Hip-hop plays role in revolutions
The Minority Report
Hip-hop has been a polarizing music genre in our society for decades. Some blame it for societal ills like misogyny, racism and materialism. Others view it as an outlet and a necessary means of expression. But regardless of how it may be viewed among Americans, no one really foresaw the impact it would have in the global movement toward justice, and especially within the Arab revolutions.
Born from the spoken word poetry of black artists in the ’60s and ’70s, hip-hop was no doubt born as a social movement. It became popular on the heels of the civil rights era, tackling issues such as poverty, discrimination and adversity. It was much more common to find socially conscious rappers on the scene — think today’s Mos Def — that shaped the hip-hop atmosphere for their generation.
Hip-hop was viewed by its adorers as standing on the outside looking in, being able to swim upstream in a society where most people thought one way, and courageously getting vocal about issues while finally having your voice be heard. It no doubt represented the opinions of those that were otherwise marginalized in our society during a time when African Americans were still struggling against the remnants of institutionalized discrimination. Hip-hop unified the struggle against the system, and that’s why it may come as no surprise this same form of expression has been harnessed by Arab youth in 2011 as a way to publicize their grievances of their faulty governments.
Take it back to where it all started — Tunisia. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had a tight grip over the corrupt government as well as his own people. But then, amid increasing protests and the growing momentum of the people’s discontent, a young Tunisian by the pseudonym of El General popped up on the scene. Rapping a powerful song of dissatisfaction with the government, El General’s video became a hit on Facebook and Youtube and resonated with youth throughout the country. It was unheard of for someone to outspokenly criticize the government, especially Ben Ali’s, and the groundbreaking song broke barriers in the country’s long struggle for freedom of speech.
Move it over to Egypt, where a popular Egyptian MC that goes by the name of Deeb raps in a similar fashion. He works with the platform that hip-hop was founded on, fighting against discrimination, to voice his criticisms of the government. During the turmoil in Egypt, Deeb used rich metaphors in his songs to voice his animosity of former President Hosni Mubarak and the social ills that resulted from his faulty regime. Deeb even collaborated with artists from other Arab countries on songs that range in topic from Palestine to Iraq, which re-energized Arab youth and reminded them that all Arabs are facing the same struggles.
Palestine has been a hotbed of hip-hop activism as well. The first Palestinian hip-hop group, DAM, is coming from the Middle East to visit the University this Friday in the Douglass Campus Center. Veterans in utilizing the power of music to make their voices be heard, Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri, the three members of the group, have been rapping for a decade now. Their influential songs focus on the plight of the Palestinian people, the shortcomings of the Israeli government and ultimately their eternal quest for freedom. In an attempt to build bridges, DAM raps in English, Arabic and Hebrew to get their message across to as many people as they can.
Obviously hip-hop cannot in any way be credited for bringing about the revolutions, but it does add an interesting dynamic to the situation that resonates with people the world over. Here at home, many Arab-Americans inspired by the struggles of their brothers overseas have taken to the mics as well. Syrian-American Omar Offendum and Iraqi-Canadian The Narcicyst are two of the most notable Arab rappers in the country. Among their countless songs about the treatment of Arabs and Muslims both in America and abroad, the two artists collaborated on the song “#Jan25” in honor of the Egyptian revolution.
While many of today’s American rappers may have lost sight of hip-hop’s roots, the power of this music genre is certainly undeniable. It was born from the African-American struggle against adversity and inequality, and has transcended races and boundaries in attaining this end, its influence now reaching the conflict-ridden Middle East. Those who say “hip-hop is dead” should rethink their stance — it seems like the true essence of hip-hop is still alive and kicking, its sound inspiring marginalized youth across the world.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Middle Eastern studies and political science with a minor in French. Her column, “The Minority Report,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.