It's not like the Arab world is overflowing with rappers, let alone female ones. The rap scene is still in its early stages in the region, but that doesn't mean talent doesn't exist. However, rappers may be subject to trouble for trespassing laws that don't necessarily exist on paper.
That's sort of what happened in Saudi Arabia recently. Just when a bold female rapper gathered up the courage to release her music video for "Mecca Girl," authorities called for her arrest. Asayel Slay, a powerful black Saudi woman, released the song last week on YouTube. In it, she raps about women in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam's most sacred site where millions go to perform the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
"A Mecca girl is all you need. Don't upset her, she will hurt you," she raps while mixed gendered backup dancers take the floor in a café.
Soon enough, Mecca's governor Khaled al-Faisal ordered the arrest of the people behind the video, saying the song "insults the customs of Mecca." He also used the hashtag "they're not the girls of Mecca" to reiterate his stance. But another hashtag, "Mecca girl represents me," is being used by hundreds of Twitter users in solidarity with the rapper.
"I am from Mecca & the only thing I find offensive is ur racism, misogyny, and ur war on a young woman & her artistic expression of her culture & her people," Saudi activist Ms. Saffaa wrote in a tweet.
The Saudi rapper's YouTube account has since been suspended. But people have been sharing the music video everywhere on social media.
The call for her arrest has led to a series of criticisms against the kingdom's decision. Twitter user Ayah Albishi, who claims to be the rapper's sister, has been tweeting updates about the decision. In one of her tweets, she says Asayel has been arrested and is currently under investigation.
In another, she tried to clarify her sister's intentions, saying the purpose of the song was to "praise the habits of the people of Mecca," not the opposite.
Many social media users have pointed out the hypocrisy and double standards on the part of Saudi authorities. "You can't invite international artists to promote Saudi using music ... and then clamp down on local (female) artists for the very same thing," one user wrote.
Others reminded the kingdom that they were about to bring Nicki Minaj to perform in Saudi Arabia last year, had she not canceled. Minaj has her own alcoholic beverage, MYX, and uses profanity as well as sexual and drug innuendos in her songs. Yet, the kingdom invited Minaj to the conservative kingdom.
Asayel's music video resulted in trouble despite the fact that the song doesn't contain obscenity, blasphemy, nudity, hashish, smoking — all of which are illegal in the kingdom. The governor of Mecca hasn't clarified what parts of the video "offend the customs and traditions of the people of Mecca" and how it "contradicts the identity and traditions of its high-ranking children."
It is not the first time a Saudi female rapper releases a music video. In June 2018, Saudi social media personality Leesa A took the internet by storm with a music video in celebration of the end of the kingdom's ban on female drivers at the time. But, unlike Leesa A's video, Asayel Slay's song resulted in an order for arrest.
Some have been speculating that racism may be behind the decision. The vile comments that surfaced on Twitter following the news is evidence that racism is alive and well in Saudi Arabia. Some said, "deportation is the answer" for every person who claims to be from Mecca, suggesting that Asayel Slay could never be from Saudi Arabia just because she's black.
There was pushback against the racist rhetoric by other users.
"So because we're black Saudis we can't take pride in where we grew up? Being proud of our origins is one thing but she has every right to be proud of being from Makkah & of African descent," one user wrote.