The Egyptian rapper reflects on her roots and finding inspiration in everything from Evanescence to outer space
Felukah is defined by multiplicity—in genre, in language, in sound, in style. Originally from Cairo and residing in South Harlem, the artist produces music that draws from a range of cultural influences. Her quickly-expanding body of work is one of a kind, and so is her self-possessed persona. Felukah is cool and sincere—a combination deceptively hard to come by. Her lyrics are smart, at once personal, poetic, and relatable to a growing crowd.
I met Felukah this summer, at the height of quarantine, when we were living on either side of St. Nicholas Park. I caught her there earlier this week to discuss her playlist “Anthems for Princess,” as well as her current EP, punk rock, and fan pages.
Morgan Becker: The first track on your playlist stood out to me—“Everybody’s Fool,” by Evanescence. At face value, it’s really different from your music, and from the rest of your selections. Are you a rock fan?
Felukah: I actually am a rock fan. I love all different kinds of music. I just love anything really good, anything that makes me feel something. When I was making that playlist, I was like, ‘What empowers me? What women artists empower me?’ Evanescence, as a person and as an artist, really inspires me. She can belt notes like no other, but also her lyrical content is so strong and it just tugs at the heartstrings. “Everybody’s Fool” is just a classic anthem for me to be like, ‘You know, I’m not gonna be everybody’s fool.’ The music itself is very inspiring to me. It motivates me to just keep going, as a lot of punk rock songs do.
Morgan: You included two of your own songs, “Ms. Smooth” and “What She Does.” Why these, out of your entire discography?
Felukah: I included ‘What She Does’ definitely as like a most recent flex, but also for Women’s History Month. It talks about, you know, what women do. The video features really dope female creatives, and people that I’ve gotten to know and have been really inspired by. If there are any two songs that women can look to to kind of get an idea of what I’m trying to do in my music—as a woman in art and in music—then ‘What She Does’ is a great example. ‘Ms. Smooth’ is really just about the bumpiness of life, the rugged nature of life, and us obtaining that Ms. Smooth philosophy, which is that we’re gonna go with the flow—and not accept everything of course—but just manage our emotions, manage our expectations. Ultimately, we’re all Ms. Smooth.
Morgan: You got started with poetry. Are you still writing, besides composing music?
Felukah: I’m trying to. I’m trying to work on writing my own things aside from my lyrics. Honestly, there’s hardly any time anymore. It’s hard. But one thing I’m really focusing on, as a writer, is being an avid reader. I’m reading a lot right now. When I don’t have time to split my writing between music and poetry, at least I’ll use my downtime to read. And I feel like writers are readers before anything else. That’s really important to me.
Morgan: What are you reading right now?
Felukah: I’m reading a bunch of things. I’m reading Drug Use For Grown-Ups, which I’m really liking. I’m reading God is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran. I’m reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I’ll dip into my favorite books a lot, just to be close to the verse like that.
Morgan: Space and celestial bodies are an influence in your work. Where does that come from?
Felukah: Space has always been really intriguing to me. As somebody who hasn’t felt ‘home’ in one place—culturally in Egypt I always felt like an outsider, like a westernized American kid. And then moving to the States, you’re actually seen as the outsider because you’re brown, because you’re this and that, and Arab. And so space always felt like, ‘Damn, they’re all aliens there.’ So it’s a very comfortable space for me to tap into in my head. I’ve never been asked this question, but I feel like it makes sense that way, that space is like an unclaimed territory where you can be anything. And everybody looks like an alien.
Morgan: How do Cairo and New York manifest in your music, beyond language?
Felukah: Cairo and New York. The mix— beyond the language, just opened me up to the idea of always oscillating between this and that. So in genre, I feel free and less restricted to just being a hip hop artist. I feel like I can put out a rock song if I want to, because of that cultural duality in the very first place, of me being both Egyptian and American. Now I’m like, ‘Okay, if I can be that culturally, let me be that musically. Let me be that artistically.’
Morgan: This song, ‘Honeysuckle,’ is your only selection in Arabic. What does that song represent for you, in a playlist dedicated to genre-pushing women?
Felukah: That song, I grew up on it like mother’s milk. It was a song that my mom was always playing. When I hear the first few notes, it just sounds so calming, peaceful. The Arabic singer, Souad Massi, I love her voice so much. Everything she talks about is just longing, and loving, and values that I hold close to my heart. Putting it on that playlist was to have an Arabic staple in the mix that spoke out from a place of softness and radical love. As opposed to, you know, images we see of Arabic culture in the media being tethered to aggression and violence and war. So that was my way of combating that, as this is the most peaceful track on the playlist, and it’s in Arabic.
Morgan: I saw that you minted “What She Does” as an NFT. Would you say you’re optimistic for the future of digital art?
Felukah: I’m optimistic. I know blockchain does have some environmental impacts, but they’re working on it becoming an environmentally friendly, completely harmless method of getting your art out there. And I think it sounds promising from a place of artists finally getting credited and financed for their art in a way that they deserve to be. So I’m excited for that. Do I understand the full capacity of what it means to mint a video? No. I don’t know what that means. [Laughs] I think even the people that helped me do it don’t really know, and it’s a really strange abyss that we’re in with this whole NFT Bitcoin era. But I think it’s exciting, and that’s why I definitely want to be involved in it, where it’s at, and see what’s up.
Morgan: You have a fan page now. How does that feel?
Felukah: Oh yeah, @felukah_army! I don’t know, I was really flattered when I saw that, and I still am. It’s really crazy to me. Tons of my friends are artists and have multiple fan accounts, and I always saw that and was just like, ‘Oh, that’s lit,’ blah blah blah. But when it happened to me, I was like, ‘But who am I?’ It’s just really strange. But it feels really, really special. And I hope I never let that fan page or that person down. But at the same time, when it comes to the point of people making fan pages and idolizing you to a place where you’re not human, it is scary terrain. I always want to retain my humanity as somebody who could fuck up, and who is still learning, and I really advocate for myself being a work in progress constantly.
Morgan: How do you stay sure of yourself as your audience expands?
Felukah: People think that you get bigger and then you start caring less, but you also get more sensitive. More people are consuming your material, and they’re digesting your art, so you feel like more people are watching you. And I’m very easily triggered by, like, close friends or loved ones expressing any negative thoughts about my work. And sometimes it happens, because music is subjective. It’s really just about finding more and more that the main source of validation that I should rely on is myself. Because sometimes, even your friends or your family will not understand your art. I have hard days. I woke up crying today because I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ And it happens all the time. But it’s really just picking yourself up, and making yourself breakfast, and still pushing your music video even though you’re like ‘Haven’t people had enough of it?’ It doesn’t matter, yo. You’re your number one supporter and your number one fan.
Morgan: Which of the artists featured on your playlist would you characterize as your own influences?
Felukah: Definitely Erykah Badu and Solange I think of as my two mentors. They are prime examples, in my opinion, of women of color who rose to the top of the music industry without hypersexualizing their femininity, without closing the door on their cultural influences. Without just speaking from a void, in my opinion, which I’ve seen a lot of top rappers do. And again, not to judge anybody’s art, but I’m tired of seeing the same, regurgitated, hypersexualized images of women on top. And it’s people like Erykah Badu and Solange who affirmed that you don’t have to do that. For me, that’s very comforting to know.
Morgan: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Felukah: Next up really is just the EP, Kawkab. ‘PSA’ is on it, ‘What She Does’ is on it, I have two more songs I’m rolling out. One is a punk rock song, and the other one is a mix of two songs in one. I’m really just going against genre, against convention, and I’m gonna be releasing it on cassette tape, a limited quantity—so that’s cool for me. It’s exciting new terrain. I’m really focusing on being an eclectic, wholesome human being right now. That’s really what I’m focusing on. Growing from the inside out.