Fear of a Black and Arab Planet: Hip-Hop Flows From Revolution

Palestinian rap group DAM above an Israeli separation barrier.Palestinian rap group DAM above an Israeli separation barrier. (Photos: DAM Official Site)Hip-hop has always been the soundtrack of revolution – so, not surprisingly, the hip-hop movement has been an inspiration for the people of Palestine. Their artists and activists draw strong connections with the oppression of people of color in the United States, the struggle against white supremacy and, lyrically, to the sound that defies it all.

During an interview with DAM, a prestigious hip-hop group from the partially enclosed ghetto of the Israeli town Lod (formerly the Palestinian town Lydda), emcee Tamer spoke on the comparisons between African-American history and that of Palestine:

There are many things in common between us and African-Americans – the ghettos, the high numbers in prison and historically the fact that while they were stolen from their land, our land was stolen from us. We hear lots of echoes of our situation in their lyrics.

Ferguson marked a tangible moment of unity for both peoples.

Demonstrators in Ferguson were bombarded with the “Made in the USA” tear gas that is also used in Palestine. Protesters were terrorized by the police and condemned by the mainstream media for attempting to stand up for human rights. Palestinians experience these things regularly in their vanishing homeland.

A fellowship between cultural groups has been intensified despite the massive efforts to suppress the Palestinian narrative in the United States. In an eloquent statement, Palestinian individuals and groups identified the common oppressor that people of color and Palestinians share: white supremacy.

While solidarity has been steadily growing, the language of hip-hop has served as a bridge between communities. Hip-hop has grown immensely in Palestine among marginalized youth on both sides of the “Green Line,” while honoring the pioneers and grassroots beginnings of the genre. Like the kids who founded hip-hop in the South Bronx, whose neighborhoods were destroyed by gentrification, completely isolated from resources, abandoned by the government yet scrutinized by law enforcement, Palestinian rappers express the same resistance. They utilize hip-hop to promote community, self-expression and to protest environmental violence and second-class citizenship.

Method Man

For decades, US rappers have reciprocated that solidarity. Perhaps the earliest show of support for Palestine by way of hip-hop appeared in 1994. Method Man’s debut “Tical” contained a record called “PLO Style,” referring to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Method Man explained recently in an interview with Sama’an Ashrawi, that he and other Wu-Tang members deeply related to the Palestinian situation. The Clan, inspired by Palestine’s resilience, adopted the stance and applied it to their lives. “They freedom fighters and we felt like we was fighting for our freedom every day, too, where we lived at,” Method Man said.

Lupe Fiasco

Hip-hop artists understood that it was impossible to be anti-racist, believe in freedom and not support Palestine. During a live performance in 2011, Lupe Fiasco waved a giant Palestinian flag and voiced his encouragement of Palestinian freedom, proclaiming, “Lupe Fiasco, as a member of the human race / Put in my vote for Palestine to be the newest state.”

That same year, Lupe Fiasco released “Words I Never Said” featuring Skylar Grey. Over warped and percussive production, Lupe delivers these rhymes with vigor, professing honest and radical social commentary.

And these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth / Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist / Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit / That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either / I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful / And I believe in the people.

Lupe performed the same record wearing an #Oppression T-shirt during the 2011 BET Awards. Accompanied by Erykah Badu, who was partially veiled by a burqa (only revealing her eyes), Lupe Fiasco wrapped a traditional black and white kaffiyeh and Palestinian flag around his microphone. Lupe’s performance was introduced with the preface that “hip-hop is power.”

M-1 of Dead Prez

In 2011, another remarkable moment in hip-hop occurred. M-1, one half of the rap group Dead Prez, partnered with Palestinian femcee Shadia Mansour to create “Al Kufiyyeh 3arabeyyeh.” Filmed in the graffiti-covered walls of Palestine, Mansour wore traditional garb and rapped with brutal energy. In Arabic, she rhymed her disgust for the way the kaffiyeh has become exploited as a fashion statement rather than respected as a symbol of struggle. M-1 also sported a red and white kaffiyeh and defended the sacred scarf with his own lyricism.

The kaffiyeh ain’t no scarf, it’s the heart of the movement / The symbolism is resistance.

Not only are both rappers offering words of revolution and freedom, but their solidarity in sharing common ground and bonding through art sent a powerful message for Black and Palestinian unity.

Immortal Technique

Peruvian-American Immortal Technique has been a frontrunner in hip-hop advocacy for Palestine. His political and progressive expertise has also been a central theme in his music and he has voiced his position on Palestinian freedom repeatedly. From leading scholarly panels to creating protest music around the conflict, Technique has lent his support in the form of music/art, oration and activism.

Most recently, he collaborated with some of hip-hop’s most radical for “Boycott Israel.” The record produced by Tommy Tee brings attention to the international Palestinian movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Immortal Technique’s deep and gritty timbre is forceful and his words possess a captivating energy stinging with severity and righteousness.

Bambaataa told us knowledge was the fifth element / Truth behind the lies is what the music represents / So how the fuck you gonna have a peace settlement? (How?) / When people want a piece of your land to build settlements / There’s all different kinda terrorism you can perpetrate / Every dead body causes karma to circulate / There’s suicide bombin’ buildings full of civilians / Or cutting off water to cities full of children.

Technique makes powerful statements within his verse, criticizing the charge of “Palestinian terrorism,” while declaring hip-hop – by naming pioneer Afrika Bambaataa – the music of truth. In our country, a corrupt and profit-driven mainstream media has been a major factor in the lack of awareness of the genocide in Palestine and the United States’ heavy involvement. However, as Technique explains, hip-hop transcends that bias.

Talib Kweli/Black Star

The connection between Palestine and US hip-hop has evolved into a partnership. In July 2014, rapper Talib Kweli dispatched a compelling memo to Israel, Palestine and the world by canceling his upcoming performance in Israel. He declared the boycott through a series of tweets: “As much as I want to play Israel, I have decided not to in solidarity with Palestinians who will not have access to my show …” He further explained that his decision would be followed by hands-on work to help end apartheid in Palestine. “After days of discussion with many, I’ve decided to try & visit Israel & Palestine with those who fight to end the state of apartheid … rather than use my art to force the issue on those who would rather not deal with it … “

Talib joined the growing list of artists who have endorsed and participated in the Palestinian campaign for a cultural boycott of Israel. Although nearly a decade earlier, Talib Kweli had already addressed some of the disproportionality of violence on his first solo album “Quality.” In his 2002 record “Gun Music,” he communicates, “Israelis got tanks and Palestinians got rocks.” Also, along with his group mate Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), the duo changed the lyrics within “RE:DEFinition” during a Black Star performance to “let’s get free like the Palestinians!”

Chuck D

Following the murder of Michael Brown, Chuck D also expressed his support for the boycott against Israel. He publicly recognized the United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI.) Also, along with Angela Davis and Roger Waters, Chuck D and activists made an appearance in the video titled “Standing Up For Palestinian Rights.” The video commemorated the slain lives of Palestinians, exposing the mass murder that has taken place from the beginning of the Zionist occupation. Chuck D and Public Enemy have been a huge inspiration for the development of Palestinian rap and his support was pivotal for connectivity among hip-hop cultures of both lands.

Many other US and international emcees have turned their backing of Palestine into rhyme and rhetoric. Both cultures’ appalling experience includes being uprooted from their homeland and subjected to severe, systematic racism. While the Palestinians are literally imprisoned by walls that subdivide their land, people of color are similarly confined, targeted and terrorized in their own communities. In solidarity, hip-hop stands with Palestine and uses the music as the new freedom song and surge of resistance.

None of this should be unexpected, though, as the essence of hip-hop is cultural and political criticism. Hip-hop has always been the sound of marginalized communities and the universal soundtrack against white supremacy. The aforementioned trailblazers have paved the way for more mainstream rappers to show their support for Palestine and continue to utilize hip-hop’s soundscape as a representation of parallel social movements. Hip-hop will always propose the questions and connections that most mainstream artists can’t muster the courage to express.

I think it’s also sad to see that the left is in a complete disarray in the Middle East and in Israel. You have right-wing policies and draconian laws that are run rampant, to the point where people are talking about genociding the Palestinian people. And when we talk about genocide, we don’t have to go far back into history to see that being done to the people who are in Israel now. And that’s a shame. And without that historical context, where do we go as a people?
– Immortal Technique, Amaru Don TV.