about yet. I don’t feel like I delved into my past or enough into who I am or what my flaws are? These are themes that I really want to explore more so for myself than for anyone else.

How do you come up with your lyrics? Do you ever go, “hmmm no maybe I shouldn’t say that”?

Definitely, when I am writing, I am always editing as well. It’s a process and if I am ever editing it’s to have better flow or for the words to roll off the tongue better so it’s not difficult for me to perform live but I’m never editing to censor myself. There are of course times when I have to double-check lyrics with friends to make sure it comes across as I intended. I always check myself.

Is there a lyric that you’ve written that you will never forget? 

There’s this lyric I have in Freestyle Part I, the mixtape that I just released and it’s in like the first verse of the track; it says: “what’s catcalling, bro? I am not a cat. Harassment feels more accurate.” It’s funny to me because I never understood why it was called catcalling.

How has your Sudanese background alongside being raised in the States influenced the types of stories you choose to tell through your music? And influenced your identity as an artist?

A lot of people tell me you don’t really make Arab music, do you? There are no Arab sounds, no Arabic words or feel in your music. I’m like why do I have to incorporate Arab sounds or Arab lyrics into my music to be classified as an Arab artist.

There’s so much range in the stories that we tell. I blend my identity into the stories that I tell; it’s the little things and you might not catch it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. When I say, “Mud dripping from the faucet” because when I was living in Sudan and electricity or the water would cut and there would literally be mud dripping from the faucet because the water in the tank has run out and all there’s left is like sand mixed with water. Those are things that I really experienced. The stories that I try to tell and the ways that I try to tell them are very intrinsic to my identity.

How is language tied to your identity as an artist?

A lot of times when I speak to people, particularly in the Middle East they always tend to go, “Oh my god, why don’t you try Arabic? Arabic would suit you so much or if you did Arabic, you would blow up.” As much as I appreciate the advice, I always tell them, that I don’t express myself in Arabic. It’s not what I grew up on, it’s not what I relate to.

It would feel very inorganic to just start writing in a completely different language just for the purpose of blowing up.

Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with?

Everyone, there are so many incredible people. Lella Fadda, I would die to have a song with her, she’s amazing; Felukah, there are so many female artists that I would love to collaborate with.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Sometimes I would dim all the lights, burn some incense and just listen to a beat for a while; meditate on it. Sometimes I would read Rumi or some poetry for inspiration then I will starting writing but those are on the good days. On most days, I am coming back from work and I need to write something so I am sitting on my laptop and start typing manically.

What’s a piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out with rapping?

Just start. When you really want something, just go for it. Resources will come; they can be taught, and they can be bought. But passion and dedication, are things you have to have in you.

What would you say to your younger self?

Stop thinking about guys and just focus on yourself. For real, it’s not worth it.

Tell us about your new music?

This latest release is called Freestyle Part I and it’s a 10-minute track compilation of little verses I have written and shared over the last three years. For me, it is kind of like a coming of age story because it has verses from so long ago, they are like little points in time of where I was in my life. They are interlaced with little voicenotes, and voicemails from friends and my manager over the years. It just tells a story of someone coming into their power.

I learned a lot about myself from singing, writing, and rapping and I think this is a representation of it.

What’s something people might not know about the making of this 10-minute track?

What people might not realize is that first of all and I am very proud of this, I sequenced the entire thing by myself. I sequenced the order of the verses, the order of the voicenotes, I think it all flows together really amazing so I am really proud of that honestly.

What’s next?

I have an EP coming out in October; it’s going to be my first project ever and I am insanely excited about it. Then I’ll have a single out in August and another in September, so it’s just music all around.

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