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Arabic rap

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Arabic rap

Arabic hip hop is hip hop music and culture originating in the Arabic-speaking world. It is performed in Arabic, and local Arabic dialects, English, French, Berber languages (Tamazight). Like most artists of the genre, the artists from the Arab world are highly influenced by American hip hop.

Also considered part of Arabic hip hop are emcees of Arab origin in the Arab diaspora including Europe, North America, and Australia.

Arabic hip hop is played on radio stations and shown on TV programs, but live hip hop performances only began in the 1990s. Many hip hop groups are still underground because their political views could lead to government censure. Therefore, the Internet has been a major outlet for most groups. Hip-hop in Arab states has been mobilized and spread through online social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Consequently, and in the context of recent political movements in the region, hip-hop has played a role in contesting against states who have long inhibited the freedom of expression.


Before Arabic hip-hop emerged as a separate genre, Arab-Americans were regularly involved in hip-hop in the United States, notably producer Fredwreck, based in L.A. and Miami-based DJ Khaled.[1] American hip-hop music began to see popularity in the Arab World in the early-to-mid 1990s. Northern African Arabs, mostly residing in France, the epi-center of European hip-hop,[2] were the first to begin making the music that constitutes the Arabic hip-hop genre. For example, the Super Saian Crew and IAM had Arabic members.[3] This music, a product of the French banlieue’s beur and noir communities, was a blend of traditional American hip-hop, the French styles popular at the time, and Raï, a popular music style from Northern Africa.[2] French hip-hop rose to popularity partly because of Francophone radio broadcasting requirements, begun in 1994, that established quotas for all stations of 40% of daily broadcasts to be in French.[4]

Groups began to emerge in Palestine in the mid-90s, including popular group DAM. DJ Lethal Skillz was promoting new local groups "such as Aks El Seir" at around the same time. In Egypt, hip-hop was less popular, but a small buzz led to an emergent b-boy population. In 2004, the first hip-hop show took place there when the RZA, member of the Wu-Tang Clan, performed in the Siag Hotel in Cairo alongside Kinetic 9 of Killarmy, a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, Cilvaringz (a Moroccan-Dutch, and the first Arab to get signed by an American rap group) and Saleh Edin, an Arab Moroccan rapper.[3]

In 2006, Arabic hip-hop solidified its mainstream presence in the Arab World with Hip Hop Na, a reality TV show on MTV Arabia hosted by Fredwreck and Qusai, a Saudi Arabian Artist.[3] Hip-hop, both Arabic and American, is followed and created to varying degrees in most of the countries of the Arab world, including where social and political restrictions make this difficult. For example, Saudi Arabia is home to the group Dark2Men, who competed in the HipHopNa reality show mentioned above. In addition, break dancing "has become a popular pastime in the kingdom".[5]

It is difficult to establish numbers for albums sold or listenership by demographic in the Arab world due to the lack of reliable statistics. Furthermore, viewership of satellite TV in the Arab world cannot be accurately quantified.[6] However, we can discern popularity through marketing techniques utilized by satellite television providers. According to a 2007 report, "more than 85 percent of urban households in the Arab world have satellite television," a forum that has expanded to include music channels such as MTV Arabia which "[at the time] plan[ned] to offer a hefty dose of [mainly western] hip-hop and much of the same youth-lifestyle programming MTV beams across the U.S."[7]

Female hip-hop

Although it is unclear whether or not there is a separate and distinct female Arabic hip-hop genre, artists such as Shadia Mansour from Palestine and Malikah from Lebanon, are very eloquent in the Arabic Hip-Hop art form, then we have the Egyptian EmpresS *1 the "First Female Egyptian Rapper" in Egypt that is more on the African tip giving credit to both her African and Arabian roots. Female hip-hop artists are involved in a number of outreach activities in the Arab, African and International World. In 2010 EmpresS *1 was invited from Egypt to Khartoum, Sudan by the Ministry of Culture, Studio One and Space, to workshop and perform at Beit el Fenoon, working with young Sudanese rappers, poets and singers from different parts of Sudan.[8] EmpresS *1 has also done similar work in the UK, Brazil and Egypt. Shadia Mansour Arabia's "First Lady of Hip-Hop" pays regular visits to Palestine to help with musical aid throughout the war. Female Arab Rappers performed at "Home and Exile in Queer Experience", a conference organized by Aswat, "an organization for Arab lesbians with members in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip".[9]

Musical Influence

Arabic hip-hop artists, commensurate with those of the overall genre, engage in the process of sampling. According to Jannis Androutsopoulos, sampling is "a process of cultural literacy and intertextual reference... taken from various domains, such as traditional folk music, contemporary popular music, mass media samples, and even poetry."[10] Artists in the genre cite musical references, influences, and sampling material from a number of contemporary and classical sources, including 20th century Lebanese singers Fairuz, Majida al-Roumi, and Julia Boutros,[3] as well as a number of modern mainstream and underground hip-hop artists,[11] and regional music styles from countries such as Jamaica.[12] Arabic hip hop artists have used full Arabic orchestras in beat-making as well as beats inspired by traditional Arabic music styles.[3]

Certain regional variations of the music, most notably French and Northern African styles, incorporate influences from the musical genre known as Raï,[2] "a form of folk music that originated in Oran, Algeria from Bedouin shepherds, mixed with Spanish, French, African and Arabic musical forms, which dates back to the 1930s." (World Heritage Encyclopedia, "Rai")

Political and Social Influence

Much of the hip hop generated in the Arab World deals with a mix of social circumstance, such as poverty, violence, and drug-use, as well as political reality, insofar as this is possible given censorship. The hip hop of Palestine in particular has generated much interest in this respect and the music is considered a means of opposition. For example, the song "Meen Erhabe" by DAM aligns itself with opposition to the Israeli occupation, and was referred to critically as a "theme song for Hamas".[13]

Arabic Hip-hop has been both an active player in and directly influence by the changing political and social conditions of the region over the past two years. The Arab Spring, in particular, as a revolutionary movement affecting numerous states, including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, elicited musical responses from emergent or formerly repressed hip-hop artists. Issues such as poverty, rising unemployment, hunger, and oppressive authoritarian regimes were all part of the politicized messages of hip-hop music. Hip-hop served as a mode of resistance in dissenting against authoritarian states, as well as a tool for mobilization in mass demonstrations. As such, the conventions of the hip-hop genre within the Arab context, provided a voice for marginalized citizens within these revolutionary and subsequently transitional states. Arabic hip-hop is most typically directed towards and most relevant to youth populations, who made up a substantial number of political actors in the Arab Spring.[14]

Hip-hop music that emerged from the Arab Spring movements, though directly influenced by particular social and political realities, transcended borders and resonated throughout the region. This was largely achieved through social media, as artists and activists share their music via Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.[15]

Outside of the Arab World, artists focus on many of the same types of issues, but there is a stronger focus on issues associated with immigration and living as ethnic minorities. In France, for example, much of the "socially critical" music focuses on "migration related problems such as discrimination, xenophobia, and the problematic identities of young people of foreign descent."[10] Furthermore, these artists deal with the government enforced impetus for assimilation "coupled with the age-old stereotypes rooted in colonial references and the stigma of the marginalized banlieue."[2]

Arabic hip hop artists in the west, particularly Great Britain and North America, who also deal with racism and marginalization in their content, specifically mention an experience of "doubleness" – internal conflict between traditional and modern culture. For some rap and spoken word artists, hip hop is seen as being true to both, due both to the rich Arabic poetic history and to the utility of hip hop as a form of expression for marginalized or demonized communities. The poet Lawrence Joseph addresses the conflict explicitly in his poem "Sand Nigger".[16]

The view of mainstream America towards the Arab population, domestically and worldwide, and military intervention in the MENA region factor prominently in Arab-American hip hop and other western forms.[12][16] Certain artists from the Arab world approach the western viewpoint similarly, such as the Emirati group Desert Heat who rap in English specifically for the purpose of "educating" westerners on a realistic view of Arabic culture and history.[17]

On the other extreme, Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, whose father Abu Hamza al-Masri is in prison on terrorism charges, uses hip-hop to express solidarity with groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas, as well as to glorify violent Jihad. His message is different from other opposition rappers who have gained popularity in the genre insofar as he explicitly establishes his credentials by referencing his military skill and ability to cause violence.[18]


Associative life and media are restricted to varying degrees throughout the Arab world. Reasons for censorship, whether state enforced or community enforced, generally fall under two categories – political or religious. Vis-a-vis state control, satellite TV has done much to restrict the state monopoly on television programming. This has directly impacted the space allowed for hip-hop music and culture.[19]

In religiously conservative Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, "singing and dancing can be viewed as shameful," therefore enforcing somewhat of a social censorship (enforced as a "taboo") on hip-hop and other art forms. As of 2008, concerts and nightclubs were non-existent in the Kingdom, and local radio and TV played mainly Arabic pop music (all state enforced policies). Tamer Farhan, a member of the Saudi rap group Dark2Men that appeared on HipHopNa, said that rappers in Saudi Arabia are forced "underground because of the wrong impression people have of them".[20] Even socially cautious acts are subject to censorship. This phenomenon is not restricted to Saudi Arabia however, as relatively liberal Kuwait joined them in banning the group Desert Heat's first album despite their "pro-Muslim" message and "cautious approach to religion, politics, and society".[21]

However, hip-hop music, both Arabic and American, has managed to circumnavigate some of these restrictions. In addition to subversion via the internet or bootleg record sales, it seems that censorship inconsistencies and/or linguistic difficulty associated with translating hip-hop from English may account for some English language records making their way to cities where they would otherwise be banned. Abdullah Dahman of Desert Heat offers an example of west coast rapper Snoop Dogg, whose records are available for purchase in Jiddah in Saudi Arabia.[21] Another example, 2 Live Crew's album "As Nasty as They Wanna Be", released in 1989, made it by censors due to translational difficulty.[22]

Hip-hop music from the Arab Spring movement presented direct challenges to the strict censorship policies of many regimes throughout the Middle East and North African region. Arabic hip-hop became a means of expression that actively resisted against the state and its regulations. In states like Tunisia, a state that previously censored all negative public statements against the government and was characterized as having one of the least free media in the world, hip-hop music became a visible representation of the resistance and signaled the impending social and political changes. Several rappers were arrested for their music, including El General in Tunisia and El Haqed of Morocco, which only generated more attention to the issue of censorship and the artists themselves.

Regional Arabic hip hop


Main article: Algerian hip hop

Algerian hip hop has roots that lie in French hip hop.


Main article: Egyptian hip hop

Egyptian rap is unique in the fact that it is included in both African Hip Hop and Arabic Hip Hop. Hip-hop artists in Egypt tried to gain national recognition in the late 1990s, but rap was not yet accepted as a viable form of music. Rappers built an underground hip-hop scene, which grew over time. The pioneering Egyptian rap crew was MTM formed in 1999 the first rap group to actually rap in Arabic. Egyptian rap has more recently become more heavily promoted in Egypt and The Middle East. Princess Emmanuelle a.k.a. EmpresS *1 (الامبراطورة الاولي) in 2000/1 first appeared in the Egyptian Hip-Hop scene and stage, where there were no other females. She gained the title of "First Female Egyptian Rapper" in Egypt.[23] Egyptian Underground rap is now growing rapidly, due to the feeling of injustice that mainly affects youths, females, Coptic Orthodox Christians and the lower divide of the Egyptian society; who's resistance has been evident in the Revolution that began Jan 25 2011.


One of the most successful rappers from Jordan is Ostaz Samm, mostly known for competing on MBC 4's Arabs Got Talent.[24]


Main article: Rappers from Kuwait

Big D (Kuwaiti Rapper) has been in the game since 1999 and stayed relevant by producing quality music time and again. Big D is Kuwait's most credible Hip Hop artist to date. He has aspirations of bringing world wide acclaim to Hip Hop in the Middle East and has started by creating his crew KGR {Kuwait Got Rhymes}.


Main article: Lebanese hip hop

Lebanese hip hop is a pioneering movement in Arabic hip hop as Lebanese youth were among of the first to be affected by hip hop culture.


Main article: Moroccan hip hop

Dutch and Moroccan artist Salah Edin who performs his music in the Moroccan dialect Darija.


Main article: Palestinian hip hop

Palestinian hip hop supposedly started in 1998 with Tamer Nafar's group DAM. The group, based in Israel was founded in 1998, and is made up of three Palestinian men: Tamer Nafar, his brother Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Jrere.

Saudi Arabia

Hip-hop in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began emerging around 2003.


In the case of the Syrian Revolution Hip-Hop has played a great role in the context itself with Hip-Hop artists like Mazen el-Sayed (El Rass) with many songs referencing to the Syrian Revolution, Socio-Political conditions in Lebanon and the Palestinian struggle.[25]


The Tunisian hip hop star Balti, is well known in Tunisia for his outspoken criticism of the government in his epic hip hop music.

Hamada Ben Amor, known as El General, is an influential Tunisian rapper. El General’s popularity is largely attributable to his musical contributions to the Jasmine Revolution that took place in his home country. El General began producing hip-hop music prior to the revolution and largely relied upon social media to publicize his music. His first recording, "Rais LeBled," was posted to YouTube in November 2010. The song was an attack on the former authoritarian ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali, and the poor conditions in the state, including poverty, unemployment, and political and social injustices. Following the suicide attempt by Mohammed Bouazizzi in Sidi Bouzzid, Tunisia, which prompted the revolutionary movement, El General’s music was used in ensuing demonstrations. El General released subsequent songs, which similarly criticize the government and called for the end to Ben-Ali’s regime. Consequently, he was arrested and imprisoned by Tunisian state police. His imprisonment further propelled the popularity of his music and activists demanded his release. El General was released soon after Ben-Ali fled the country in January 2011. El General is widely considered to be one of the largest musical influences emerging from the Arab Spring and is considered to have made direct contributions to political activism during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.[26]

United Arab Emirates

Desert Heat is a hip hop duo based in Dubai.


Main article: Yemen Hip Hop

Rap and Hip-hop Culture existed as early as 2005 but it only achieved widespread popularity 2008 when the Hip-hop in Yemen took a leap forward and began to spread around the youth of Yemen, especially in Sana'a, Aden.

The hip hop major outbreak in Yemen is often associated to the influence of Hagage "AJ" Masaed, an American-Yemeni rapper producing music since 1997. Although he had grown in the United States, AJ has successfully reached Yemeni audience by addressing to local issues and incorporating traditional musical language into his hits. This versatility was also one of the reasons he drew international recognition, since he entered in the Yemeni music scene, he has been partnering up with several Yemeni artists, such as Hussein Muhib, Fuad Al-Kibisi, Fuad Al-Sharjabi, Ibrahim Al-Taefi, Abdurahman Al-Akhfash and others, and helping new ones to develop their talents. He has also played a major role on propagating the understanding of rap as a means of change. [27]
One contributing factor to the development of the music is also the creation of that has been providing assets to the development of a contemporary music scene [29] . In 2009, took place the first Yemeni Rap public festival, co-sponsored by the French and German foreign-missions [30] . Due to the importance of this event, AJ draws a comparison between it and the fall of the Berlin wall. [31]


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