Soldier-turned-rapper, Richmond Shaw has just released his first track about Bahrain
Sitting across from Richmond Shaw (aka Hotline) at his flat in Juffair with the sound of muffled hip-hop beats emanating from his bedroom, his beaming grin suggests he is on the cusp of something special.
Dressed in baggy jeans and baseball cap, he looks like any other rapper. But his lyrics, in a mixture of Arabic and English, are far from the staple rap language of drugs, violence, sex and swear words. For his latest single, he’s traded popular hip-hop themes to focus instead on a country that has had a significant impact on his life and more importantly, his music.
Bahrain has held a special place in Richmond’s heart ever since he arrived here in 2006. Now a well known face on the local music scene, the 27-year-old is determined to put Bahrain’s music industry on the map and bridge the Middle Eastern and Western cultures together using the universal language of music.
‘It’s smart to live here because it’s an open country and it’s in a very good location. Looking across the landscape of the Middle East based on living, activities and cultural awareness, I felt Bahrain had done a great job of exhibiting culture which I felt would help my overall mission and goal.’
Born and bred in Pontiac, Michigan, Richmond joined the US military in 2002 and was stationed in Iraq with the first infantry division before leaving the service to settle in Bahrain and focus full-time on his music. Richmond’s life in the military is perhaps quite typical of what most soldiers go through in Iraq but what’s interesting about it is that some of his experiences were captured in the war documentary, Gunner Palace.
The 2004 documentary follows the exploits of the 400-strong first armoured division of 2/3 field Artillery who were deployed at the bombed out palace of Uday Hussein. But while his harrowing experiences would drive many to despair, battling his demons has proved to be a liberating experience for Richmond.
‘I had to endure daily shellings and watch many of my unit members die before my eyes but my music kept me going. I thank god that I didn’t leave that stage in my life filled with anger and hatred. My experiences not only moulded my lyrics but they have also shaped my perceptions of the region and allowed me to be more understanding.’
From being in a situation six years ago where he was obligated to kill, Richmond now finds himself immersed in a culture that affords him a fresh perspective on life. ‘I have come to realise that things change no matter what. In my opinion, it’s better to be part of it. And it’s even better when you’re trying to become the change you want to see.’
Challenging the norms of a music genre commonly considered very negative in the Gulf region, Richmond describes his latest track as an ‘inspirational song’.
Covering everything from the pearl industry and the growth of Kingdom to Michael Jackson and the BIC the lyrics to ‘I Just Wanna Go (To Bahrain)’ are full of references not normally found in popular music. ‘With this track, I really want to give people the motivation to strive to do something. If you want to achieve something, it’s just as simple as doing it. I not only want to show the different ways that you can do hip-hop but also reach out to an older audience and show them that a new generation of music isn’t just confined to one type of sound.’
I ask him what compelled him, an American, to write a song about a Middle Eastern country. He sips at his glass of water, looks down at the floor, as if to be thinking about his life and experiences, laughs, and says, ‘Why not? I really just want to pay tribute to the kingdom. The bottom line is, I have more in common with the Middle East than differences and what better way to express that than with music.’
Gaining recognition for his alternative approach to music, he has released literally hundreds of tracks, collaborated with some of the region’s most promising rising artists and performed at many of the island’s biggest hip-hop concerts. He is a creature of the modern hip-hop era and has brushed shoulders with many of the industry’s most well known artists namely Cassidy, Bone crusher and Kelly Rowland. If you haven’t heard Hotline yet, go to iTunes where you can download his latest song. Watch this space for the release of the video as well as a special remix to accompany the track.