Monday, July 28, 2008

Fear of a Muslim Planet: Hip-Hop's Hidden History

by Naeem Mohaiemen, FORUM June 2008

Originally published in Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (MIT PRESS, 2008), edited by Paul D. Miller. The essay was short-listed for the Villem Flusser Theory award, Berlin.

(Amin) Pray Allah keep my soul and heart clean
(Amin) Pray the same thing again for all my team

                                             – Mos Def, "Love"
                              (Black on Both Sides, 1999)

Camoflouged Torahs, Bibles and glorious Qurans
The books that take you to heaven and let you meet the Lord there
Have become misinterpreted, reasons for warfare
We read 'em with blind eyes I guarantee you there's more there
The rich must be blind because they didnt see the poor there

                                            – Lupe Fiasco, "American Terrorist"
                                                                (Food & Liquor, 2006)

JOURNALIST HARRY ALLEN ONCE CALLED ISLAM "hip-hop's unofficial religion." This theme is echoed by Adisa Banjoko, unofficial ambassador of Muslim hip-hop, who says: "Muslim influence was at the ground floor of hip hop. Hip hop came from the streets, from the toughest neighborhoods, and that's always where the Muslims were."

Hip-hop's Muslim connection came initially via the 5 Percenter sect, and later expanded to embrace Nation of Islam (NOI), Sufi, and Sunni Islam. Since the 1980s, there have also been shifts where 5 Percenters have moved to NOI or Sunni beliefs. The same artists' back catalog may reflect both his 5 Percenter beliefs and his later NOI faith. Islamic iconography, philosophy, and phrases are in fact so widespread in hip-hop, they show up regularly even in the works of non-Muslim rappers. >>Read More

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