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VMP Rising: Khadija Al Hanafi

On June 13, 2024

VMP Rising is our series where we celebrate up-and-coming bands and put their music on vinyl, often for the first time ever. Our newest VMP Rising artist is Khadija Al Hanafi, whose albums Slime Patrol and Slime Patrol 2 are in our store now. 

Growing up in Tunisia, Khadija Al-Hanafi and her friends dreamed of joining the national women’s soccer team, spending most of their time practicing on the pitch. Though these ambitions to represent her country as an athlete never quite panned out, Al-Hanafi’s love of American rap music, particularly Atlanta’s eclectic trap scene, would chart a path for her to international acclaim as a genre-blending footwork producer.

“I really started listening to Atlanta’s music with Young Thug, and then from there I started exploring his influences,” she says. “I’ve always been the only one listening to this type of music in my friend group — not a lot of girls listen to this type of music where I’m from and traditional parents tend to think it’s too violent/obscene.”

For Al-Hanafi, trap music’s appeal stemmed from its unpredictable energy. She describes the music of Thug, Lil Keed, and Playboi Carti as “mixing Looney Tunes and violence,” finding artistic kinship in their taste for zany, improvisatory songcraft. Though the first two volumes of her Slime Patrol series take much of their influence from the raw, sampladelic club music made by footwork’s Chicago pioneers like RP Boo and DJ Rashad, the voices of Al-Hanafi’s favorite rappers are cut and pasted throughout like ad-libbed punctuation.

Fusing disparate styles is a skill she picked up even before trying her hand at production. Al-Hanafi got her first taste of electronic music watching her older brother and cousin spinning Chicago house, Detroit techno, and French touch at local weddings and events. “When they were practicing on the controllers, they would do mashups of popular songs on techno and house beats,” she says. “I was always telling them ‘do this artist on this beat’ or ‘add this type of acapella on this song.’

Her brother taught her the basics of DJing, but it wasn’t until Al-Hanafi was able to borrow a laptop from her high school computer class that she really began to compose her own tracks. “It had restricted internet access with only YouTube and some already installed software,” she says. “One of them was Audacity, and I started experimenting and trying different things with it.”

Visiting her aunt in France, who lived above a record store, also broadened Al-Hanafi’s musical horizons. Though she didn’t have a turntable, Al-Hanafi would take photos of any albums that looked interesting and listen to them on her phone later. “Thierry, the owner, saw that I was into a lot of footwork and hip-hop, and he knew that I was making music,” she says. “He also knew the guys at Fada Records, so he connected us. The first collection of songs I sent ended up becoming the first Slime Patrol album. Before that, I had never released anything on Spotify or YouTube.”

Al Hanafi’s debut record, released on cassette by Fada in December 2020, offered a unique, surprisingly cozy, perspective on traditional footwork production. Though the tape’s frenetic, 160 BPM drum machine patterns should be familiar to fans of the genre, Slime Patrol strays from its influences by focusing more on the overarching listening experience than the granular details of each track. 

Loose, sketch-like cuts seamlessly blur into each other as if they’re part of a DJ mix, a result of Al-Hanafi’s holistic production style. She composed multiple tracks of the record in the same DAW project, allowing her to consider each new idea’s effect on its neighboring song. She revels in the messiness of her samples, emphasizing the crackles that accent an R&B loop or allowing a jazz piano solo to spill deliriously outside the margins of the beat. The warm blanket of fuzz draped around the music blunts the chaotic edge, giving things a nostalgic, homespun feel.

Highlight “Walk Wit Me,” built around a dreamy keyboard progression, even features contributions from one of footwork’s key figures, DJ Earl. “Earl is a living legend and he is so nice,” says Al-Hanafi. “I really wanted to collaborate with someone from the Teklife crew, but I was too afraid to ask. Fada ended up connecting me with him and sent him some previews of my music. He loved it and was happy that a woman was making this music — especially someone not coming from Chicago.”

Though positive, the initial response to Slime Patrol was a bit overwhelming for Al-Hanafi, who hadn’t originally planned on taking music seriously. “Suddenly, I had promoters, bloggers, and other people asking me to do shows, which was a lot of pressure. I started traveling and finding myself in places where I felt I did not belong. For me, it was a lot of ups and downs on the personal side too, with my family and legal stuff. After a while, I decided to take a step back and just focus on myself.”

During that time, Al-Hanafi consciously challenged herself by digging for a wider variety of sample material and working within different genres. Slime Patrol 2, released three years after its predecessor, dabbled in jersey club, jungle, and juke while retaining the muffled intimacy of her past work. “I like trying new things and even trying things that I have been listening to but never dared to make before,” she says. “Recently, I have been listening to a lot of bouyon and batida, which I might try to incorporate into my future music.”

Since the release of Slime Patrol 2, Al-Hanafi has been spending time with her family while preparing for her European tour in the fall. Though there are new projects in the works, she doesn’t want to rush their completion “My hope for the future is that people give me time and space for my creation process,” she says. “I’m lucky to have a supportive team and friends around me. Sometimes, I don't know if I’m ready for everything that comes with being an artist in demand, but I’m going to make the best of it.”

Profile Picture of Jude Noel
Jude Noel

Jude Noel is a Kentucky-based writer and critic. His work has appeared in Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily, and TinyMixTapes.

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