How much of the Hollywoodian discourse is inserted in our collective thinking? Are we aware of the power that the North American narrative has had over our developments while growing up? Behind blue jeans, Marlboro cigarettes and a skateboard was capitalism hiding very well while reinforcing the idea of both American drive and global domination and exploitation. And maybe that's why the synthesiser in the first seconds of Nader Khalil’s new single Open the Pit conveys a sense of accident and emergency.
Maybe because, even though we are talking about music, this is a narrative of reality; very well recreated with an excellent musical result that is the vessel of a very uncomfortable truth: what are we doing about it?

I wonder whether we are really listening to voices like his. Beyond the rhythms, the message, the warning. Nader Khalil has been here for a while and in that sense, there is a lot to listen to. He is a self-produced artist with a distinctive sound and vision that makes his art easily identifiable among his peers. Prior to creating music under his own name, from 2013 to 2017, Nader released music under the alias Nok From the Future, earning tens of millions of streams and collaborating with artists such as Cousin Stizz, Dylan Brady, Kevin Abstract, and Night Lovell, among others.

The rapper and producer has been working and releasing music under his own name since 2019 and has received very positive critical acclaim. He is currently working on the third and final part of this trilogy, whether intentional or not his work is an artistic milestone for those of his generation. It is a political statement in itself that sits above the contemporary approach to alt pop music. Imagine being in a museum, white walls, bright light, Nader's work in front of you. More than a canvas it functions as a mirror, and it is important to think of an empty room as part of the listener's experience because his music has no distraction or deterrent purpose: it is you between the art and the wall, and your ability to confront our critical thinking. What is our position towards the Arab world? All of this is overlaid with an exquisite approach to his musical production, a perfect communion of the current sound field of both electronica and hip hop with elements of Arabic music that add even more authenticity and uniqueness to his work.

It is difficult to place Khalil's work among his contemporaries because, firstly, it is quite rare, but secondly, the embarrassing truth is that we really don't have much knowledge of contemporary Arabic music. It is easy to see how comfortable the system of gentrification towards cultural appropriation is, unfortunately a status asset nowadays. Nader unabashedly explores his Arab background in his music. Nader Khalil 1 was recorded in Guadalajara, Mexico (you can feel the heat). "Can't decide who I love, who I hate, who I need" he says in Can't Decide, in which he tells the story of a man in search of his identity and cultural location. On Nader Khalil 2 we find tracks like Dark Mawwal, another great song whose video seems to portray a journey. It has to do with the sea and a continuous journey, a reference to the boats in which many have to face life and death situations when fleeing their places of origin.
His best song is War & Peace: it is a portrait of the extent to which capitalism has fucked up our minds with a perfect whitewashing discourse in which privilege rears its ugly head. “My therapist is white he don't understand shit / He never been an Arab man he never felt this”. It is outrageous to see that some people from certain parts of the world are intentionally excluded from conversations about mental health. This song is a gem that captures his ability to musically portray this idea, as it returns the narrative to a partial form, and its video is a masterpiece.

Nader recently released Open the Pit, the first single from Nader Khalil 3, which will probably be released before the end of the year. A song about the search for freedom, solitude, and urgency. The video is inspired by Fires of Kuwait, a documentary by David Douglas that was released in 1992, and according to its synopsis, it "focuses on the international effort to extinguish Kuwait's burning oil fields after the Gulf War". Khalil is stepping up with his new project investigating and experimenting with the occult or the unseen world in Islam, better known as Jinn (fans may have caught a little snippet of Jinn Master in his Stories a couple of weeks ago).
Writing about music can seem difficult at times. It undoubtedly may help to point out relevant milestones to understand the speed at which cultural manifestations develop. But above all it is complex because it usually says more about the writer than the artist, and when you are faced with the magnitude of a cathartic and mind-blowing work as Khalil’s you have to be conscious of that. We chat about this, his musical output, influences and inspiration, and some of the important experiences that have shaped his work and life. More than an interview, here is an opportunity to test our self-honesty through the vision of an artist who had no choice but to be political because his identity already is.
Open The Pit is your comeback single and what seems to be the first single from Nader Khalil 3. I wanted to ask you about the new song, what were you trying to portray with it?
The lyrics are pretty self-explanatory rather than poetic. I feel that I have no connections left with other people, and I don’t trust anyone.
How was the shooting of this new video? Is it based on current world events?
It was very tough to film this video because you are not allowed to film in public spaces without a permit in Kuwait. We were constantly followed and intimidated by security and police,  but it was important to capture this specific colour scheme and location because it’s where I grew up. It looks like this feeling of impending doom that I felt as a kid, and I still feel that today when I’m there. Why is the Arab world so weak and still under the pressure of global powers when they hold the keys to the oil? What is going to happen once the oil runs out? When I was 9 years old, my teacher took us to the Scientific Center in Kuwait and we watched this film called Fires of Kuwait that shows the actual oil fires that continued to burn in Kuwait even after the Gulf War ended. The sheer destruction captured in high quality was something that stuck with me. It was powerful for me. For this video, I filmed my own footage on the same land that was burning nonstop about 30 years ago. All original footage was shot on iPhone.
Are there any other artistic pieces (songs, films, art, or literature) that you consider that might have contribute positively into your realm?
Takeshi Kitano’s film Brother has always been a very influential movie for me.
I loved the piano version you posted. Not only does it contain the tension of the song, but it made me think about your songwriting process. How do you normally work from zero to create new music?
I always start from zero and sometimes conceive the beat or song on piano. It is the true test of how strong a piece of music is and if it can stand on its own legs 30 plus years from now.
Before Nader Khalil, your previous project NOK From the Future was key to understanding the SoundCloud movement back in 2014, and you collaborated with artists like Night Lovell, Dylan Brady, Kevin Abstract, Ravenna Golden. How much of that process was helpful in developing your musical skills?
It made me have to grow fast and strong as an artist. I never wanted to sing, but I felt like I had to as Nok. I remember the COO of Good Music saying that he had never seen a music artist grow so fast in terms of skill and ability. Working with other artists helps push that growth in terms of exposing yourself to new perspectives. There is also an unspoken competitiveness that drives you to be better.
Your work with the first two albums (Nader Khalil, and Nader Khalil 2) is probably one of the best and one of the few that contains a very interesting (and different) narrative in music that we barely get to hear in Europe and North America. There is a voice, in tension, that is almost narrating its way in a world where many countries of Arab culture and their citizens suffer the abuse of the so-called global power. I wanted to know a little more about how you decided to sing about these issues in your music.
The narrative that I hold is one that many Arabs and beyond also hold but cannot outwardly express mainly because their governments won’t allow them to. For those in the West who hold similar views, it is seen as extreme when it’s not. If we can have warmongers in our senate and congress, then we should be able to openly oppose normalisation with Israel.
“No-one forced you to war / I have no sympathy / In the desert doing what / Fuck your PTSD.” I had to stop at this line from your song War & Peace. I don't think I've ever heard anything so powerful. What I found amazing is your ability to portray this idea musically. It brings the narrative back to a partial form. Our minds are so overloaded that we've actually bought into the idea that American soldiers and the military are people who suffer violence. In itself, I think the song and the video are a very accurate reflection of how violence is prosecuted depending on who committed it, especially towards the Middle East. The whole issue of post-traumatic stress disorder for US soldiers returning home is also a way of neglecting the mental health effects that war can have on people in countries that are invaded. Do you remember how this song came about?
The song wrote itself. Years ago, I remember this former classmate of mine returned from Afghanistan. It was a few months since he had been back, and one time during a party, he told me, “You look just like the guys that I was shooting at in Afghanistan.” He said it in a joking tone so that I would look insane if I smashed my glass against his head in that moment. If I lash out, I’ll look like the stereotypically angry Arab. I saw this same guy recently express sympathy for veterans of a war that was clearly for profit and exploitation. I am well aware of how people who look like me have been dehumanised, and I can feel it in my interactions when I’m in my hometown in the US.
I recently saw how Madonna has released the original version of the American Life video for its 20th anniversary. I remember how she decided to pull it from MTV and all the music video channels because of its controversy. For me, that was the point at which her career lost steam as an artist, as she stated that she did it "out of sensitivity and respect for the armed forces, which I support and pray for". I wanted to get your opinion on this because I don't think it helped at all to reflect the full reality of the war. Somehow your song War & Peace resonated with me when I saw the video of it come back online a fortnight ago. Back in 2003 when I first saw it, it helped me understand how contaminated we are with USA propaganda.
Madonna sucks.
Something similar happens in No Reason, where you sing "I got cousins in jail for no reason, I got family dead for no reason." This contributes to the idea mentioned above in the sense that we don't normally get to see or read about it in the western world. I wonder if you have been inspired by other artists or events to develop this idea.
It is not so much inspiration but rather the reality. I have cousins in jail in Egypt because of their political views. One of them was given a 25-year sentence on false charges last year. In rap, we hear a lot of “Free so and so” and I am inspired in that sense. The difference is that you get 25 years if you murder someone with a firearm in the US. My cousin got 25 years for speaking his mind and advocating for a less corrupt Egypt. He’s never hurt anybody, and he’s a much better person than me, yet I am the one who is free. It’s a real kangaroo court system over there. The Western powers act like they are concerned for the human rights violations in Egypt, but in actuality, the current Egyptian government is preferred by the Western powers since they serve Western interests in the region.
Have you ever been in trouble for your artistic work?
I find threats from people in my DMs pretty regularly now. I’ve lost count of how many times my work has been removed from Instagram, Youtube etc. for quote unquote inciting violence, but it’s evident that it is the ideas in the work that they see as dangerous. I can see that’s the case because these platforms allow so much degeneracy and incitement of violence in just rap alone. Why is that allowed instead?
Have you received feedback on your work from other peers?
They will only express their praises but will keep their criticisms to themselves, so I can’t say that is true feedback.
I've read that your sister Nadia is the one who usually takes your photos, and she shot this video for Dark Mawwal. What is working with her like?
Nadia will always understand my vision in a special way because she has seen and experienced what I have been exposed to since childhood through adulthood. Sometimes I can’t articulate why I like something, but she does not need me to articulate because just from looking at it, she can intuitively understand why I like it. That is very hard to come by in any creative field, and I loathe formulaic ways of describing what I want (e.g., example, storyboards and mood boards).
Was there a musical design thought for this project at the beginning? It keeps its roots and essence in traditional Arabic sounds mixed with more modern elements such as autotune, trap beats and a type of bass that are now recognisable mainly because of their mainstream presence.
No. It is always a purely intuitive exploration of sounds and mood until I arrive at what feels right for me.
I wanted to know more about the instruments and elements of Arabic culture that you usually introduce in your music, did you learn to play some of them?
No, I was never able to learn. I tried to learn the ney anban (it’s a bag pipe type of instrument), but the teacher I sought out refused to teach me, so I had to make my own version of it on a synthesizer and play it that way.
How do you see the role of religion nowadays in Arab pop culture? As I am writing it I realised that this question is not fair as it isn’t asked to western musicians. In the Western world there is so much hypocrisy when it comes to talk about the religions immersed in countries in Europe. But I wonder how much of the image of religion in Arab countries that we normally get is contaminated by the media. I live in the south of Spain, so I get to witness from time to time the media reproducing hateful portrayals.
It sounds like the time after the Spanish Reconquista and today are not that much different.
Lyrically, do you usually work as experiences and thoughts come to you or do you decide first if there is going to be a whole theme for an EP? It seems to me that your first two albums have that juxtaposition between irony and reality, but I wonder if you had different set-ups in mind for each of them.
The songs usually write themselves and come from an intuitive place. It is like playing football for me: if you think too much about what to do in the moments leading up to receiving the ball, you will miss your chance to do your magic with the ball. Sometimes I am saddened when I listen back to some of the lyrics that came out of me in the moment, but I must accept them as truths.
I found your song Adderall. Released under another name, 014, it's a very interesting track and a commentary on American society, especially the youth of the last few decades. Maybe it's something that is often exaggerated in films and series about American culture, but I thought of this track as a great example of the state of mental health of young people and how it affects their lives.
Perhaps. It was written about how Adderall affected me, and I’m not sure exactly how many other people could relate.
You grew up in Kuwait and the USA, but you have also lived in places like Mexico and Germany. Which of these places were key to your development as a musician? Was it difficult to forge your identity as a US resident?
They all contributed to my development, but I usually work alone and collaborate with other artists sparingly. My sound is not directly influenced by my surroundings.
The aesthetic aspect of your work is impressive. I wanted to know a bit more about your inspiration for this part of the project. Your videos have the kind of imagery that is usually found in works of art that we can see in contemporary art museums. I can see your videos being perfectly at home in an exhibition hall, especially because of their political content.
I have my iPhone, and I try to visually capture the feeling of my song with what is accessible to me.
What's next for Nader Khalil? Can we expect Nader Khalil 3 soon? If so, can you tell us a bit of what we can expect?
I never have the words to articulate how it feels to work on this project, so I will describe how it has consumed me. It is the first time where I have spooked myself while making certain songs to the point where I need to stop, close my laptop, and try to sleep until I can revisit the song in the morning. I know I am receiving help from the unseen world because I could not create these songs purely on my own, and the signs that the Jinn have been in contact with me are clear. I appear sane, but I don’t feel sane. I am aware that the Arabic word for crazy is Majnun which literally means “To be possessed by jinn.” Jinn are known to take the physical form of lizards. Why did I find a lizard in my living room the night I made Jinn Master when I have never had a lizard in my apartment before that point? Why is it that the only other time a lizard appeared in my apartment was when I first sang the lyrics “Jinn and they walking with me” over and over again? At the same time, I can feel that my seeking help from the jinn is not without cost and has been destroying me mentally and spiritually. I should stop, but I want to keep going. I need to see what is at the end of all of this.
Now you're immersed in this new project that seems to be intense and it says a lot about you and your compromise to your work both personally and professionally. When it feels too heavy, are there things that help you disconnect rather than sleep? How do you find a way to recharge?
There is no way to fully recharge or disconnect during this process, but I play football to clear my mind. Reading and listening to [the] Quran helps a lot. This project requires all of my spiritual energy and no amount of money or support could cover the cost of what I have to pay in spirit. It is a test of mental and emotional fortitude that I do not intend to lose. 
Any wish for the rest of the year?
Good health.