If you were looking for rising talent in the hip hop world, it's unlikely that Egypt would be your first port of call, but maybe young rap collective D.O.P. Nation can go some way to changing that. Based in Alexandria, their ages range from 14 to 22, and their debut EP, 'Vol. 1', was released last month. A mixture of rap battles, bouncy, old-school beats and harsher urban sounds, it proves them to be varied, adaptable and interesting. We caught up with them to find out more, and to get a glimpse into a scene not often covered on these shores.
Firstly, who makes up D.O.P. Nation?
Abdeen, 22 years old - Darine, 15 yrs old - Big-D, 19 yrs old - Joo, 16 yrs old - Amr, 21 yrs old - Marshall, 22 yrs old - Aziza, 14 yrs old - Lil-show, 15 yrs old - Fares, 17 yrs old - Osman, 17 yrs old - Alexander, 18 yrs old - Kafoury, 17 yrs old - Frly, 16 yrs old – Awad, 16 yrs old - Hossam, 19 yrs old - Ragab, 19 yrs old.

What does D. O. P. stand for and why?
D.O.P stands for Dynasty of Panda. It also stands for Director of Photography which we choose as the original concept. We are all like directors with our own individual visions, so the name is linked to the vision of each individual in the group, the vision of us all as directors. Then we saw that it will also be Dynasty of Panda, as we all meet in a workshop by an Egyptian rapper here who teaches us how to rap and we became friends. He is called Waell Elshreef, aka Big Lou Panda.

With 16 members, you're a big collective, and ages range from 14 to 22. How did the project come about? How did you all meet?
None of us actually knew any of the other members until we started gathering on Friday nights for the workshops at whatever place we could afford at the time. Each of us would just come and perform what we'd been working on, then Waell does his thing by adding his tips and what we should work on more often. Yet we should be a lot more than 16 but some just couldn't take it and just thought that they were too cool for the process, but that's totally cool by the way, we understand.

What is the creative process like with so many people? Do you all collaborate as a whole, or are there certain writing partnerships throughout the group?
Well, at the very beginning it was just chaotic I would say. With so many people we would just hit each other like 'let's do something' and the other will be like 'OK, bring up any banger and just write to it', and we would go to the workshop and perform and Waell would just say 'nope that's not it'. And that was just what it was for a while till we just figured out that we need to be more professional with what we are offering as a group and pick our song partners more carefully, and find a good concept for the song. But if you're talking about our writing process I'd have to tell you it's harder than you think to rhyme in Arabic, especially when you're sticking to a concept and want to offer something new to the listener that they actually like, but, you know, we do our thing and if they like it, cool, if they don't... whatever.

Is there a competitiveness amongst the group with people trying to be the best? And if so, does it ever lead to arguments?
Sure there is, but in an absolutely positive way. Like we congratulate each other all the time for any kind of progress any of us achieves, but also it gives you the push to work harder and prove yourself. It's a consultation between us, but we don't have arguments!

What are some of the main themes that D. O. P. Nation address in your tracks? Are there certain subjects you all agree on?
Once again, with so many people there is always a variety in the things we write about respectively, but we always try to pick important topics in our society that aren't being widely covered, and make them approachable to all ages. But actually that might put us behind for a little while because we like to offer you a song that's based on knowledge more than anything else when we are addressing important topics and problems that we see as a group of 16 people of various ages, so once again we try to do our best, if you like it we hope you support it, if you don't, whatever.

Is rap a big thing in Egypt? Something that you get in the charts or hear on mainstream radio?
Rap is not the number 1 music here. There is not enough support for this music and we are trying to improve the situation, we are working on it.

And what's the scene like in Alexandria? Are there other artists we should know about?It's really good, real hip hop, not only Alexandria but Cairo, too. If there's enough support this will bring out a lot of talent. We have many good rappers, they only need opportunities. Big Lou Panda, 99 HipStreet, Gorillan Clan, Y-Crew... there are a lot of good rappers here.

What are your main goals as a collective? What do you hope to have achieved in 5 years' time?
We hope to have a larger studio and we hope to develop our own music and to increase the fan base. We hope that D.O.P. can have a professional career.

I hear you're going back into the studio to work on new tracks very soon. When can we expect to hear them and what will they be like? Yes, we are back from a break now. We are working on our album, but before there are some single songs that will be presented soon. A collaboration featuring Abdeen and Big-D, one from Marshall, and a track featuring Darine, Joo and Osman.

Interview by Kev Wright

Listen to D.O.P. Nation Vol. 1 in full here