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Back Off - "When the Power of Words Causes Us to Move"

When the Power of Words Causes Us to Move

by Marcyliena Morgan

Knowledge is to Hiphop what freedom is to humankind.  We covet knowledge and are passionate about it.  We not only want knowledge, but we want more of it - all the time.  We test it, claim that we have it, argue about it, show off our knowledge; and we never think we have enough to stay on top.  That is why the attacks on Hiphop knowledge during 2011were so unexpected.  But they should not have been.  Knowledge is power.  And 2011 was full of Powermoves!  The most significant Powermoves of 2011 were part of the revolutions that continue to change our understanding of the Middle East and North Africa. When revolution swept through North Africa and the Middle East, it did so to the sound of Hiphop music.

The desire for freedom and equality came to life in 2011 in the form of what some now call the Arab Spring.  This was a spontaneous movement throughout North Africa and the Middle East for freedom, democracy and citizenship rights.  MSNBC describes Hiphop's influence on the Arab Spring as "mindblowing".  Hiphop is more than global.  As a creative artform that embodies the political and daily reality of everyday people it includes  ethnic, religious, economic and geographical boundaries.  In North Africa, where young people played a central role in the national protest movements, hiphop emerged as the music of free speech and political resistance.

It began in Tunisia. A twenty-one-year old Tunisian MC released a hiphop song that has been described by TIME magazine as "the rap anthem of the Mideast revolution." Hamada Ben Amor, who is known by the name, El Général, told TIME that he has been inspired by African American hiphop artist Tupac Shakur, whose lyrics he describes as "revolutionary."  By December 2010, the government had banned El Général's music from the radio and forbid him from performing or making albums. In response, the artist posted the protest rap "Rais Lebled" (which translates as "President of the Republic" or "Head of State") on YouTube. The video went viral on YouTube and Facebook and was broadcast on Al Jazeera.  Tunisian youth found the song so compelling-and the government found it so threatening-that after El Général released another hiphop song supporting the protest movement, some thirty police officers arrested him! Overwhelming public protest following his arrest prompted a phone call from then- President Ben Ali; days later, he was released. Within weeks, the national protest movement led to Ben Ali's removal, and in late January 2011, El Général performed the song live, for the first time, before an audience of protesters in the nation's capital city!

El Général's songs became popular with young Egyptians, who had their own hiphop soundtrack for Egypt's national revolution. Despite government warnings, Egyptian hiphop crew Arabian Knightz released its song "Rebel" in support of the protest. Soon, hiphop artists all over the world began to express solidarity with the Egyptian revolutionary movement by recording songs and posting them online. Master Mimz, a Moroccan-born, United Kingom-based woman MC, released "Back Down Mubarak" in support of the movement. The song includes the rhymes, "First give me a job / Then let's talk about my hijab." After President Mubarak resigned as a result of the protest, Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt's largest independent newspapers, noted on its English-language website, "Although singers affiliated with various musical styles have shown support for the Egyptian people, the style that prevailed-or at least that had the biggest impact-in this 1fight for freedom and liberty is rap music. East and west, north and south, rappers have emerged as the voice of the revolution."

In February 2011, inspired by the protest activities throughout North Africa and the Middle East, a group of Libyan hiphop artists in exile compiled Khalas Mixtape Vol. 1: North African Hip Hop Artists Unite. (Khalasmeans "enough" in Arabic.) The album features songs by artists from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria.  According to The Grio, "Hip-hop has become synonymous with ‘thawra', meaning revolution, in the Arab world," spreading from country to country, and embodying in form and content the rebellion raging in the streets, and the hopes and dreams of an entire generation. 

The Black Power movement in the U.S was a struggle for freedom and equality.  The world has witnessed Hiphop's quest for knowledge in order to represent the reality of social life and to expose and critique it.  The mantra is to build a better and inclusive nation.  For example Libyan MC Boge, who says he learned English from listening to rap recordings, is following in the footsteps of his hiphop heroes KRS-One, Nas and Ice Cube.  He freestyles the rhyme: "Our families are dying but yeah we're still tough, Gadhafi is trying to assassinate us."  Boge recalls how rap was treated as a criminal offense under Gadhafi's rule.  "They used to put us in prison just for rapping," says Boge, who grew up on a diet of Western TV and American hiphop. "I rap to prove something to myself - and the world." 

Hiphop began as part of what a Tribe Called Quest would call an Award Tour (1993).  the tour is over, and hiphop has settled in through out the world. In linguistics, there is a term for the language that is the most useful for communication when you travel throughout the world and visit different cultures, nations and people who speak other languages.  That word is lingua franca.   Until recently the world's lingua franca was English.  Now the lingua franca of the world is Hiphop!


For More Information Please See:

Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form
by Marcyliena Morgan & Dionne Bennett  (Click To Download PDF)



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