Dr. Rap: An Unexpected Encounter by David Greer
Night crept in as my taxi pulled up to the edge of Fez’s medina – the biggest urban carfree zone in the world.
I paid the driver and a small boy appeared from around the corner, offering to lead me to my hostel. Following the boy into the medina, we walked a few blocks through the up and down alleys before the boy pointed to my hostel’s generic sign above a mahogany door with carvings similar to those first crafted in 13th-century Fez. Some young men about my age stood in front, speaking passionately in Arabic – about what, I did not know.
After I knocked on the door, I handed the boy twenty dirhams. One of the men noticed the 2pac patch sewn into my torn bag and asked if I liked rap music. I answered affirmatively and before entering, told him my name in exchange for his, Abdul.
That night, as I situated into the small upper bunk, I thought back on the day’s events. I had woken up in Rabat and taken the long and slow train to Fez; a Moroccan asked me if I liked music from my home country.
As I explored the labyrinthine medina the next morning wearing a newly purchased leather backpack bought from one of the medina’s many chanting salesmen, a voice called my name. Abdul waved from a nearby corner, accompanied by another young man. The accompanying man introduced himself as Jamal and proposed that we take a walk.
Heading uphill yet breaking no sweat in the early-July heat, Jamal began to rap and
Abdul to beatbox; maybe Jamal’s only chance to practice that day.
I had yet to learn that Jamal’s father did not approve of rap. A widower, his father worked for little pay in a medina shop. Without Jamal’s help, he might not manage.
Living in a monarchy where financial support is scarce narrows your focus. Amid struggle, lingering conservative ideology makes rap music easy to see as antiauthoritarian and impure. Change is happening, but today Jamal raps with discretion.
Continuing our walk, I listened to Jamal’s fluid Arabic rhymes. After a few songs he stopped to speak.
“I study medicine at the university but it’s just not as interesting as rap,” Jamal said, “when I rap I express my life here in Morocco – the struggle, the joy, the hope; at the university I don’t express anything.”
Soon, we got to a small café that reminded me of an Andalusian one that I had stopped to drink coffee in just a week before. Upon sitting at a blue-and-white tiled table, an older man handed us green smoothies in clear mugs – a thick mixture of avocado, milk, and sugar called asir avocat.
As I sipped, Jamal reminisced upon the wholeness felt when breaking fast with the drink during Ramadan. When the café’s sole speaker started to play a popular rap song from the US, a grin came over Abdul’s face; Jamal began to rap with the recording.
Years later, I glance at my now-faded leather backpack and wonder if Jamal is the doctor who’d rather be the rapper.