Turkish rapper Lil Zey reflects on inaugural performance at Sole DXB presented by Les Benjamins

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While the hype and energy from this year’s edition of Sole DXB is winding down, we are certainly still buzzed from the amazing connections, collaborations, and performances that drew global attention to Dubai earlier this month. One of our favorite moments was Turkish rapper Lil Zey’s performance on the main stage, the first Turkish performer in Sole history. Known for her genre-blending music, Lil Zey was presented by Les Benjamins, our regional favorite that continues to push the fashion world forward with their unique voice. If that’s not enough, Lil Zey is also known as the inaugural female rapper in Turkey’s trap scene, a voice that is as distinct as it is groundbreaking.

We caught up with Lil Zey to hear all about her reflections after Sole, how Turkish artists can influence Middle Eastern hip hop, and the what’s next for her burgeoning international performances.

By Ethan Dinçer

Hi Lil Zey! You’ve been called many things, including Turkey’s premier female trap artist. How does it feel to bring this energy to Dubai and Sole DXB as the first Turkish performer in the festival’s history?

It’s absolutely humbling and fantastic. I knew we were going to be representing our culture there for the first time, so the whole set up and the moment was so historic to me. It held lots of meaning and significance. Sole DXB was also my first global stage. I hold pride in singing in my language to the Sole audience. There was a lot of preparation we did prior to the show – we even added strings to our instrumentals solely for the performance. It was all to make sure we brought a breath of fresh air from our region.
I also hope that my appearance will encourage and inspire many of my fellow artist and musician friends, motivate them to be a part of this global historic moment in the future.

Does this genre of Turkish rap have an audience in Dubai? How was the performance? What was the energy like?

Definitely, I had people from different countries approaching me asking why I hadn’t performed my single ‘OnlyFans’. I actually had my producer Muerte telling me “Zey, we have to do Onlyfans. Like that was a global hit. There definitely has to be some people out there who heard it”. But I truly couldn’t have imagined that anyone there would have some expectation for that specific song, you know. I couldn’t count how many people asked me…

I think people got me while I was on stage. They felt me. They understood me. One of the biggest challenges of performing at festivals where you don’t have your audience is that your live performance should grab them, how you sing the songs should grab their interest because they haven’t listened to your music before. In my case, most of the audience didn’t even know the language I sang in. But I guess our motifs still grabbed them, our rhythms, our riffs.

I asked them how they found the Turkish language. They all were feeling it.

Your musical style blends genres and disciplines – how do you see your performance within the context of Sole’s emphasis on Hip Hop?

Our songs crossover genres and carry alternative and traditional elements. We chose to add strings on my songs solely for my Sole DXB set, to spark and evoke the arabesque and Turkish classical music feeling even more. But the groove, our rhythms and bass, are hiphop, it sure does reflect and represent the spirit. My vocals, on the other hand, combine it all, it is a reflection of my hybrid music. A Turkish woman doing music that is inspired by hip hop and the beautifully vast Turkish culture, surely has a place at Sole’s celebration of Hip Hop’s 50th year.
Turkish music is so rich that our artists should always be present all around the world, especially in the Middle East because Turkish music covers and influences a huge part of the region’s music culture.

Joey Bada$$ was presented by Les Benjamins as well. What was that creative energy like, to be in dialogue with one of the American rap legends?

Of course he is one of our heroes. I tried hard not to approach him like a fan, but at the end of the day, he is someone who inspired me, truly. So I humbly let him know that. As you can see through in his lyrics, interviews and his vibe, he is a very awakened and aware artist. And he spreads his truth with him, like a messenger. And that’s what inspires me the most in life, meeting these types of people who are grounded, talented, aware, not afraid of the truth. It is a blessing to even meet them and perform on the same stage and dream of us being on the same track one day. Also we can’t help mentioning that his performance was one of the best!

“And that’s what inspires me the most in life, meeting these types of people who are grounded, talented, aware, not afraid of the truth (…)”

On the topic of Les Benjamins, one of our favorite regional brands, what does it mean to you to be supported by them ? Both you and Les Benjamins are pushing Turkish culture forward in new ways… what does this collab mean to you?

I have always seen my artist identity very parallel with Les Benjamins’ brand identity. It is not the first time we collabed with them. In my song Elmas, on top of the Galata Tower, during my music video shoot, me and Luciano, (I see him as the greatest artist in Germany), were wearing this beautiful carpet motif kaftans by Les Benjamins. Our culture is very rich and very intriguing. Me and Les Benjamins both cherish it and get inspired by it.

I always like to introduce a glimpse of Turkish culture in my style, visuals and mostly in my music. But the music we make is not just for the Turkish audience. Our initial aim is to always achieve a global sound. What makes us feel the most excited and established is when we have placement on the global lists, with my Turkish verses. Bunyamin Aydin is already global. I can’t count how many American hip hop legends wore his collections!! (say Mashallah)

Bunyamin not only wants to introduce Turkish culture and motifs to the global scene, he also wants to introduce Turkish talents. Which is the reason he honored me by taking me to Dubai. So as you can see, there is this mission, we call it ‘dava’, that is bigger than us. We represent Turkish culture, but we aim to take things global. Carrying, introducing Turkey’s beautiful motifs all around the world. And we both tell stories with these motifs.

Now that Sole is officially under your belt, do you have further plans for performing in the Middle East? Do you see a future for Turkish rap and trap in the region?

Why not…I am more than interested. To discover more of the Middle East, to come back to Dubai. I need to come back again to check out if the scene here is always lit, as it was at Sole this year. A lot of legends in hip hop now are changing their minds and shifting their routes to the Middle East. We live in a global world. I think an artist should discover many cities and find the ones where she feels the most free. There are studios everywhere, we can record and release wherever we are in the world. The vibe is what’s most important. And yes, Dubai gave me good vibes. Of course I would love to have more songs that will be played everywhere around the Middle East. And hopefully travel more to give concerts in the future.

Discover more about Lil Zey, right here