For years, Saudi Arabian MC and radio host Big Hass has pushed Arabic hip-hop to the forefront of our attention. It’s on his Instagram, his Twitter, the radio, television and stage — anywhere where a potential new fan could be swayed into paying attention.
His latest effort arrives in the form ‘Al Jisr Mixtape Vol 4’. The 82-minute track features back-to-back hip hop bangers from 23 artists such as Offendum, Narcy, Shadia Mansour, Freek and Moh Flow. It also includes shout-outs from the likes of Minnesota rapper and Muslim convert Brother Ali, who at minute 25:36 calls Hass “my brother, my dear friend, my hero, one of the most important DJs on Earth and the greatest dad alive.”
“Big Hass is who he is because his heart is large enough to incorporate the entirety of the hip hop tradition and then also the Muslim world,” says Ali. “He lives it, he embodies it, he’s the symbol for it.”
Ali’s impassioned speech left Hass in tears, exceeding all his expectations.
“All I asked him for was a drop, something like, ‘Hey, this is Brother Ali, you’re now listening to Al Jisr Mixtape,’ that’s it,” Hass told tabloid!.
“But he sent me a 50-second audio note that made me tear up. He was talking about Islam and hip hop and the importance of what I’m doing. It was just a really huge validation coming from one of the best rappers right now.”
Big Hass and Lebanese DJ Lethal Skillz started Al Jisr (which translates to ‘The Bridge’) initiative back in 2010 with the aim of bridging cultures through hip hop. For Hass, he wanted to show the world “what we can do, in terms of Arabic rap.”
“We have cool, we have trap, we have hardcore, we have political, we have social, we have love. We have everything,” he said.
They released three volumes from 2010 to 2013. Then came a six year break, as Hass relocated from Saudi Arabia to the UAE. Through Al Jisr’s comeback, the duo also wanted to resurrect a somewhat neglected musical tradition: the mixtape.
At a time when people are more likely to stream three-minute singles and skip past any track that isn’t to their liking, listeners might be appalled at the idea of a non-stop, hour-long track featuring more than 20 artists. So, maybe Al Jisr is a bold move backwards — but it also holds the potential to captivate from start to finish and expose fans to artists that aren’t on the mainstream’s radar.
“It’s not my album, it’s not something I came up with. It’s a mix of tracks put together in one track, mixed by an incredible DJ, but the tracks have already been done. I just put them all together in a mixtape,” said Hass.
“I wanted to bring it back and say, ‘This is 90 minutes full of artists that you might have never heard, but they’re making dope music and they all sound great together.’”
‘A BIT OVERWHELMED’
The majority of the mixtape is made up of pre-released tracks, with only one new song — Narcy’s ‘White Man’s World’. However, after seeing the massive reception that Al Jisr Vol. 4 received online, Hass and Skillz are working on the next mixtape with the aim of including 100 per cent of unreleased content.
“I want to become the guy where artists keep their fired-up tracks for me to put on a mixtape so that the first time it gets a play will be on Al Jisr,” revealed Hass.
For now, Hass seems to be on the right track. A quick glance at the re-posts on his Instagram stories, and you can see the respect that many artists hold for him.
“Honestly, I’m a bit overwhelmed, a bit emotional, because I really didn’t think [it would get this reaction],” he said. “Some people have hit me up and said they want to write a thesis about this. Some people said this is a very crucial, important point in the history of Arabic rap.
“The most important feedback that I personally got is that they got to know artists from the mixtape,” said Hass. “That’s the one that really got to me.”