BEIRUT: For years, Laith Al-Husseini lived a double life. In one, he was an introverted student of medicine in Amman, who barely left his room and did nothing but study while taking Ritalin. He was just 13 when the pharmaceutical stimulant, used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was first prescribed to him.
In the other, he has been one of the Middle East’s most vaunted and versatile hip-hop artists: The Synaptik – a name he chose to immortalize his fascination with the inner workings of the human nervous system.
Upon graduating in 2019, Al-Husseini set out to dismantle his two-pronged reality and ignite a personal metamorphosis. “I finished med school and decided to get off Ritalin immediately. I also decided to move to Palestine,” he tells Arab News. “I’d paid my debt to my family and society and was now going to do my thing.”
At the time, the Palestinian-Jordanian artist already had an LP under his belt. The uncompromisingly honest rhymes and melodic hooks he served up on 2018’s “Om Al-Mawjat” helped confirm him as one of the region’s most exciting new talents and earned him a deal with Warner Music Middle East.
But none of that would appropriately prepare him for the journey he was about to embark on, culminating in the release of his sophomore album, “Al-Qamar Wal Moheet” (The Moon and The Ocean).
“I started working on it when I had all these questions about myself. After quitting the meds cold turkey, I needed to start over,” he says.
He attributes his decision to move to Palestine to the vibrant dynamic in the underground music scenes in Haifa and Ramallah, where he now lives. “I did a bunch of shows here and I told myself ‘Khalas, I’m moving.’”
“Al Qamar Wal Moheet” is a chronicle of the man’s journey of self-discovery. “I asked myself who I am and why I am,” he says. “It’s about how much have I changed and matured.”
He dismisses any romantic preconceptions his audiences might have about the endeavor: “Setting off into the real world can be very traumatizing.”
He describes the process he calls “Becoming The Synaptik.”
“I got a bunch of tattoos. I lost a lot of weight. I became a different person,” he says. “I was escaping my past, and all the dark things in my life. It was a very intense journey of trying to find inner peace after a lot of ups and downs. It was hardcore.”
And Palestine was the right place for him to fully embrace this change. “There is a lot more freedom here, ironically. You can just let go and be whoever you want.”
“Al Qamar Wal Moheet” — an embodiment of The Synaptik’s quest to “find a middle ground between the moon and the ocean, the balance between the two extremes that my life was” — is no typical hip-hop/trap record. He weaves R&B, pop and elements of traditional Palestinian music into a seamless fusion with his own unique sound and distinctive vocal style that alternates between rapping and singing.
The “dark, personal and intense” 15-track release sees Al-Husseini feeling like he’s “going to change the world,” only to collide “with disappointments and demons” which he meets head on with “perseverance after hitting rock bottom, and a reconciliation between Laith and who I am as The Synaptik.”
It features contributions from fellow Arab hip-hop luminaries including Egypt’s Abyusif, Saudi Arabia’s Moayad, and Syria’s Bu Kolthoum, all of whom Al-Husseini involved for their perspectives on the issues he was dealing with. The result is a powerful account of not only his personal struggles, but also daily life in the West Bank as “a second-class citizen” in Occupied Palestine.
“The 24-hour oppression (means) your life is as difficult as possible. If I have a show ‘behind the wall,’ I need to get a permit, wait for seven hours in a metal cage with 300 others, then face a soldier who either refuses to talk to me or says things I can’t repeat in an interview.”
If anything, though, The Synaptik is characteristically cerebral about the hardships, which, like the effects of the pandemic on his ability to perform, he chooses to see as empowering. “It all gives me thicker skin and a lot of patience. I am more confident about where I’m going and what I want. The reality here is intense, but I feel that a lot of great art is going to come out of this and add even more great music to the scene.”