Public Enemy’s Chuck D famously declared that hip hop was the “Black CNN.” That was before all the bling bling and trips to Paris, when hip hop was more about fighting the power and getting down than making and spending money.
Now the distinctly American musical form is back to its activist roots, thanks to protestors in the Middle East. For the Arab Spring, hip hop is the soundtrack. These are not just Facebook and Twitter revolutions. They are also rap revolutions. Each country has artists producing angry rhymes and driving beats to feed the fire.
Tunisia’s El Général
This song exploded out of Tunisia in December of 2010, when huge street protests followed the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor who lodged the ultimate protest after being harassed by police and government officials. Hamada Ben Amor, aka El Général, wrote this song, “Rais Lebled,” protesting the conditions in the country and taking aim at the regime of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Amor was arrested by Ben Ali’s forces, which only solidified “Rais Lebled” as the anthem of the revolution. His new album is being promoted by the new Tunisian Ministry of Culture.
Egypt’s Arabian Knights borrow from Lauryn Hill
This song was apparently composed in the first week of the Egyptian revolution, although the Mubarak’s government blocked the Internet, suppressing its release for several weeks. This song shows the true collaborative nature of hip hop and the internet. The track was produced by a German producer who goes by Iron Curtain, who borrowed “I find it hard to say (rebel)” from the American singer Lauryn Hill. Then the song was uploaded to the internet, and an anonymous user created this video.
From Libya to America: An exile vents in verse
Khaled M is an excellent rapper from Lexington, Kentucky with a hell of a back story. His father, Mohamed Ahmed, was jailed for resisting Qaddafi, escaped and fled to Tunisia. When the rebellion broke out in Libya, Khaled spit out this powerful song, with the chorus “You can’t take our freedom, take our souls/You’re not the one who’s in control.” Khaled recently visited Libya, and saw where his father had carved his name into the side of a mountainside during his escape. Graffiti, hip hop and revolution!
#Syria and now an anthem
Syrian-American Omar Offendum created the most popular song of the Arab spring, “#Jan25 Egypt,” which famously opened: “They say the revolution won’t be televised/Al Jazeera proved them wrong/Twitter’s got ’em paralyzed.” Now he’s back with “#Syria,” which uses street chants to powerful affect. He told the Huffington Post that he initially held back on commenting on Syria, ““but I felt that after a year, with all the talk on Russia, China, proxy wars, sanctions, people are losing sight of the human suffering.”