SOS (Secrecy over Supremacy) is an international collective consisting of four Dubai based artists: Elias Brown, T. Jones, Fresh and Niico. In November 2016, the group linked up with British producer Ayo Beatz to create the hit anthem “Abu Dabbin”. SOS then shot an impressive video, directed by Bosss Media’s Eric Myers - which racked up over 1.2 million views on YouTube. Last week (March 18th), they followed the hit up with an equally lavish remix featuring New York’s Red Cafe and the UK’s Chip. The result was an international smash.
Recently we sat down with British producer Ayo Beatz and SOS frontman Elias Brown. During the course of our conversation we spoke about the state of Dubai’s music culture, working with the likes of Chip and Red Cafe and the evolution of Dubai-UK collaborations.
To kick off our conversation we asked Elias, finely decked out in a striking Kenzo jacket and a freshly cut hairstyle, about his transition from the UK to Dubai. The artist was born and raised in Manchester and had decided to move out to Dubai back in 2012 to focus on his music. When we asked him about his decision to move, he said “I have family out there. My father moved out there in 2004. I was in the UK going through high school. I went to college - but wasn’t for me. I dropped out and was hanging around the wrong people. I wasn’t really doing the most constructive things with my life - so my father helped set me up in Dubai. I went over there to see what I could do, and I ended up getting degree in business management and chose to fully focus on my music."
Of course, relocating to a new country brings with it its own challenges. How would he settle in? Would he be able to adjust to the differences in culture and music between the UK and the UAE?
As it so happened, Elias committed to move to Dubai in 2012. Soon he met and started working with future group mates T. Jones, Fresh and Niico - and started SOS Music in 2014. When I asked him about how he managed to root himself in Dubai’s fledgling Hip Hop scene, he said “it was tricky but we started with doing free shows until we were in great demand. Within a few months we managed to pitch ourselves, audition and open up for Wiz Khalifa, Kevin Hart and J. Cole to name a few. I believe showcasing our energetic performances at these events really solidified our position in the Dubai scene". It was that position that eventually led to the creation of their hit single - a collaboration with Ayo Beatz called "Abu Dabbin".
Elias said: "When we linked with Ayo Beatz it was very organic. The way it happened was crazy. We put a video out back in 2014 on a local channel called 'Radio 1'. The channel had a special segment called 'Homegrown' where they played tracks by local Dubai artists. We sent our song to the radio station and were literally in the car as they were about to spin the track when we started really feeling the track before it. It was called "Burj Khalifa" - and it was produced by Ayo. The track was such a banger we thought "who’s this guy - is he in Dubai? We need to link up!" And so that's how the process started."
At the mention of "Burj Khalifa", Ayo - seated to our left, began to share his side of the story. "Before Burj Khalifa, I had a tune called “Get Right”. It was a remix with Abel Miller, Ard Ads and Sho Shallow. I put it out there and somehow it got picked up by DJs in Dubai. One DJ tweeted me and said “we’re spinning your track now!” I kept in contact with that DJ and eventually went out to Dubai to link with him. He said “if you send your tune to Radio 1, they'll definitely like it. I sent it and they loved it - but because it wasn't specifically focused on Dubai or by a Dubai artist they couldn't play it on the 'Homegrown' segment. That's when I went way and put together "Burj Khalifa"
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in Dubai. In fact, standing at at total height of 829.8 m (2,722 feet), it’s the tallest building in the world. Constructed between 2004 - 2009 and opened in 2010 - the building was created as the centrepiece of a large scale, ‘new Dubai’. The decision to build it was based on the government’s desire to diversity from an oil based economy and to help Dubai gain international recognition. The building boasts a total of 57 elevators, 8 escalators and is widely accepted to be a masterful feat of modern engineering. It represents a triumphant Dubai - and was therefore the perfect subject for Beatz because it captured the essence of Dubai that 'Homegrown' sessions needed in order to play the song. Beatz recalls "I called the track Burj Khalifa and put some Dubai references in it, and it started to get played on Radio 1 in Dubai."
Looking to build on this initial influx of international success, Ayo was scouting for potential collaborators. It was during this search that “SOS Music” came across his radar. He laughs at the serendipity of the event, recalling that “at the same time that they were looking for me - I was looking for them. So it just worked. Boom - it was crazy!”
Beatz and SOS came together and produced the original track - which became a hit, and teamed up again for the remix featuring Chip and Red Cafe. For the likes of Beatz and Chip the move follows a host of UK artists who have gone over to work in Dubai including MIST and Lethal Bizzle in recent months. We wanted to know what it was about Dubai that attracted British artists so much?
According to Ayo Beatz, “Everyone wants to go there because in Dubai the sky’s the limit. Anyone who has ambition in the UK and is fortunate enough to realise a bit of that ambition wants to go to a place where they can enjoy it. In the UK, sometimes you can have ambition but the people around you might try to put you down for it. Whereas in Dubai people accommodate for that. There’s very little jealousy or envy - it really feels like a land of opportunity."
Elias added, "People in Dubai also really want to listen to British music right now. I've been going back and forth from the UK to UAE since 2004. In the early days, they were banging Techno and House. Then Hip Hop started seeping in. Now you have Trap - they’re playing Migos night after night in the clubs right now. And they’re slowly starting to put on some UK music. When you go to the clubs in Dubai now, there’s a real chance you’ll hear some J Hus, Kojo or MIST.
And it seems that acceptance of international music culture made the remix so easy to create. Chip is often in Dubai and linked up with Elias via mutual connections. Red Cafe was also in Dubai after the team laid down the original track. They all hung out together in the city before Cafe decided to jump on the remix.
Speaking about the track, Ayo said "Everything was there. We had all the tools around. But for it to work the timing had to be right. Fortunately it was. The video, shot mostly using drones, was phenomenal. Both the original and remix videos were filmed by Eric Myers. He's incredible!"
The videos incorporate a cinematic quality that rivals that of blockbuster music videos featuring the likes of DJ Khaled and French Montana. Speaking about the state of music videos in music today, Ayo said:"I've always been a fan of Puff's and Busta's videos. Now that videos as so easy to make, the task really becomes figuring out how to make timeless videos that genuinely stand out. I love videos that still stand out 10 years after they were made. That’s how I feel about a lot of Kanye West’s work. Each different video is its own story. There's "Touch The Sky" with Nia Long and Tracee Ellis Ross scene. There's "All Falls Down" where you've got Stacey Dash running through the airport. You can literally watch each visual as it’s own story, and you don’t think 'that was a hit then - now it’s dead' these tracks are very much still alive.”
He continued: “Now we all have access to directors with quality. We need to use that - because now it’s just about how great one's idea is and how many flights one's willing to make. Migos has shown that you can literally do anything. You can go to the North Pole. You can shoot half the video in Australia. You can do a Young Thug and not even turn up to your video. You can do anything you want.”
In a similar tack, Elias continued - “Culture is merging. Fashion and music are one and the same now. Today you can see a man from the hood with ripped jeans and a mohawk. Back in the day, he would have been slain. Everything’s mixing. Everyone wants to get involved in everyone else’s culture, their music, their fashion. I think it’s time there was a soundtrack for that.”
It's Dubai's monumental DJ scene that will prove to be pivotal in blending global influences into music. The largest DJs in Dubai are the likes of DJ Bliss and Dany Neville. Elias told us that the DJs are the cultural tastemakers and in most instances are even more influential than major artists. He said: "In Dubai the DJs are the superstars. There are lots of underground rappers that nobody gets to hear about. People like MoFlow, Izzy Gibbs and Nnamdi - there are quite a few. Radio is still quite commercial. They don’t take too many risks. If a song isn’t popping in the US, it probably isn’t popping in Dubai."
Elias thinks that recent disruptions in online music distribution will continue to be a major key in reducing red tape in the industry. As a result, music genres will continue to blend and fuse into each other. Ayo added "Spotify and YouTube changed the game. We’re now in a new generation of mix-up. Before when TV was the major player you had e.g. MTV and Kiss. If you were a pop fan you watched MTV. If you liked RnB you watched Kiss. Today nobody is segmented like that. People want to listen to some Hip Hop tracks, and they also want to watch some commercial videos. So they go to the YouTube or Spotify to get both. The result is that everything is blending. Genres are blurring, and cultures are fusing. Music, fashion, media - it’s all the same. And it’s going to keep going. It’s all going to keep blending.”
Watch SOS, Ayo Beatz, Red Cafe and Chip on their “Abu Dabbin” remix here:
Be sure to connect with Elias's SOS Music @wearesosmusic and Ayo Beatz @AYO_BEATZ