"My heart go out to Palestine/my name autocorrect to Taliban" raps Talib Kweli on the stunning new track and video Checkpoints: Ghetto to Gaza (available on iTunes here) just released by K-Salaam & Beatnick, with verses by Kweli and M1 of Dead Prez. The tour de force performance is one of the most challenging hip hop responses yet to the events in Ferguson, and the most effectively internationalized reading which I've yet heard.
This is not the first hip hop response to the events following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. A wide range of performers have weighed in, either musically or in the media, including the Game's all-star group track "Don't Shoot". But where the scorching T.I./Skylar Grey collaboration "New National Anthem" or J.Cole's plaintive "Be Free" focus on the very American nature of Ferguson's crisis, "Checkpoint" internationalizes the outrage by tightly linking the policing of African-Americans with the occupation of Palestine. On their Facebook page, Beatnick & K-Salaam string together the hashtags #ferguson #endpolicebrutality and #freepalestine. M1, narrating the suspicions of a Palestinian shopkeeper of an African-American boy in his shop, laments the barriers to political alliances: "little did he know I coulda been a supporter/they treat us the same way when we go to the border."
This international perspective is nothing new for M1, who has long been active on Palestinian issues and famously turned in a guest verse on the Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour's song "Al-Keffiyya Arabiyya (The Keffiyya is Arab)". Kweli, of course, has been one of the most visible and outspoken hip hop artists about Ferguson, and has long been known for his political sensibilities and global awareness. Last week, Kweli placed Ferguson within the history of the civil rights struggle and recounted his own disturbing encounter with the Ferguson police ("They pointed guns at my group and they made us lay on the ground while they secured the area.").
If you're interested in the long history of hip hop intersecting with Middle East politics, don't miss Thursday's talk at GW by Hisham Aidi about his amazing book Rebel Music. This political and artistic engagement goes far deeper than the recent focus on hip hop jihadists in ISIS (though Aidi also wrote a great article about that). Kweli, M1 and K-Salaam & Beatnick recapture a tradition of transnational political hip hop which should only grow stronger in the coming years.
UPDATE: One of the nice things about blogging again, and about Twitter, is that I can update the post. Talib Kweli tweets this clarification, which in some ways makes the song even more impressive:
Thanks also to Beatnick & K-Salaam, who tweeted that "It wasn't necessarily a "suspicious" Arab store owner. I was more trying to show the lack of unity between oppressed folks...But you got the right idea..." For all of the many issues with Twitter discourse these days, it's really pretty incredible to be able to have these kinds of real-time conversations!
Note: I haven't been able to find official lyrics, so I'm transcribing what I heard. The playlist for this post can be found here.