Cheb Khaled, French Montana and Farid Bang team up for Raï x Rap crossover
In a cross-over we didn’t see coming (but makes absolute sense), American-Moroccan hip-hop star French Montana has joined German-Moroccan rapper Farid Bang and Algerian raï legend Cheb Khaled for ‘Maghreb Gang’, a remix of the classic ‘Abdel Kader’ track with rhymes in Arabic, German, and English.
The video on YouTube has hit over seven million views since its upload last week. It isn’t the first time the Abdel Kader track (with its famous mandol rhythm) has been used to bring together three superstars - the most famous being a 1998 collaboration between Arab singers, Rachid Taha, Faudel, and Khaled himself. The beat has also been sampled by French rapper Rohff with Mohamid Lamine in a somewhat funkier track.
This time, producer Juh-Dee slows down the beat and brings in a trap element, beginning with Khaled’s vocals and the popular mandol intro, and then introducing Farid Bang’s (born Farid El Abdellaoui) verse. It’s standard stuff: women, cash, violence; the rapper shouts, ‘Narco-Trafficante from Marbella… AK in hand as in Favelas’. Bang is hugely popular in Germany, and has over 1.5million followers on his Instagram page. However, the rapper has been criticized by the German media for ‘hate speech’ in recent years.
Montana (born Karim Kharbouch in Casablanca) brings in his trademark swaggering with lines about his wealth: ‘the boy got it locked like a pit-bull, talkin’ ice water, got a wrist full’. It’s all good, fist-pumping stuff, but you can’t help feel like there was a wasted opportunity; a kind of ‘f**k yeah!’ diasporic-pride these two Moroccan rappers could have injected into their verses (it’s called ‘Maghreb Gang’ after all). You could take either verse and layer it over a track called ‘Money Gang’ and we’d be none-the-wiser.
The video, directed by Art Davis, shows the open North African desert. Farid Bangs races up and down a highway in a gorgeous Rolls Royce, and Cheb Khaled (does he age?) flexes in a gold-embroidered, black shirt. It’s an indulgent, but mesmerising video, and it’s rather fun watching Farid Bangs and French Montana enjoying themselves surrounded by sports-cars and models - and it’s always good seeing a music legend like Khaled being paid his respects by the younger stars (who probably grew up listening to raï at home).
Of course, for everywhere outside the Middle East and North Africa today, it’s Khaled who is the lesser-known performer. If ‘Maghreb Gang’ proves anything, it’s that we’re not getting enough raï beats in our hip-hop; and that Western rappers are opening up to cross-overs with Arab music stars. The track is popular online, and hopefully that means there is more to come.