Put simply, Dubai-based rapper Two Tone is the quintessential example of a person who never gave up on his teenage dream, despite getting side-tracked by building a multi-million-dollar souvenir empire.
As part of a new section on my blog, Coffee With.…., My Arabia caught up with the Moroccan-Dutch entertainer ahead of his debut Dubai performance at RedFest DXB.
Gone are the long locks he sported during his ‘Hatin’ on You’ collaboration with Krayzie Bone, of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony; today, Two Tone has made over his image with guidance from his stylist wife, Haydee. His hair is considerably shorter, and his earlier urban style has been replaced by an eclectic combination of stylish jackets, pants and his symbolic sunglasses. After all, he is representing Dubai, a city known for its glitz and glamour, on the international music scene.
But it’s not just his image that has evolved. To secure more radio airtime, Two Tone has reworked his sound, fusing Latin and Middle Eastern beats to create hits such as ‘Senorita’ and ‘Keep on Going’, which both hit number one on iTunes.
While the United Arab Emirates has just started hearing Two Tone’s music on radio, the 38-year-old artist, whose work has often been compared with Flo Rida’s and Pitbull’s, has been building a fan base across parts of Europe and Morocco for many years.
‘Before “Senorita” was released, I had made many songs, but because they were hip-hop the radio stations couldn’t play them here, because they’re very filtered,’ he said. ‘I met with Erick Machado, a Cuban artist living in Dubai. I wanted to see the combination between Latin music and hip-hop and basically a little bit of Arabic influences.’
Born Rachid Ben Messaoud, Two Tone first discovered his love for hip-hop as a 14-year-old growing up in the Netherlands. Influenced by American West Coast hip-hop artists such as N.W.A, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube and Tupac, the youngster began memorizing their lyrics and performing at school, eventually joining a Dutch underground rap group, 252 Maindrive. Despite the group signing with a Dutch label and travelling to the United States to release their first album, Two Tone says it never eventuated, due to a dispute between the Dutch and American record companies. He left the group to pursue a solo career. Family commitments saw the rapper put his music on hold for many years, until he moved to Dubai in 2008.
However, he says, it wasn’t music that brought him to the Middle East.
‘A friend of mine had an idea to do key chains, so we bought the rights to a [Robin Ruth] franchise for the Middle East,’ he says. ‘We started from a small kiosk, selling key chains, then adding hats, bags and slippers. We now have shops in most of the malls and do customised products for Atlantis Hotel, Burj Khalifa and the Jumeriah Group.’
In 2011, the success of his souvenir empire allowed him to refocus on his passion.
‘My partners encouraged me to focus on my music,’ he said. ‘By that stage I felt like I was getting a little old, so I thought I’d move to the background and start producing and inspiring other people.’
Fast forward to 2015 and it looks like Two Tone’s success is building, with many projects in the pipeline.
In a Snapshot
As a young man with an Arabic background, how did your parents feel about your interest in hip-hop and rap?
They’re very supportive. They weren’t familiar with the music when I first started, but now they are very proud. I’m not embarrassing them, so that’s a good thing.
Do you prefer to write your music or freestyle?
Over the last few years I haven’t written as much. I like to freestyle and improvise because it gives you so much freedom. Now when I record a song, I don’t write it down. I go in to the booth, I put the music on and rap about the subject. And when I like something, I record it and keep going until there is a full song.
Your ultimate collaboration?
How hard is it for a rap artist to come up with a name that sticks?
A name should come naturally. When I was rapping, I noticed that when I had a slow beat I used a low tone and then, when I had to speed up my flow, I would use a higher pitch. When I was playing, many people would comment about my different sound. That’s where the name originated ‒ my ability to rap in two tones.
You just released a new song with Virgin Radio’s Kris Fade. What is ‘In it for love’ about?
There are a lot of women in Dubai who are not in it for love; they’re in it for other reasons. It’s a funny song. We were having fun in the studio and it came out good, so I said, let’s release it.
Finally, what is the next step for Two Tone?
There is another huge event coming up. It’s still confidential, but I’ll be opening for a big group in Dubai. Then I’ll be touring in Spain with one of the world’s biggest Latin artists, Romeo Santos, who had the biggest-selling album in the United States last year. I’m also in negotiations with Marc Anthony to do a few days on tour with him in Spain ‒ plus, my next single is coming out soon.
You can catch Two Tone perform his latest hits at Red Fest DXB later this month.