Artwork (detail) from ARAB SUMMIT’s Fear Of An Arab Plane
CRITICS DECRY MAINSTREAM HIP-HOP for leaving behind its innovative and revolutionary origins, writing eulogies for the era of Public Enemy and the spirit of Bob Marley. The slick and sanitized Top 40 sounds of the mainstream do lack the aesthetically radical vibe and socially conscious rhythms that made up the vertebrae of some of earlier hip-hop's rhyme and reason, but the importance of hip-hop as a cultural haven for resisting and reclaiming power — whether with energy-releasing rhythm and loop or even politically-charged protest rhyme — has not dissipated entirely. Hip-hop remains the home of underdogs-turned-lyrical-pugilists, people who have found the beauty and power of the musical message and have turned cultural alienation into artistic purpose. There are a number of artists who do so, but over the past decade there has been a particularly notable Arab gravitation toward hip-hop culture, which a new generation is using to challenge the post-9/11 construction of the Arab-as-enemy, the Arab as alternately Aladdin and Bin Laden. The hyphenated identity of the East-in-the-West Arab experience is the platform for a relatively under-acknowledged and highly talented group of hip-hop performers and academics.
Omar Offendum, an L.A.-based rapper whose verses work to convey the complexity of Arab-American identity, done with a scholarly eye, is a notable contributor to the expanding genre. A fellow artist, the Montréal-based Iraqi-Canadian who raps as The Narcicyst (real name: Yassin Alsalman) also has an approach to hip-hop that mixes with his academic pursuits. He and the Syrian-American Offendum (real name Omar Chakaki) have done extensive collaboration exploring the roots, contradictions and challenges of Arab diaspora culture and of the hip-hop community, along with a handful of Arab expat and diaspora artists like Excentrik and Ragtop. These artists, through their academic/hip-hop hybrid work, discuss the great East-West divide and Arab identity in the post-9/11 world. They rap about stereotyping and Orientalism and harassment by the TSA and the turbulent history of hip-hop as an aggressive outlet for talking back to injustice.read more