Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Introduction: Welcome!

Welcome to Revolutionary Arab Rap! This blog aims to explore what Arabic hip hop can tell us about the current Arab uprisings and the changing relationship between Arab citizens and their governments. My objectives are:

1. To help new audiences enjoy, understand, and celebrate Arabic hip hop.
2. To help people improve their Arabic and find resources for studying the language.
3. To provide a useful resource for people interested in high-quality journalism, social media, and academic work on the Middle East.
4. To show solidarity with Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and everywhere else where people fight for their freedom.

What I call "my blog" is actually two blogs:
1. Revolutionary Arab Rap (my main site). My posts about the key players, themes, contexts, and local scenes in the Arabic hip hop game go here.
2. Revolutionary Arab Rap: The Index (a companion site). In each post here, I provide a song's Arabic lyrics and their English translation in a Universal Subtitles video (above the jump) and in a full written text (below the jump).

Hip hop has become a universal medium of social and political expression for young, dissident, and marginalized peoples. It's helping the people of Arab world, most of whom are younger than 30, find new ways to raise their voices. It's important, though, not to overstate the influence of Arabic hip hop on the Arab uprisings. Arabic-langauge hip hop is an underground phenomenon, not a mainstream one like Al Jazeera is. There's no real hip hop "industry" to speak of in the Arab world. Arabic-language rap artists must promote their work online or sign with Western record labels. Despite all this, the genre's popularity and influence are growing remarkably fast. Rappers in Libya and Tunisia have shaken the most nightmarish of regimes to their cores. Arab hip hop is blowing up because it speaks so powerfully to Arabs' desire for dignity, human rights, and a brighter future.

Lastly, here's a couple shout-outs to people who inspired me to start this blog.

The people at Khalas/ The Khalas Mixtape Vol. 1, entitled "Mish B3eed," is what made Arabic hip hop accessible and engaging to me for the first time. So I downloaded Mish B3eed and started listening to it just when the Libyan Revolution was getting started.

Ibn Thabit, @TasnimQ, and Mohammad Nabbous: The music of the Libyan rapper Ibn Thabit is opened what my eyes to Arabic hip hop. I liked his music so much - and I was so frustrated that I could find no written Arabic lyrics for it - that one day I simply started writing the words down myself. Tasnim's Ibn Thabit translations and videos inspired me to start translating them myself. Tasnim has been a wonderful mentor and she has helped me with most of my Libyan song translations. As for Mohammad Nabbous, I intently watched Libya Alhurra TV, Libya's first independent news channel, from his first broadcasts on February 19th until a sniper shot him dead on March 19th. He was a true revolutionary.

Andy Morgan, Lauren Bohn, and David Peisner are journalists who have put out the best pieces on Arabic hip hop that have appeared in Western media. In February, The Guardian published Morgan's "From fear to fury: how the Arab world found its voice." In July, Foreign Policy published Bohn's "Rapping the Revolution." In August, SPIN published Peisner's Inside Tunisia's Hip-Hop Revolution. I liked these articles because they helped make Arabic hip hop more accessible, addressed the heart of its concerns, and presented it on its own terms and with its artists' own voices. I hope to do the same with this blog.

As of posting this, I've posted the Arabic lyrics and English translation for about 20 songs (please take a look at them here). I have posts coming soon on El Général, Ibn Thabit, #Jan25, reconciliation, women in Arabic hip hop, and Islam's role in the genre, so stay tuned and follow me @ArabRevRap on Twitter. If you have any questions, topics you'd like me to treat, or songs you would like me to translate, please drop me a line via ulysses [dot] rap [at] or Twitter. Thank you.


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