As one half of renowned Emirati hip-hop duo Desert Heat, group member Illmiyah is set to make his mark once again in the Middle East hip-hop scene with the release of his upcoming debut album, as a solo artist.  We caught up with Illmiyah to speak about his debut album “Stereotyped“, his views on the Middle East hip-hop scene, and there’s even a mention of MC Hammer & Vanilla Ice!  Check it out!

For those that don’t know, please share a quick history lesson on Illmiyah & Desert Heat.

Salaam, Illmiyah is one half of the Hip Hop group Desert Heat and is comprised of two Emirati brothers (Illmiyah & Arableak) who formed the group and released a successful debut album titled ‘When the Desert Speaks’ in 2008.

Illmiyah is the older of the two and is the main producer of all Desert Heat music and his own solo project; album being released this year. Illmiyah’s music has a more mature feel to it with an emphasis on the production and lyrics.

What does Illmiyah mean?

Illmiyah is Arabic; ‘illm’ means knowledge and ‘Miyah’ is a hundred. Also it has a play on the words in English / Arabic –  ‘ill’ and ‘Miyah. So 100 times ill / knowledgeable.

What is the inspiration behind the message in your music?

My main inspiration is to constantly try and destroy negative stereotypes associated with Muslims and Arabs. Also, the negative stereotypes that Arabs & Muslims have about Hip Hop Music. From being Arab and looked down upon as, incapable backward, Bedouin savages or Oil rich, spoilt and clueless.  Fighting the stereotypes is the main inspiration and the solution is destroying ignorance through knowledge, which I’m trying to give through my music.

Since you’ve been in the game for so long, it would be interesting to know what your opinion is on the state of regional Hip Hop & the music business now, when compared to about ten years ago?

Right now, we are at a stage that is similar to the early 90’s era of hip hop.  The scene is forming and very few authentic artists are emerging.  Like everywhere else, there is a danger that corporate companies that have no idea what the culture of hip hop is, are trying to use it to market themselves without learning and understanding the fundamentals. So, soon enough we will have a couple of MC Hammer’s n Vanilla Ice’s!

The good news is that at least there is a platform taking root. We perform more and more shows every year and also hip hop in general is being accepted in the Arab and Muslim community, as a legitimate art form and culture.

You are currently preparing for the release of your debut solo album titled “Stereotyped”, what was the inspiration for this name?

As mentioned earlier, I called it ‘Stereotyped’ because it is something that a young Arab like myself has to face every day in my own country. UAE being a country with a mix of different nationalities, we as Emirati or Arabs, or even expats alike, get stereotyped. The other part of it is the album will address that we as people from the UAE or Middle East, can make quality music that can rival the US in their native tongue. The topics will also address our ignorance towards other religions and races. ‘Stereotyped’ will take listeners through a personal journey of my life and the obstacles I had to go through to get to where I am today. Alhamdulilah.

What direction did you choose to go musically for this project, and any collaborations with other artists?

Musically, majority of the production is done by myself and the rest of it has production from other Emirati producers like AbdulRazaq (Prince Q). The style varies from traditional instrumentation with a balanced mix of modern hip hop. Some tracks are straight influenced by the Dirty South sounds of Atlanta, while some feature sophisticated Orchestral arrangements.

I have worked with a number of artists on this album; a couple of tracks feature the R&B prince “Tiny” who is also signed to The Kilma, the track ‘Falcon’ features the very talented violinist ‘Pasha’, who has taken that track to another level. I’ve worked with Hamdan Al Abri on a sick track as well, as well as there are other surprises there; so wait till the album’s out!

This being your debut solo album, how has the transition been from working in a group to working on your album as a solo artist?

Going solo was initially difficult as Arableak and I always discuss concepts and lyrics for each song and do extensive research. So, it took a while until I found my lane and sound in terms of flow and delivery.

Once I found what makes me different from my brother & getting feedback from my team, I just worked on developing it further until it became a new style and direction. In between, I still worked with Arableak on a few songs but ended up having only one song on my album featuring him.

Are you currently signed to a Major record label?

No, neither do I want to be. I’m signed to my own independent label ‘The Kilma’ through Kilma studios in Dubai, so I record my music, videos, get shows, brand endorsements etc. through my management team. Besides in the UAE, record labels still do not consider Hip Hop music as a genre worth getting into, as apparently “there is no market for it”.

You recently shot the music video for “Falcon” which is the 1st official single off your album, do you feel it is important to create songs that represent your cultural identity?

It is absolutely important to represent your culture. Hip Hop is built on originality and representing where you’re from and your people. The Falcon is an important bird that symbolizes an Arab or it used to be, so I used it in a conceptual context by modernizing something traditional as a Falcon and mixing it into a Hip Hop video. I believe the younger generation need to remember their roots and be proud of who they are.

The ‘Falcon’ official music video teaser was recently released. View it here:

Do you consider yourself to be a veteran in the game or a leader in the region, & why?

I have been making music for over 12 years, so I would say I know how the game is played. My father always told me to never ask or claim leadership; leaders are chosen and placed by their people. I feel that our actual music career began from 2008 when we released our first album, so we are about 5 years in the game and the scene is at its toddler years. So maybe 5 years from now my record and achievements will confirm my status.

How have you managed to stay relevant in the Middle East Hip Hop scene after all these years?

By staying original. I have seen a few new artists come into the game and try to bite our image; down to even the way they answer their interview questions! They end up looking fake because you should never underestimate people’s intelligence. Alhamdulillah our numbers in every aspect ,in terms of, YouTube views and on all social platforms are high, which lets us know we are doing it right.  So, we stay original and evolve gradually, sonically and culturally.

Do you think Hip Hop is a taboo subject in the region even nowadays?

It used to be but slowly that stereotype is fading. This is due to the fact that hip hop culture makes economic sense, and not because of a change in opinion. Corporations are feeding their products/brands to consumers by using hip hop, thus making it acceptable. However, most of the time hip hop is misrepresented.

What is the final date for your album release and where will it be available for purchase?

2nd December 2012 (#21212) – this is an important day as it is also the UAE’s Unification National Day. It will be available across many music stores in the UAE and Virgin Mega Stores across the Middle East, and we are also currently closing a deal for distribution in the US & Europe. Digitally, it will be available on itunes and other online retailers.

Any final thoughts or message that you would like to share?

Thank you to everyone who has supported us and me throughout our journey. Fight the status quo. Never settle for less and don’t ever let anyone tell you that just because you’re from a particular place or from a particular race that you can’t do it! You can and you will! Make sure you go out and buy the album and continue your support! Salaam!

For more info on Illmiyah & Desert Heat, check them out here:

Twitter: @DesertHeatUAE

Instagram: @Illmiyah

Official NEW music video ‘Falcon’ teaser:

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