Female hip hop artists are on the rise and a new Harlemite is too. Meet Felukah, the Harlem rapper repping Cairo via NYC.
She’s put in work for the last few years and seeks to add to the rap game some much needed female representation with a unique identity that she and many like her carry. With nearly 10k followers on IG and regular listeners to match on Spotify, she’s doing just that and more.
In an interview with the hip-hop artist, I got to sit down and talk about her art, her vision, her inspirations, and her philosophy on music and life. The Harlem artist tackles social issues in her work and stays as authentic as possible.
As an Arab woman in America and a westernized woman in Egypt, her purpose is to make her fans and those who come across her music find a place where cultural duality is the common ground.
“I tackle social issues in my work and I try to be very authentic to the duality that I live which is being an Arab woman in America, and being a westernized woman in Egypt.”
Who is Felukah?
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Felukah, born Sara Elmessiry grew up in Cairo, Egypt, went to an American school and flew out to New York for college. Most would think her deep appreciation for hip-hop and rap began when she touched down in NYC. It’s quite the contrary.
“It’s funny whenever people ask me how do you sound like you have a Brooklyn accent if you’re from Egypt. And I’m like dude Colonization? Literally though, globalization.”
“My friends and I were bumping freakin’ Tyler, The Creator and like all these Western artists. And we’re taught in English. We’re reading in English and actually Arabic was my second language.”
Felukah in Arabic translates to “sailboat that runs along the Nile River.” Its original use was for transporting people from one bank to another. Now it’s used more recreationally and the Harlemite is trying to add those calming and meditative vibes to hip-hop and rap.
“People party on felukahs and go on dates on felukahs. Its just a beautiful experience no matter what you’re doing. Because Egpyt is a very typically violent scene… It comes from a lot of struggle. But it doesn’t have to, at the core of it there are poets, visionaries, and wordsmiths. I consider myself in that category.”
With both worlds accompanying her creative mind, Sara was able to tap into both to make her music. She mixes the languages, with one verse in English flowing into another in Egyptian Arabic.
“I have a lot of people asking me ‘just put out one full project in English, and one full project in Arabic.’ And I’m like word, I might. But if within the verse the line comes out that way, I’m gonna keep it.”
My thoughts are aslan [originally] and I’m code-switching within my thoughts. And they’re like well ‘that’s niche as fuck.’ Who are the Egyptians that you know that can understand English like that and I’m like, ‘fam, my WHOLE crew, everybody I know actually.’ So I’m just out here doing what I do”
Between Two Worlds
While she does a ton of shows here, the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa) welcomes her regularly to perform. Despite the specificity of the Egyptian dialect, Felukah has a lot of fans that not only enjoy her music but also are able to follow the meaning and remember the lyrics in English and Egyptian Arabic.
“I performed in Kuwait last month and the crowd understood every lyric and I know that’s because they would come back and talk to me in Kuwaiti Arabic and I’m like ‘oooff I’m sorry… can we use English?’”
So, how do Western crowds receive her? The hip-hop artist’s music comes at an important time in the Western consciousness. Shows like Ramy on Hulu not only present a new perspective for ethnic minorities in the US but also have remained universal enough for Western audiences to enjoy the story despite cultural differences.
Like many people who are living in between two cultures, a Western one and a MENA one, Ramy was a big deal. Sara and many of her peers were able to watch it with their parents.
The show was also a success with largely American or English-speaking audiences. Felukah hopes to impact fans with her music the same way, where parents can enjoy it with their kids, and people from other backgrounds can too.
“That’s the main reason why I can’t go the ‘moneypussyweed’ territory in my verses. I never want to. I’ve never lived that narrative and a lot of the rappers I know, do not live that narrative and rap about that.”
Reception to the Mixing of Two Cultures
Currently, it’s been difficult for artists that incorporate a culture that is outside the American lens. Still, English-speaking audiences may be primed to accept different sounds and perspectives. Latin music has had a big moment in the States lately, maybe the time is now for other cultures too.
Felukah’s experience with this has been mixed. There are very positive stories of fans seeking to get closer to her music and poetry. One fan DM’d Felukah and told her that they were using Duo-Lingo to learn Arabic in order to avoid looking up translations.
“Bess [But], I think its really fun for people that don’t speak Arabic to be hearing these words. It’s fun for them. Wasn’t the last line in English? Was it in Arabic the whole time? I’m confused.“
The negatives — some fans and people in the music industry, usually male fans, exoticize her. They don’t really listen for the sake of art in the music. The same thing goes for romantic partners. The fetishization is real and frustrating.
“I try to navigate those situations with as much respect as I can but it gets tiring. “
Women, however, tend to appreciate the music even more because of the feminist themes, that are universal. Not surprising, as originality is something we can all appreciate.
Sticking true to herself and her narrative is highly important to Felukah. That authenticity translates into her music.
“I feel like I know myself very well and that self-awareness feeds the music. So, I don’t feel the need to take these offshoot routes”
While one of the routes in hip-hop and rap is to adopt a completely separate persona or to create through an extreme perspective of self, Felukah stays firmly within her own voice.
“I like building concepts, working with themes and motifs with a very literary focus on the work. I could definitely explore different things. But in terms of becoming a whole different person for a show, these little gimmicks, and stunts… I don’t feel like I like that.”
By just being herself, Felukah is blowing up on the scene. She recently adorned the cover of the Spotify Egypt Rap playlist. A historic feat.
“Never in the history of time has a woman been the cover of a rap Egypt playlist or anywhere in the Middle East, honestly. We don’t have many in the MENA region, but it was a really cool feeling.”
The Impact of Felukah
I asked Felukah what her favorite moment since she started her music career. Her answer was deeper than a playlist cover.
The latter track from her first mixtape Battery Acid holds extra significance. The song refers to an incident from Felukah’s time in high school.
“There was a harddrive of all the girls photos from my school and surrounding schools in the area, that these guys were just sharing and laughing about.”
The group of boys who did this also circulated a photo of her in a bikini. The ordeal was one so many young teenage girls and women have gone through. The song “The Rain” was the result.
“I was so ashamed at the time to even bring it up with the administration. I knew would look at me and say ‘why the hell did you take that photo? Why did you post it if you knew they could use it like that?’ I knew it was going to be like that, I’m sure all the girls knew it was going to be like that.”
“It got swept under the rug for years, until I was just thinking about things in the studio and I was like ‘oh shit, let’s write about that.’ So I did. I told the full story and literally listed the names of the guys at the end.”
The song went viral after she dropped it. With varying reactions. The actual boys named in the song had different reactions. With some thanking Felukah for making them famous and others apologizing.
Other guys even apologized for being bystanders and not doing anything to stop the violation. Still, the reaction still from her performance of the song trumps all.
“When I rapped that song at my high school, it came full circle. I was in the auditorium the same place I had felt so ashamed of myself and my body. My friends were all going through this flux. Then fast-forward four years later and I’m on stage rapping their names.
“Some girls came to me after and told me this is literally happening right now. Those guys still have that group chat, still have a hard drive, and they’re still doing this”
Sara tried to encourage the girls to go to the administration. She told them that this was in no way their fault and the shame is due to a misogynist act done by the guys.
She understood however that the administration may not respond positively to the girls, but she had hope. In any case, she was able to make those girls feel less alone.
“Something like the cover of the Spotify playlist is really cool but if we’re talking real actual impact on people, that takes me to the moon. Like wow people really be out here, ya know. Stuff can reach them and stuff can really resonate with somebody. It can change the way that they navigate a problem. That was a really proud moment for me.”
Feminist Themes for Now and the Future
There’s much to unpack with Felukah’s lyricism, something that makes her musical influences quite clear. Her female influences include the greats, Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim, Rapsody and Erykah Badu, of course.
Then there’s the clear influence of Kendrick Lamar in her latest release “The Daughter.”
Still, she is generally interested in pursuing female partnerships in music, due to frustration with male artists who are unmoving in their misogynist material. She doesn’t have time to keep explaining what’s already deemed offensive.
Instead of losing time, she’d rather be putting out music we’re eager for and that represents the female community “in a good way.”
“I don’t care how good you are in the studio. I don’t care what your work ethic is. If your politics go against mine so strongly I’m not gonna be out here like mothering you. The time that I’m taking to explain to these other artists, these other rappers why XYZ is not okay in any circumstance. I’m losing time.”
It’s only a matter of time however before Felukah is sharing her art, lyricism, and feminist message with the masses. Until then you can bump “The Daughter” and her latest album Citadel on all streaming platforms.