What’s the story behind the moniker icekream?
My civilian name, Issam, is often pronounced differently depending which part of the world I’m in. I grew up in France, where the Brits pronounced it ‘Eye-sam’, so early on other kids started calling me ice. When I started DJ-ing, I had to choose a stage name, Ice cube and Ice-T were already taken and the rest as they say, is history!
What was your first introduction to DJ-ing?
Right before my 13th birthday, a friend randomly bought us tickets for the 1998 DMC DJ World Championships in Paris. I was completely blown away by the sound manipulation, the melodies, the battling and the verbal beat-downs thrown at the opponents – it was the ultimate boxing ring. The defending champ was a 15-year-old Canadian called A-trak.
What was your aha moment when you knew music production is the career you want?
In 2000, as a 14-year-old, I met a new Zimbabwean student who was a rapper, we rented a studio and made a mixtape. That was my first time producing and experiencing the whole music production process. We burned a CD with the 2-3 songs we’d made that day I played it in the car on the way home, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I felt invincible.
What are your musical influences?
The golden age of French hip-hop – growing up and living in France for 17 years was a magical musical experience. Some of my favourite influences are: IAM, Cut Killer, Gangstarr, The Neptunes, Dr.Dre, Jamiroquai, EPMD, FatBoy Slim, Alain Brax, Daft Punk, Wu-Tang, 2Pac, A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill, 213 & Eminem.
Could you describe the sound and flavour of your music for those who aren’t familiar with it?
It’s a fusion of quintessential hip-hop and house. There is a lot of experimenting that happens but musically it all comes out groovy, bouncy and sexy.
As an Emirati, did you have to defy any societal expectations to follow your passion?
There’s an expectation of ultimate obedience – without question. When you decide you want to do something outside of the family’s norms, it leads to discord. I had a hard time convincing my father who could not contemplate me making music my career full-time. It was something you did for fun. I now have the complete support of all my family.
What’s the UAE’s local hip-hop scene like?
UAE’s music scene has been booming. As far as I know, there has been one for about a decade. It’s in its infancy but Dubai is evolving into a hub for Khaleeji and local hip-hop artists alike. Now, there are local music festivals and support for local musical talent.
What is the reason for hip-hop’s growing popularity here?
The UAE loves listening to and reciting poetry. Hip-hop is a type of poetry. That’s why when UAE-based rappers blend Arabic into their music it’s easier for local audience to connect with their artistry and their message feels familiar. In addition, the beat and percussion in hip-hop music goes hand-in-hand with traditional Emirati music where drums and beats are prominent.
Is being a music producer a lucrative career?
It can be despite research showing that less than 1 per cent of aspiring musicians make it big. My journey has had its ups and downs. If you’re starting a career in music producing, always get another job because it’s going to take a while before you’re able to live off your work comfortably.
And the best jobs to take up on the side are?
The most complimentary job in my opinion would be to DJ. I started the other way around and it my family’s support helped me branch out into Angel investing on the side. I’m still not where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there.
You’ve had your big break and been signed on to Cool & Dre’s label, Epidemic Music, but how do you get noticed by the right people and make it big?
The best way is to start uploading your music to any or all social media platforms because the first and most important step is exposure. You need to let people know you’re a musician so they need to hear what you’re working on immediately. Soundcloud helped me gather an audience when I started out.
So social media and free streaming services aren’t ruining artists’ prospects by making people reluctant to pay for music?
I’m always optimistic about the future of music. Access to great music has never been so good – it’s why social media is the bedrock of music; fans and artists need to be connected with each other. Streaming is pretty straightforward – a lot of streams equals a lot of money, which is why you should never rely solely on music streams or sales for income. You have to focus on touring, merchandising and endorsement deals. The goal is to grow your brand.
What according to you is the power of music – is it healing, is it unifying?
Music in itself is a superpower. Anytime you go to a music festival or go out dancing, you see the transcendent ability music has to envelope all of mankind in joy and escapism. It doesn’t matter if it’s classic, hip-hop or jazz – it lets you reflect in your own space and has an overall healing power. Nothing else in this world has a comparable effect.
What is your happy place?
The Studio. I feel like I’m in a protective shell, a force field where I can stay isolated and produce in peace – loud peace. When I started making music eight years ago, I would spend every day, sometimes all night until I was exhausted and my ears couldn’t take it any more. I [still] spend way too much time in the studio.