Here at SALUTE, we love lyrical content. Keyz brought strong wordplay, a great flow, and lyrical brevity to SALUTE 2017. We caught up with Keyz to talk Sudanese history, childhood homies, culture shock, and hip-hop.

  • SALUTE: Did you grow up in Sudan? What was it like?

I’ve only lived in Sudan for two years in a row, which were my last two years of high school, before moving to the UK. Before that, I lived in the Middle East – I was born in Yemen, then my family moved around different countries like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (and a few others) but we would visit Sudan every year/chance we’d get.

Sudan is beautiful! The community is incomparably kind-hearted, welcoming, helpful, and positive. The infrastructure is far from perfect and the country isn’t stable economically or politically, as a result of colonialism, but there’s an unrivaled sense of respect and love between everybody.

  • SALUTE: What was it like moving to the UK after growing up in former colonial lands of the British empire?

My first two years in the UK (this is my third) were full of culture shock and homesickness that led to me being not very social to be honest – a lot of negative assumptions I had about the socio-political state were solidified for me – but I have met people I really connect with, and being here has opened up a lot of doors for. Since I moved I’ve been growing musically, academically, and personally.

  • SALUTE: When did you discover hip-hop?

The first time I heard hip-hop music was when I was in kindergarten (pre-school/nursery) – my family lived in Canada for one year, which is where I learned English, and heard hip-hop for the first time. My older brother played rap songs and I was fascinated by the music, even though I hadn’t understood what the artists were saying. ‘Gangsta Nation’ by Westside Connection is the first hip-hop song I remember listening to and I instantly fell in love.

  • SALUTE: How did you get started making music? When did you write your first song?

I started writing rhymes for fun at around 9-10 years old and started recording for fun at 11-12 years old, and everything I had ever done back then was HORRIBLE. Everyone around me knew it was trash, but as a kid I wanted nothing more than to become a rapper, and my sister told me I had potential, so I kept writing and recording. Then I met my guy Arthur Mannheimer (the producer ‘evrgreen’) in 8th grade and I started writing to his beats ever since, and now we’re in it for the long run.

  • SALUTE: What kind of music did you grow up on? Was there much of a local hip-hop scene in Sudan/Middle East or did you find a lot of stuff through the internet?

Honestly, the hip-hop scenes were quite dead in the countries I’ve been to unless you search deep within and stuff. But I studied in American-system schools in all the countries I’ve lived in, so I met a lot of people who were into the same music as I was. When I was much younger, I grew up listening to artists like Eminem, Slaughterhouse, The Game, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, T.I, and the list goes on and on to be honest – I studied a large majority of hip-hop, almost religiously.

  • SALUTE: What do you think is the difference between musical cultures and youth cultures in the U.K. and the Middle East?

Well, in the Middle East the musical culture is different and more tradition-based for the general population, but for ‘third culture kids’ and students in international schools, like myself, the music tastes were similar to the UK in the sense that it was very broad. You’d find a group of kids who listen to mainstream pop music and another who’d listen to deep, underground storytelling hip-hop. But I’ve found that hip-hop has always been the constant and most prevalent genre in both the Middle East and the UK.

  • SALUTE: Did you connect with people in the U.K. through music or through your studies?

To be honest my first two years here I barely connected with anyone and wasn’t being too social, but the few people I did connect with was through music and/or similar passions and interests. But the few people I have connected with, I’ve connected on a deep level with.

  • SALUTE: What gear do you use for production? Noticed a few of your tracks are evrgreen… 

I use a Samson CO1U USB mic, two studio monitors, and my laptop to record – I record using a torrented version of FL Studio. Evrgreen is the stagename of the beat-maker behind the majority of my songs, the homie Arthur!

  • SALUTE: Where is Evrgreen based?
Evrgreen is based in, and is from Stockholm, Sweden. I met him in Jordan when we were in 8th grade and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be rapping as consistently and as passionately – his character and beats have always been and will continue to be an inspiration, ever since we were kids.
  • SALUTE: Are you at uni at the moment? How do you balance work/life/music?

Yeah I study at University of Birmingham. Trying to find that balance is one of the most difficult situations I’ve faced, but it’s the most essential experience so I take it more seriously, yet with less stress, every day, and it progressively becomes easier.

  • SALUTE: What are you studying at uni? What do you think of Birmingham?
I’m studying English Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. I’m enjoying the city, it has a lot to offer – from talent, to opportunities, and community, and most of the people I’ve met are very friendly & polite. I hope it stays that way and continues to embrace cultural differences, and that the country doesn’t succumb to Islamophobia or any form of bigotry as a result of the current global events.
  • SALUTE: How did you find out about SALUTE and what do you think of the initiative?

I found out about SALUTE through Facebook ads and I’m blessed to have come across the opportunity! I think it’s amazing that there’s finally a platform where artists in the UK can showcase their talents! But, I honestly think having the finalists be chosen by public vote is faulty in a way, only because it then becomes a popularity contest – an artist with a large following has a much better chance at becoming a finalist rather than an artist with a small following, regardless of talent.

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