Over the centuries, different regions of Morocco have become associated with particular kinds of folk music: Andalusi in northern cities such as Tétouan, Ahidus near the Middle Atlas Mountains, and Ahwash in the southern Sous area, among many other forms. In fact, the World Music Network has called these variations “the ultimate expression of Morocco’s culture.”
As hip hop, pop, and other Western-born styles of music have spread across the world, however, they have also gained traction in Morocco, which is incorporating them into its enduring musical traditions.
Safae Eljabri, a 20-year-old Moroccan rapper who goes by the stage name “Frizzy,” serves as a prime example of this trend. Her songs mix English titles with lyrics in Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, offering just one illustration of how Morocco’s unique cultural, linguistic, and social circumstances have guided the development of Arabic hip hop in the kingdom.
Morocco’s unique cultural, linguistic, and social circumstances have guided the development of Arabic hip hop in the kingdom.
Born in the town of El Kelaa des Sraghna near Marrakesh, Frizzy later relocated to Salé, a city across the Bou Regreg river from Rabat, and began rapping freestyle two years ago.
“I was playing random music on YouTube – was feeling kind of blue that day,” Frizzy told Inside Arabia, in reference to the moment when she happened upon a video of the up-and-coming Pennsylvania-based rapper Kierra Luv. “I loved it to the point where I decided to make a cover,” said Frizzy. Friends who saw the cover liked Frizzy’s energy and style, suggesting that she start writing her own lyrics.
In Frizzy’s initial videos, she chose to rap in English, a reflection of hip hop’s American origins and rapid globalization. She also counted an international cast of performers as her early role models: the Congolese artist Maître Gims, the French rapper Niska, and the Moroccan-born French musician Lartiste. She likewise credited Dizzy DROS, one of Morocco’s best-known rappers, as a major influence, saying, “His music is lit but his charisma is something else.”
Yet another popular Moroccan artist, West, offered Frizzy a key piece of advice. He encouraged her to freestyle in Darija, a dialect whose distinct vocabulary – while little spoken or understood outside the Maghreb – enables an aspiring rapper to engage with a Moroccan audience in a way that English or French lyrics never could. “So yeah, I gave it my shot,” Frizzy recalled.
The young rapper often draws on her own experiences to inspire her Darija lyrics.
The young rapper often draws on her own experiences to inspire her Darija lyrics. Frizzy spends many of her days at Mohammed V University, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Her time there informed her starring role in “La Fac,” a 2019 music video about Moroccan school life that garnered over 841,000 views on YouTube.
Earlier this year, Frizzy released her latest music video, “Payback,” in which the lyrics outline her ambition to prevail over her doubters and “haters.”
“My life is running from me and I can’t catch up,” she laments in “Payback,” adding, “My father told me that I was naive and that people will play me easily” (In the interview with Inside Arabia, Frizzy clarified that she considers her parents two of her biggest supporters). Haters notwithstanding, the rapper seems well positioned to achieve success: her Instagram account, @frizzyofficiel, has accumulated close to 22,000 followers.
Frizzy’s rise shows how far Arabic hip hop has come in Morocco since an earlier generation of rappers laid the groundwork for the art movement. The scholar Cristina Moreno Almeida traced the origins of hip hop in Morocco to the 1990s. According to her, early Moroccan rappers had to record albums on audio cassettes because broadcasters refused to play rap, a music genre that they viewed as an attack on Moroccan culture and an outgrowth of American imperialism.
Several sources describe the duo Double A, composed of Ahmed El Kalouch and Amine Benamor, as the first rappers to release a Moroccan hip-hop album: Benamor and El Kalouch put out their debut, “Walkie,” in 1996.
In the decades since, the art movement has joined Morocco’s mainstream. A band led by the artist Soultana, whom Public Radio International has called “the first recognized female rapper in Morocco,” won a competition at Casablanca’s Ouf du Bled music festival in 2008. In 2019, hip hop formed a crucial aspect of Mawazine, an annual event in Rabat and the second-largest music festival in the world.
Moroccan rappers have introduced hip hop to every corner of the kingdom.
Today, Moroccan rappers have introduced hip hop to every corner of the kingdom. Dizzy DROS, fellow artists 7liwa, Don Bigg, and ElGrandeToto, and the group Casa Crew come from Casablanca, while Muslim, an early pioneer of hip hop in Morocco, hails from Tangier. Further south, the group Shayfeen started in Safi, and Dada has brought positive press to his hometown of Agadir. The artist Iguidr even raps in Tamazight, the language of Morocco’s Amazigh indigenous people.
Hip hop in Morocco has distinguished itself from its American counterpart by drawing on the kingdom’s cultural riches and regional variations. The early rappers who created groups such as Double A, a duo based in Salé like Frizzy, have enabled this new generation of artists to thrive.
Frizzy recognizes the artistic legacy that she is carrying on. In one of her more recent freestyle videos, she says, “I might be young but I have a career of generations.” She has big plans for her future as well, working on several singles and a pair of projects with French and Moroccan artists. “I haven’t accomplished anything big so far, at least not in my eyes, but I’m proud of how I’m nailing it even though I’m very new to rap,” Frizzy told Inside Arabia.
In the long term, Frizzy intends to pursue parallel careers in hip hop and information technology, saying, “I don’t see myself singing and not working in IT and vice versa.” She also looks forward to watching how Arabic hip hop continues to develop in Morocco and the region as a whole.
“The music industry in Morocco and the Arab world in general is growing progressively,” she said, concluding, “We still have bigger levels to reach ahead of us.”