SULTAN – The Creation of an Epic Universe

A deep dive into the creative minds behind "Sultan" and the world they've built.

SULTAN – The Creation of an Epic Universe
Menna Shanab

We dissected the epic visual world of ‘Sultan’ with none other than Shabjdeed (Instagram) himself and the designer behind the infinite universe, Hussein Nassereddine. Building upon the thematic groundwork laid in their debut album ‘Sindibad Al Ward,’ BLTNM’s Shabjdeed and Al Nather’s sophomore album, Sultan, establishes a sprawling universe that extends beyond the music itself. This immersive experience offers a glimpse into an alternate reality, where the listener becomes part of Sultan’s expansive territory, traversing the Arab world and encountering unseen landscapes.

The five-year journey to Sultan is evident in the depth of its storytelling, with the world-building process commencing three years prior to the album’s release. Shabjdeed, an artist known for his playful and insightful lyricism, transformed into Sultan, a persona reflecting a darker and more introspective side. This evolution demanded a visual identity to match. Enter Hussein Nassereddine, the artist entrusted with translating the essence of Sultan into a cohesive visual language.

Shabjdeed explains the organic evolution of the project’s visual identity: “The album was finished as an audio experience before we started working on our visual concepts. So it’s connected by nature, because the visuals are inspired by the album.” This inherent connection, as Shabjdeed highlights, led them to initially envision a cohesive visual background for the album, something that transcended individual video clips or artwork. However, the ideas blossomed organically, taking on a life of their own.

The visuals began to develop into a narrative, a story so intricate that it demanded a full-fledged book to capture its essence. Shabjdeed elaborates: “And then it started developing into a story. And then it started evolving into this story that might need a book to describe it.” Within this book, each character has a distinct background and visual identity, reflecting the richness of the world they were building. “And then in this book, there are characters, these characters have different backgrounds, each one has its own aesthetic, we have legs for each character’s background in the story.” As Shabjdeed aptly concludes, “This collaborative process led to the creation of a story, a book, and even a flag, each element building upon the last to form a holistic, artistic project.”

Nassereddine’s vision extended far beyond the album cover. He meticulously crafted a universe encompassing everything from merchandise to a visual pocketbook and even a novella by Maan Abu Taleb. Each element served as a piece of the puzzle, transporting the listener deeper into Sultan’s realm.

“There was a lot of back and forth in terms of storytelling and word building,” explains Nassereddine. Drawing inspiration from various sources, they embarked on a years-long journey to develop a unique visual language for Sultan. “We started with a few seemingly very general ideas and it kept getting narrowed down,” he says on the visual identity. “We started from the desert, ancient inscriptions on desert rocks from the old Arab days, from pre-Islamic times. We also went into a lot of Islamic aesthetics from different empires or eras, from the Abbasids to the Ottomans and modern times.”

The album cover, featuring a symbolic coat of arms, is particularly noteworthy. “In the story Sultan becomes the king of all the tribes somehow,” explains Nassereddine. “We wanted an aesthetic that reflects someone like this and his great journey from the desert, from being no one to ascending the ranks of the tribes and, the traditions of the desert, and becoming the unifier of all these tribes. This metallic coat of arms, combines all these tribes in the fictional world of Sultan. “It is not digitally designed, but crafted from an actual metal sheet, features a “Samurai Helmet, an F 70, Toyota truck, the arms, actual weapons that are on each side, inspired by the story of ascension, and from this aesthetic of someone building an army in the desert.”

Nassereddine elaborates on the intention behind the album cover’s layered symbolism: “So for people who just want to interact with the album, as a listener who sees this visual as the album cover, we wanted to show all of these hidden layers without necessarily telling people, this is a coat of arms of this fictional story.” Their aim, as Nassereddine explains, is to pique the listener’s curiosity, prompting them to delve deeper into the “Sultan journey” and uncover the narrative layers woven throughout the album and its accompanying elements through a gradual, “slow, slow burn.” This approach allows the listener to engage with the story at their own pace, fostering a sense of discovery and personal connection with the artistic vision.

The meticulous attention to detail extends beyond the album cover. “There is very rarely anything in the visuals of the album that is done digitally,” reveals Nassereddine. “Everything, like all the metallic aesthetic was actually made out of big sheets of metal that we’ve engraved and then photographed…” This dedication to physicality further blurs the lines between the fictional world of Sultan and our own.


Hussein emphasizes the importance of tangible elements in bridging the gap between the fictional world and reality: “We wanted this materiality also to show in the visuals of the album. Because also the word of Sultan is not like a fantastical one, it’s so close to our real world.”  He explains their desire to utilize physical objects, like the metal sheets used in the album cover and even a real flag, to create a sense of tangibility.

Shabjdeed explains how this entire universe unraveled, “When we say in the story or in the book, in our search of an album identity, the search went too far. And we got carried away. We actually wrote a story where Sultan starts his journey and ends and then the story unfolds. It will be printed released soon after the album.” This story will have its own visual world, accompanied by miniatures commissioned for the book by Lebanese artist Omar Khoury. Even seemingly mundane objects like cigarette packets are imbued with meaning. “We made a cigarette packet for Sultan also,” Shabjdeed chimes in, “With actual cigarettes.” The creation of this seemingly insignificant element highlights the expansive and “generative” nature of the Sultan universe, a universe that “keeps giving elements and items and fun things…”


The music video serves as the culmination of this collaborative effort. “The music video is the ultimate combination between Shabjdeed the rapper you know and Sultan-themed world,” explains Shabjdeed. Directed by Areej Mahmoud, the video brings together a global team to visually translate the essence of Sultan, the music, and the story Mahmoud’s direction and filmography further brought this world to life. The music video for “tal abib,” for example, features Shabjdeed rapping about Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, while traversing vast desertscapes alongside Al Nather. The visuals perfectly complement the song’s melancholic undertones and the vastness of Sultan’s territory.


The sonic tapestry of Sultan is no less impressive. Al Nather, the producer known for his “Arab futurism” sound, blends traditional Palestinian wedding music with elements of drum and bass and downtempo hip hop. This creates a unique soundscape that transcends geographical and cultural boundaries, mirroring the album’s thematic exploration. The creative process behind Sultan was refreshingly organic. Shabjdeed and Al Nather would meet in the studio, letting each track influence the next, creating a cohesive musical and lyrical narrative. The album is a reflection of their shared experiences, challenges, and inspirations over the past three years.

The result is a powerful and thought-provoking album that delves into the complexities of life in Palestine, offering a window into unseen realities and alternative narratives. Sultan is a story, a feeling, and an experience, meticulously crafted by a team of dedicated artists. As you immerse yourself in this world, be prepared to be challenged, moved, and inspired.

Looking to discover more sounds from the region? Dive deeper with our dedicated music coverage here.