What we're seeing across North Africa and the Middle East is a youth revolution, driven by disenfranchisement and a lack of opportunities. Hip hop has always been the original soundtrack for that. It started in the city Ford told to drop dead, and since "The Message" it's been the theme music for angry young people whose rage is against poverty, ghettos and repression--political, racial and economic. Public Enemy made politics and fist-up rebellion their sound, and the torch's been carried by a handful since then.
Hip hop's been international for years, go get a late pass. I remember reading about Polish MCs in crumbling Soviet-era projects saying they couldn't understand the words of hip-hop, but the beats and the message still spoke to them. There are ghettos all over the world, and hip hop is there. OK, sure, it gets watered down here and over there as party music, gangsta posturing and fake rebellion in fitteds and sagging shorts, but on the real it's what Chuck D (in his Hannah Arendt moment) called 'the CNN of the ghetto,' now more than ever.
In the long hot Arab rebellion, more and more of what reaches us isn't coming from CNN but from cellphone video and social media. (Why you think Qaddafi's troops have been confiscating SIM cards from those hitting the borders?) Just as hip hop made itself from available technology and instruments--the turntable and the mic, in the absence of guitar lessons and studio time--these kids are using the internet as their mixtapes-from-the-trunk distribution system. Free, instant and worldwide--it takes a nation's kill switches to hold them back.
And this also allows them to provide instant responses to events which are unfolding on the daily; as soon as they cut the track they can pump it out there. This gives them greater urgency and timeliness than we've ever seen before--the fourteen months between the first Iraq invasion and P.E.'s Apocalypse '91 didn't make the LP any less hard-hitting, but it's not how we roll two decades later.
Of all the Arab uprisings, Libya's been the most bloody, where the people's peaceful protests have had to turn into an armed rebellion. (As of today anyways...who knows what Syria, Yemen or Bahrain will look like a month from now...)
So now would be a good time to hip you to Ibn Thabit, Libya's own Immortal Technique. Not to make a lazy comparison; Thabit's flow, spitting and even a borrowed beat or two ("Tripoli Calling") and his own acknowledged influence join the parallels.
Technique's pretty much the only and best political rapper we've got right now, and he was also the first to give it a more international view. P.E., Paris, The Coup and dead prez were more concerned with Amerikkkan idols, but Tech always took a broader view, so it's only right Ibn Thabit should use him as a model. The more international hip-hop gets, the more it functions as Chuck D's CNN of the ghetto--what he meant was it was ghetto kids giving reports to each other on what was going on in their hoods. And the more international joints we hear, the more the gangsta fakery and Twitter beefs of Rawse and Gucci look empty and stupid. Remember that K'Naan song, 'What's Hardcore?' If I rhymed about home [Somalia] and got descriptive, I'd make Fifty Cent look like Limp Biskit.
Now lemme get this straight for y'all: I'm putting Thabit up here because his shit is fire, not for novelty value. His beats are tight and he spits like a beast. Of course, I don't know what he's saying, but I'll put twenty he's not extolling the syrup selection at the Misrata IHOP. ('Call To The Libyan Youth' lyrics, and two other songs, are here.) In his own words:
Ibn Thabit has been attacking Gaddafi with his music since 2008. He has never been a member of any organized political group; he is just an ordinary Libyan speaking the thoughts of many Libyan youth. Of course he has had to remain anonymous to protect himself and his family in Libya, and prefers not to give very many personal details.
In case you thought this all jumped off on Feb 17th, Thabit cut a song called 'Benghazi' in 2009 and 'Momar The Coward' in 2008. He's from Tahruna, and his whole family's in Tripoli at the moment--imagine what this cat's going through right now, but he's still knocking out songs.
“Some guys consider this a lot of fun, and they’re hoping the war lasts a lot longer,” said Marwan Buhidma, a 21-year-old computer student who credited video games with helping him figure out how to operate a 14.5-millimeter antiaircraft battery.
An hour or so before Friday’s headlong retreat, a gaggle of young men in aviator sunglasses and knit caps danced on military hardware, thrusting weapons into the air.
“Where is the house of the guy with really bad hair?” they chanted, referring to Colonel Qaddafi, jumping on spent cartridges and empty milk cartons. “Let’s go down the road and see it!”
--NY Times, 13.3.11
Say swag one more time.
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