This is a hunting season the prey is one more home
Of a dove trying to survive under the hawk’s regime
(page ripped) lets try something more optimistic:
each day I wake up and see like a 1000 cops
maybe they came to arrest a dealer…(he’s ever here, over here, oh no
they came to destroy his neighbor’s home)
what is happening here? A hate bubble surrounding the ghetto
why is it hard for him? And who’s going to answer him? Anywhere
I go, excuses are there to greet me
I broke the law? No no the law broke me
enough, enough (enough, enough) gentlemen (gentlemen)
I was born here, my grandparents were also born here, you will not sever me
From my roots (you will not sever me from my roots) understand, even if
I have faith in this “if you wish it is not a legend” regime
You still haven’t allowed me to build a porch to stand on and express it
—Tamer Nafar of DAM—"Born Here" translated lyrics
When explaining Hip-Hop to people my motto has always been: "Hip-Hop in its essence is regional", based, of course, on the word play at the heart of one of Hip-Hop's greatest songs, Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R.". I'm always blown away at how kids the world over take the basic art form, and make it so emphatically theirs. The quickest way to get clowned in many countries is to try to rap just like 50 Cent, or even just like Talib Kweli. Same goes for DJing and the other elements. It's already been the case in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, East Great Lakes, Los Angeles, the Bay area and more places within the U.S. Hip Hop was born in New York (with much courtesy from Jamaican immigrants), but anywhere it's picked up, it takes on an instant regional flavor. This is the strength of Hip-Hop.
I personally look out for the different Hip-Hop flavors of Paris, Lyon Zürich, Toronto, Dakar, Lagos, Havana, Tokyo, and many such places. It looks as if I'll have to add the West Bank to that listing.
Via Ethan Zuckerman I learned about a precious blossoming of Hip-Hop in Palestine. I've listened to a bunch of the linked tracks and watched a bunch of the videos. This shit is mad hot. The kids are articulate, angry and yet extraordinarily circumspect. Like many very sad observers of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I've found too little distinction made between Israeli, hard-line Zionist, Palestinian, terrorist, refugee, etc. These Palestinian rappers vent their frustration with the heavy-handed tactics of Israeli security forces without succumbing completely to the "annihilate Israel" logic of extremists. Sure there are parts of the Israeli side of the story that you're never going to get a fair hearing from in Palestinian rap, but no one could reasonably expect any more in such a polarized situation.
I personally believe that it's the "keep it real" ethic of Hip-Hop that makes it possible and even essential in such horrible conflicts for people to speak their mind without losing their minds. "Keep it real" is the same ethic that allows Hip-Hop to adapt so completely in wide-ranging locales. It can have negative consequences, from glorifying violence and sexism to causing smaller-scale conflict such as the Tupac/Biggie feud, but you rarely have to strain your ears before you find the culture quite willingly criticizing itself. And there is plenty of karma to balance out the negatives. Just last month (1) (2) there was a U.S. release of an amazing hip-hop collaboration between a Emmanuel Jal, a Sudanese Christian former child soldier and Abdel Gadir Salim, a Sudanese Muslim bandleader. This is a conflict that has risen to levels of total war and genocide. I don't expect the release of Ceasefire will end the very deep-seated Sudanese strife, but it is just another example of how Hip-Hop brings people and cultures together even while it thrives on authentic cultural identity. Hip-Hop in its essence is Sudanese.
Sidebar. I went to watch Mos Def (purportedly), Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch and Jean Grae at the Ogden Theater in Denver on Thursday. Mos Def was a no-show due to illness, but Talib Kweli is the one I wanted to see the most, anyway, and it would be my first time watching Pharoahe in concert. All the performers held it down solid, and as often happens when I go to such ensemble concerts, I had a pleasant surprise. K'naan, front man of The Dustyfoot Philospher, is a Toronto-based Somali rapper I'd never heard of. He did a superlative set rapping and singing while playing a traditional drum, with two other drummers working beside backup strings, organ, and a DJ. It was all-out boom-bap with unmistakable East African flavor. He moved the crowd to near hysteria (not bad for the act with leftover billing). He didn't get much into the simmering disputes between Somalia and Eritrea, but he definitely waxed eloquent about how real it is just to keep life and limb together in so much of his Motherland, and the many international and home-grown outrages that fuel the tragedies (keeping it real: he's as hard on Black warlords as he is on White colonists). Yeah. Hip-Hop in its essence is also Somalian.
As my peeps used to say in the early 90s: "Peace in the Middle East".