Since December, musicians have been responding to — and provoking — the protests in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, and much of the music being made about these movements is hip-hop.
Some of these songs have played a direct role in popular uprisings, while others have helped galvanize international support. Songs are rapped in both English and Arabic, and international collaborations have helped to spread the music over the Internet, via Facebook and YouTube.
If you go back to the early days of rap, its whole culture was created by the era’s disaffected inner-city youth. Nowadays, this outspoken form of entertainment has itself been distorted and made redundant by the very street culture that implemented it; instead of expressing a disenfranchised youth, hip hop artists exploit it.
It’s interesting to see how artists are adopting the former approach, to use their voices to wax lyrical about modern-day political strife – except on a global level rather than urban.
Here’s five of the best tracks:
Khaled M, Libya: “Can’t Take Our Freedom (feat. LowKey)”
Rapper Khaled M was born in the U.S. after his parents fled the regime of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. For “Can’t Take Our Freedom” he raps in English, drawing on the story of his father, a poet imprisoned by Gadhafi who fled with his family to Lexington, Kentucky, while also referencing the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
Omar Offendum: “#Jan25 Egypt (feat. The Narcicyst, Freeway, Ayah, Amir Sulaiman)”
“#Jan25 Egypt” was made by Arab-Americans, African-Americans and Canadians, most of whom were living in the U.S. at the time of the Egyptian Revolution. Syrian rapper Omar Offendum told Al Jazeera he contributed to the song to show “solidarity with the Egyptian people” and told NPR that the “true music of the revolution” was made by protesters on the fly. “#Jan25 Egypt” begins by refuting Gil Scott-Heron’s oft-repeated line: “I heard them say the revolution won’t be televised / Al Jazeera proved them wrong.”
Ibn Thabit, Libya: “Benghazi II”
Rapper Ibn Thabit’s website says he “has been attacking Gaddafi with his music since 2008.” On the site he offers dozens of songs for free, many of which were produced in collaboration with other Libyan rappers, producers and singers, musicians from Egypt and producers and engineers from the U.S.
Arabian Knightz, Egypt: “Rebel (feat. Lauryn Hill)”
Arabian Knightz trade a verse in Arabic for one in English, then allow their song to devolve into a sample of Lauryn Hill singing “I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)” during her 2002 MTV Unplugged performance, in which the singer rasps “Rebel, rebel, rebel, rebel,” over and over again. According to the group’s YouTube channel, they recorded the song in late January, and weren’t able to release it until the government stopped blocking the Internet a couple of weeks later.
El General, Tunisia: “Rayes Le Bled”
Hamada Ben Amor performs under the name El General. His song, “Rayes Le Bled,” which hit Facebook in late December, is a direct indictment of then-president Ben Ali’s rule, specifically, widespread hunger. Ben Amor’s arrest in early January sparked further protests in the already turbulent country, and when the revolution ended, “Rayes Le Bled” could be heard on radio stations across the country.