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And They Don't Stop!: Appropriating Arab Culture in Hip-Hop

posted on: Aug 5, 2021

By: Qaïs S. Ahmadī / Arab America Contributing Writer

The loss of Arab culture in America is not only the concern of Arabs in this country. Anyone of MENA and SWANA heritage mourns and suffers the loss. At the heart of the matter is the semitic language of Arabic, which is spoken by Arabs and non-Arabs alike. Aside from the loss off Arabic language due to Xenophobic and post-9/11 neoconservative policies, the Hip-Hop industry is guilty of Arab cultural and linguistic appropriation since its birth. For instance, the word used for New York City, New York is مكة‎ for the Hip-Hop Nation. This word(known an Bakkah during the time of Prophet Abraham) is obviously an ancient like the culture, but to this day, no one has cited its source accordingly to pay respect to the culture.

خسارة خسارة

Khosara, Khosara (“What a Loss, What a Loss”), 1957 · Song Title in Arabic: خسارة خسارة

Look at the year, Abdel Halim Hafiz’s gem has withstood the test of time. The song, خسارة خسارة (“What a Loss, What a Loss”), is featured in the the classic Eygptian movie – فتى أحلامى (released in English-speaking countries as “Dreams of Youth”). Both the song and the movie are more than just masterpieces, they are artifacts of Arabic Romanticism. For the Arabic speaker, the title itself invokes heartbreak. The non-Arabic speaker must know Arab Romanticism is not merely represented by حبيبي, which has become a derogatory racial slur for any Arab or Middle Easterner in America. Anyone who has Arab features or name is “habib/habibi.” Such an endearing word reduced to nothing in the land where languages die. As Arabic dies in America’s unwelcoming monolingual linguistic landscape, Hip-Hop musicians like Jay-Z and Timbaland plagiarize Arab music with the backing of American courts.

The stereotypical “Habib”

What a Loss to “Big Pimpin'”!

Appropriation of Khosara, Khosara (What a Loss, What a Loss), 1957 · Song Title in Arabic: خسارة خسارة

Oh, what a loss, indeed! There is nothing worse than losing the soulful Arab melody to “Big Pimpin'”. In the Middle East, pimping is not glorified the way it is in Western Pop Culture. Pimps are not idolized nor praiseworthy in Arab countries. A ديوث is one of the worst provocations in the Arabic language. What a loss to hear an Egyptian national treasure to be dragged down to the underbelly of American society. The song is no longer for innocent lovers when it is now popularly known as a pimping anthem. Compare the lyrics. The American lyrics are not in the least flattering to Baligh Hamdi’s composition. Not a single penny of proceeds has gone to his heirs, nor an apology. What a loss, what a loss!

Culture Vultures

More recently, Arab dress have been misappropriated. For example the stripper/musician Cardi B is wearing green Abaya in “Bodak Yellow”. Lil’ Kim preceded her in the burqa burlesque gracing the cover of Russell Simmons’ now out of print ONEWORLD magazine. (The now fully bearded)Tekashi Six9ine wraps a shemagh/kuffiyeh in “Stoopid” around his head in the video. And there are so many more songs “sampling” the Qur’an and Arabic. The more they loot, the more the culture becomes lost and inauthentic to its native sons and daughters.

Orientalist Rap

“Hum dei dei la la, la la la la la
La la la la la, la la la la
Hum dei dei la la, la la la la la
La la la la la, la la la la

Eminem – “Without Me”

Then there is the Islamophobic and anti-Arab side of Hip-Hop that no one dares mention, especially if the MC is white. In “Without Me”, Eminem ends the video dressed like an Evangelical parody of Osama Bin Laden and repeatedly mocks the Arabic phrase for God be praised -الحمد لله. Eminem’s hometown, Detroit, is also home to many Arab-Americans that have lived there for generations. No, the term is not only sacred to Muslims in that community. Consequently, by employing the “Islamic” terrorist trope, Eminem has voluntarily helped the Islamophobic industry make a fortune off the defamation of a semitic people. Busta Rhymes made a fortune with the oil sheikh stereotype in Arab Money, which also blasphemously imitates the recitation of the Holy Qur’an.

Blasphemous Rap

“Consider this the first chapter in the ghetto’s Qu’ran”

50 Cent – “Ghetto Qur’an

And Trump follower – 50 Cent – could not have come up with a more sacrilegious name for a song than the “Ghetto Qur’an.” As a devout Christian (most likely Protestant/Evangelical), he had the artistic freedom to title it the “Ghetto Bible” or the “Ghetto Torah” or even perhaps the “Ghetto Talmud”. Why (other than blaspheming the religion of almost 2 billion people) “Ghetto Qur’an” when he is not is even from the culture?

Post 9/11 Hip-Hop

DJ Khaled “retiring’ the Arab Attack moniker fearing Post-9/11 backlash

Hip-Hop Nation was regarded as a safe counter culture space for MENA/SWANA Americans until it sold out to the Islamophobic industry. Fearing backlash and blackballing/blacklisting, this is why DJ Khaled and French Montana – among others – were not proudly displaying their heritage at the start of their careers. Have you ever seen a mainstream Arab conscious MC in the industry? Not to mention, Kevin Gates’ father is Morrocan, yet Gates refuses to closely fraternize with his brethren and feels threatened when visiting his fatherland, which is a by-product of the Islamophobic industry.

Kevin Gates feel threatened by Morrocan hospitality

Hip-Hop and They Don’t Stop!

Let it be known that the source of mainstream Hip-Hop’s success has always been Arab and Islamic culture. However, the relationship is exploitatively toxic. The industry has yet to repay the semitic culture for its generous favors it continues to take from. Not one mainstream song as been made with proceeds towards Palestine, Iraq, or Syria, for example, not one. Unless some type of preservation fund will be established for the purpose of cultural appreciation, the Hip-Hop industry will continue its cultural appropriation with the blessing of the American judicial system. When will it stop?

Qaïs S. Ahmadī is an exiled Afghan refugee activist raised in the East Bay Area, California with a decade of global experience in higher education. He is an active researcher having produced highly acclaimed peer-reviewed publications in his respective field. His expatriate experiences include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the State of Qatar, Japan, and the People’s Republic of China. He looks forward to contributing knowledge based content to the Arab America audience.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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