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February 12, 2007


Ghurab al-Bain

It is already happening, although with the usual budget limitations - only last fall the Muslim American hip-hop group "Native Deen" toured several Arab capitals on a State Department-sponsored junket and was very well received. I understand that the Ramallah concert was quite a popular happening.


Well, if you want to study themes of martyrdom in hip-hop there's always Abu Hamza al-Masry's son's hip-hop act, Lionz of da Desert...


And Palestinian hip-hop:

The Lounsbury

Cultural exchange, perhaps, but Diplomacy mate? I don't think so.

Tom Scudder

The fifty cent posters from this summer are still up in some places, somewhat the worse for the wear.

Damn, I remember when that seemed like it would be the big story from a basically boring Beirut summer.


If they really want diplomacy, I say send Public Enemy:

now whats goin on/ i dont know/ whats really goin down/ yall dont know/ between the East and the feds/ heads dont know/ but you can bet/ some of these heads be the first to go....

i see war lining these young cats/ up for bodybags/ and these so called thugs masquerading in drag/ cause now the feds checkin all dem headrags....

from all sides come the wicked/ governments/ fundamentalists/ but how you gonna/ kill the innocent?/ between terrorists/ and cia hit lists/ like my man uno says/ beware the false prophets/ gotta be smarter than this/ they say war is a profit/ with loved ones missed/ but death is a debt/ none of us aint seen war yet/ be careful what you ask for/ war is hell and hell is war....

people wanna live against evil/ avoid the third world war/ biological bombs/ 100 times worse than vietnam/ so what you gonna do?/ if you was on that plane/ both sides wouldve killed you too/ to my peoples/ stay on your p's and q's/ get your shit together.

-"Get Your Shit Together"


I got a list, and Public Enemy is most definitely on that list. Fear of a (Muslim) Planet?

Nur al-Cubicle

I say send in the The Pogues.


Well corporate rap doesn't have much of a message for diplomacy to work through, other than materialism perhaps. That could be a halfway serviceable angle: sending rap CD's/mp3's to Riyadh could be the modern equivalent of sending blue jeans and rock'n'roll to Moscow; the people lose their stomach for (anti-US)ideology in the face of imported luxuries. Of course in this case it's as likely to generate a backlash from religious conservatives and cultural xenophobes as anything.


Non-corporate rap, on the other hand, definitely has messages but they aren't the kind of messages that the State Department would want to distribute. The image of Hip Hop wasn't always about bling and thugs, it was deeply political and subversive and remains so today. Rappers only lost this edge when they were swooped up by major record labels who redirected the lyrics from revolution to the safer though much bitched about topic of bitches and ho's. Public Enemy called themselves that because they were anti-government, attacking what they viewed as the racist and oppressive nature of the police.

Really though, I would just love to see the State Department sponsor Immortal Technique, whose lyrics include:

They bombed innocent people, tryin' to murder Saddam
When you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran
This is the information that they hold back from Peter Jennings
Cause Condoleeza Rice is just a new age Sally Hemmings

Now that's what I call public diplomacy!

No, I think rap in the Arab world has more potential as a means of propagating anti-US and anti-status quo messages generates at or near the ground level. An example of this already is Palestinian rap, an example of which is DAM's "Meen Erhabe?" You might find videos such as this very interesting to add to your thoughts on viral video communications in the Arab world. The video is an example where homegrown rap is used as a medium to make political statements even more accessible, palatable, and understandable to the broader masses.

Hip hop is more likely to be the universal language of resistance/defiance than it is to be the standard bearer of US culture.


But Yohan, look at it this way - those "subversive" or "anti-American" messages are part of American culture, a vibrant and important part of it. You're right that the State Department isn't going to want to be sending out these political rappers... but that doesn't mean that their presence doesn't send out important messages about American political discourse and identity and so on..

Nur al-Cubicle

But weren't the French rappeurs of African/Arab extraction a factor in the urban riots last year?


"Non-corporate rap on the other hand, definitely has messages but they aren't the kind of messages that the State Department would want to distribute."

Self-designated "non corporate rap" sucks, by and large (and tell me what corporate rap means: that it's popular?). However much social reformer want to pretend otherwise, intention is not very important to art Honesty of description is why 50 Cent was as good as he was for a year or two.
He was able to talk the talk so well, with the sadness and regret included, because he'd walked the walk. That's what makes the hardest hardcore rap impressive. It's why I'll listen to Styles P. but I won't read Jarhead: I don't give a fuck about killers who chose to be killers. Though I suppose a good description of the life of suburnan adolescence might change my mind, Swofford's not the man to write it.

If you want "corporate rap"/popular entertainment that tosses in some politics as part of the larger package without pretending to be something its not, listen to"War" by Outkast.


In Bab Touma, part of the Old City in Damascus. There's some graffiti on the wall that says:

50 Cent
DJ SexMan

And there's another bit by the British Council that says:

Fuck this world
And no regrets
I flip the switch
On this dark sets

I think Fiddy would go down well.


intention is not very important to art Honesty of description is ... I don't give a fuck about killers who chose to be killers.

I'm trying to figure out if I should admire your artistic honesty or weep for your moral ontology. Possibly both.

Anyone up for a State Department-funded Coup-T-KASH double billing?


"weep for [my] moral ontology?"
Don't bother. When was there an artist who was also a saint? The closest I've ever been able to come up with is Fra Angelico, but then again he worked for a church known more (as most are) for its sinners.
Nope: it's honesty that leaves a mark, not the pretension, or even the hope, of something else. That's why the art that's gets remembered is always conservative but never reactionary.
Maybe that's your confusion?

Non-Arab Arab

Doesn't the entire "this would be great public diplomacy" argument miss a point that Abu Khanzeer al-Ard has himself made many times: it's the policy stupid! Even with all the opinion polls of Americans in a broader sense going downhill, American pop culture remains extremely popular (though "diversification" into admiration for other pop cultures and allies is growing too). It's never been about the pop culture, it's about crummy policies. Even if State could arrange a wildly successful set of concerts, you think anyone's going to walk away happier about what the US has done to Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia, etc.?


[Jadakiss] I know a few dudes doin life bids in jail
[Styles] And they way smarter then the white kids in Yale
[Jadakiss] But that how life is
[Styles] And that how the gun and the knife is

monkey knife fight

For some reason, this thread got me thinking about the state of heavy metal in the ME, so I cruised by the Encyclopedia Metallum and checked out the 'bands by country' section. I figured most of it would be progressive metal (think Queensryche) and thrash metal (think old Metallica and Megadeth), but I surprised by the amount of black metal bands. I didn't realize that black leather, upside down crosses and facepaint were all that popular outside of Scandanavia. Heh.


Dear MKF,

here's an article I wrote a while ago, "Death Metal in Damascus".


There is actually a metal scene in the MidEast. There was even an Iraqi heavy metal band before the 2003 War, but I don't know what happened to them (might've been the Acrassicauda mentioned in the encyclopedia). They probably emigrated. (They'd been talking about wanting to go to Europe to record anyway.)




Just wait until Ted Swedenberg publishes his 'death metal in Egypt' paper that he's been talking about with me for years now...


Sort of a propos:


The Lounsbury

In general the whole conversation is utter bollocks as (i) frankly with some limited exceptions , the particular style of music in question has relatively limited appeal if I may base my opinion on what I hear a cross regional cut of radio and cassette play at the mass (read poor) level [this excludes Maghrebine rai-rap I would add]
(ii) the "alternative" or "oppositional" posturing aside by the typical Leftist whankers, there is hardly very much socially relevant to most of the MENA region, insofar as mass/popular opposition that I see is expressed via Islam, not rap (again exceptoins occur, but certainly not US style rap);
(iii) the entire concept is bloody whankery of the most precious typical airy headed Left sort of thinking.

Ted Swedenburg

As far as I can tell by reading about this program, it seems pretty limited--mostly about Toni Blackman, the Ambassador of Hip Hop (www.toniblackman.com) touring Asia and Africa, performing and lecturing about hip-hop. Toni Blackman is certain not a "known" rapper, and even if Native Deen toured Arab capitals on a State Department tour, it doesn't appear that the "rap" diplomacy goes much further. Nothing comparable to the USIA tours of jazz giansts like Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong in the '50s and '60s. Slate published an article by Thaddeus Russell back in August arguing that the US *should* be using hip-hop in its diplomacy (see http://swedenburg.blogspot.com/2006/12/beyonc-vs-islamism.html).


Lounsbury - for once I have to disagree with you, all evidence is that US style rap is very popular in the Middle East. I've actually got a little market data on it, beyond personal anecdote (probably a class and age bias too). But the popular stuff is the same stuff which is popular on US radio, not the kinds of things up the comments thread.

The Lounsbury

Very popular?

Somewhat popular, in certain circles. Leb Pop Tartism and Egyptian wailing on far more so, and deeper down the social ladder.

Regardless, the idea of Hip Hop or Rap as public diplo tools strikes me as delusional.

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