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Issam Harris is a star in Casablanca. Known mononymously as Issam, the rapper and photographer has built a following as dedicated as any Atlanta MC’s in the three years he’s been releasing music.

Based in Morocco’s largest city, where he was born, Issam has made a name for himself with a distinctive blend of Auto-tuned trap and more traditionally Moroccan sounds. Sung and rapped in Arabic and inspired by the realities of daily life in Morocco, his music has exploded in popularity over the last 12 months, particularly following the release of single Trap Beldi late last year.

That single, the video for which is currently sat on over 11 million views, led to a deal with Universal France – reportedly the biggest ever signed by an Arab artist – where Issam already has a growing fanbase among the country’s Arabic-speaking diaspora and beyond, thanks in part to his collaborations with NAAR, a Paris-based Arab arts collective. With his future looking bright and Morocco’s hip-hop scene growing in strength by the month, we caught up with Issam in Marrakech to find out more.

When did you start making music?

Before I started making music, I was digging all the time for rare sounds, most of them in electronic music. I liked the weirdest ones. Three years ago I decided to make my own songs, just for fun. I recorded the first one with the microphone on my headphones. Step by step, I’ve invested some money on gear, but I’m still making it in my room; it’s my comfort zone.

What kind of subjects inspire your lyrics?

I take my inspiration from experiences in my life, bad and good. I always talk about my past; sometimes I talk about my environment, my family, and the people around me or the dream I had when I was asleep. I believe in the surrealist side of my thoughts.

What do people need to know about the rap scene in Morocco?

We’re still evolving in Morocco. We don’t have a real structure yet, but the scene is getting bigger, and a lot of artists are starting to create their own styles. Without a budget or a push from the media, all they have is the internet, [but] they earn their proper fans who follow everything they do. Now some of those rappers, their music is travelling outside the country and they have their shows in Europe. The labels outside Morocco are starting to take an interest in signing them because they see the scene growing. What we really need is the shows, clubs, festivals and good studios to give an opportunity to the upcoming rappers and inspire the next generation.

Who do you think is the most important Moroccan musician?

Dollyprane from Casablanca, the first Moroccan rapper I heard. I was really happy to hear someone like him. I was sure that he was gonna go to the top and that’s what happened after his previous releases. His way of writing is deep, original and phenomenal.

You’re also involved in directing and fashion as well, how do you approach those aspects of your creativity?

Before I started making music, I was a photographer specialised in fine arts and fashion. I love images, and that’s why I direct most of my music videos. I also work with my friends Essadik Asli, who’s a photographer and director of photography, and Ham Robati, a creative director, designer, and music producer. I like bringing something new and unseen to the scene and keeping an artistic quality in my work, like Trap Beldi and it’s universe inspired a lot of people in their clothes and visuals.

You recently signed a deal with Universal – what can people expect now that you’re signed?

More money, more problems. The people still believe in my art, and they’ve accepted the fact that I signed to a major label — hopefully you can expect a lot of artists getting motivated to do their music after this news.

Photography & Art Direction: Ade & Michelle
Issam wears ABAGA VELLI