Boundaries are supposed to define his life, commit him to a ghettoized existence in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp. But, for Palestinian rapper Yaseen, no wall, no measurable barrier can stop his fugitive vibrations from warring against the conventional rhythms of the social world.
Part of the Palestinian hip hop duo I-Voice Yaseen has been accepted to the Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College in Ontario, Canada, and despite his hefty stockpile of “cultural capital”, he says coming up with the funds to live and study abroad has posed a problem. In response, an impromptu collective of artists from Lebanon’s underground music scene has rallied to organize a fundraising concert for Yaseen this Saturday at the Zico House in Hamra.
At just 22, Yaseen’s hip hop career has already taken him to Spain, Egypt and Austria. This year he was invited to perform at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, a high-profile event that has gained a reputation for showcasing some of the best new musical talents from around the world. Visa problems prevented the rapper from attending SXSW, and from making other performances abroad, though his newest venture is at risk for purely financial reasons.
“We thought it would be ridiculous if money was the only obstacle, considering he made 90 percent of the journey through his own hard work and perseverance,” said Beirut indie rock musician and event organizer Serge Yared. “He is always on the go, always active. Every time I talk to him, he is organizing a concert, recording new music or filling out applications,” Yared added.
Yaseen has been an integral force in shaping the sound of Lebanon’s hip hop scene over the last few years. And despite throngs of media attention, (the Kuwait Times, BBC London and Al-Jazeera Arabic all called during NOW Lebanon’s interview with him), he has managed to retain a warm, magnetic character that captivates the most unsuspecting observer.
“He can make 50-year-old men jump up and down,” Lebanese rapper Venus says.
Yaseen raps with a rich, full-throated expression. He pronounces the periphery with unique grammar and narrates his fragmented place in the world with the soulful wisdom of a street-wise prophet.
I gulped down the past and future / I live in the present tense, he raps in the song “I’m defending”.
When Yaseen started writing, he was just a 12-year-old kid who wanted to express himself. “I wanted to make songs and I wanted to hear them and listen to them, just for me. And then it became bigger. I wanted to do an album, then I wanted to do a concert, then I wanted to go abroad. My music started developing with my dreams.”
It is not about luck. It has nothing to do with chance. Like the tenacious texture of his music, Yaseen does not just live in this world, he re-imagines it. “I want to study sound engineering, and this was my goal long before I started rapping. So I’m in a position, I have to choose. Am I going to be here [in Lebanon] just making rap music? I’m an artist, and I’m making money from music, but I’m not living off of it… it’s not going to last forever. So I have to do it…. I have to study.”
Ask the rapper how he’s managed to be so resourceful, and with cool recognition he replies, “The camp made me this way; life made me this way.”
“Yaseen makes you believe anything is possible,” says MC Edd from the Lebanese hip hop band Fareeq el Atrash.
“What he’s done is inspiring… he really knows how to make the best out of things,” Fareeq bass player John Nasr added.
An all-star cast of Lebanon's hip-hoppers and underground musicians will perform at Saturday's concert, including: Rayess Bek, Malikah, RGB and Zeid Hamdan.
Yared says this weekend’s project is just the beginning. The collective hopes to put on a concert every year to help fund other struggling artists. “We want to make sure anyone who goes as far as Yaseen will be helped by our art community,” Yared said.