With its unpolished lyrics and catchy beats, Run Junxion may look like “just another hip-hop band.” It isn’t: Not only is it one of very few hip-hop groups in Saudi Arabia, the launch of their second CD earlier this month proves these guys are determined to stay.
Rather than the “shake your body and show off your diamonds” slang used by many mainstream U.S. hip-hoppers, Run Junxion is all about social issues and political events happening around them, in the turbulence region that comprises the Middle East. “We gathered [how we live and what we go through in the Middle East] and put it on an album and had our perspectives and opinions on it,” explains Anas Arabi, one of the rappers and producer of the album.
Take the title of the new, English album, “Shock “N” Awe”. It is the military doctrine the U.S. used during their invasion of Iraq back in 2003 and although Run Junxion does not like to discuss politics openly – “We cannot really go into depth about stuff like that in the Middle East,” says Arabi – their lyrics speak for themselves.
Established in late 2010, Run Junxion is a multinational hip-hop group – or family, as they like to see themselves – based in Jeddah. With members from countries as varied as the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Eritrea, the group raps both in English and classical Arabic, though Shock “N” Awe is entirely in English. The launch of the album was attended by hip-hop fans and rappers, including Qusai, who praised the “rough, rugged, raw” style of the album and called Run Junxion “the new Wu-Tang Clan,” after a major hip-hop group from New York.
It took a while for Run Junxion to come out with the follow up of J-City Chronicles Vol. 1, as everyone in the group has a full time job, leaving little time to work on the album. Besides that, “It took time for every individual to give me his artwork,” added Arabi, who mixed, mastered and produced the album.
While expectations for Shock “N” Awe had been high, a lot more is anticipated from the upcoming album in Arabic, or, to be more precise, in “Fusha Arabic”, what is loosely translated as Standard Arabic as opposed to the various dialects used in the Arab world.
One music video of that Arabic-language album was premiered on the same evening. Called “Ummat Dad” or “Nation of Dad”, the video shows how 19-year-old Hamza is flogged by an older individual, played by Arabi.
“Pretty much we’re just displaying the 18th century; we’re just bragging in this track,” explains Arabi, who says the entire album under the same name will have the group discuss the Arabic culture in depth. The 18th century setting showing an oppressor and oppressed one is not more than an imagery of what is happening in the Middle East at the moment.
It appears Arabi’s heart is at rapping in Arabic, but given the multicultural background of its members not everyone controls that language. Besides, English is a language spoken all over the world. “We try to market this album outside the Middle East,” says Arabi, who hopes that performing in English will give his group the opportunity to gain worldwide recognition, while by employing formal Arabic in its other songs he hopes to reach the entire region rather than just the Kingdom.
This ambition to conquer the region – if not the world – might sound very ambitious for a group that has hardly gained the recognition it deserves in its own country, but Saudi Arabia is not an easy place for hip-hoppers. Concerts are hardly ever held in public and music has a dubious reputation, meaning most of the scene takes place underground. Also, the explicit lyrics so characteristic of hip-hop music means their albums would be highly censored if music stores were allowed to sell them.
The members of Run Junxion therefore limit to promote their album online on Facebook, SoundCloud, and Twitter, where anyone can download the tracks for free. “In the Middle East, people still didn’t get the idea of supporting local talents. They’re not used to it. They don’t believe in it. So I have to push the product and tell them ‘take this, listen to it, and if you like it maybe in the future if I drop anything else... or at least you can support it by sharing it on your [Facebook] wall,’ that’s the least you can do, the least that we ask for,” Arabi said.
That is not to say the hip-hoppers do not get any support whatsoever. The launch of Shock “N” Awe was generously sponsored by watch brand G-Shock Arabia and energy drink company Red Bull. Another company printed free “Run Junxion” shirts that were distributed at the launch, while two production houses allowed them to shoot their music video for free, using their equipment.
“Every year we’re getting closer to where we want to be, but it’s not how fast we wanted to grow,” Arabi concedes, although he is amazed at how the cultural scene in the Kingdom and the Middle East as a whole is growing. “There are more artists and more rappers and more singers. I love it!”