Fight The Power: Hip-Hop Inspires Revolution In The Middle East
A rapper ignited the revolution taking place in the Middle East. El Général (born Hamada Ben Amor) wasn’t alone in bringing down Tunisia’s longtime dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, but the incendiary lyrics to his song “Rais Le Bled” (“President, Your Country”) not only voiced the frustrations of his fellow citizens, they inspired young Arab men and women across the region—from Egypt to Bahrain to Libya and beyond—to now fight governmental power in their own countries.
“Mr. President, your people is dead
many people eat from garbage
and you see what is happening in the country
misery everywhere and people who have not found a place to sleep
I am speaking in name of the people who are suffering and were put under the feet
Mr President, you told me to speak without fear
But I know that eventually I will take just slaps
I see too much injustice and so I decided to send this message even though the people told me that my end is death
But until when the Tunisian will leave in dreams, where is the right of expression?
They are just words…”
“When I became a rapper, I wasn’t looking for love,” the good-looking 21-year-old recently told TIME magazine. “I was looking to rap for the good of the people.” On November 7, 2010 he posted “Rais Le Bled,” a heated political anthem inspired by his favorite rapper of all time, Tupac Shakur, onto Facebook. According to TruthAbout2Pac.com, which interviewed El Général only days ago, “Rais Le Bled” was picked up by television networks like Al-Jazeera within hours and “went viral from Casablanca to Cairo.”
It’s telling that ‘Pac is Général’s favorite MC. Us overseas types revere American hip-hop that speaks to the soul and in times of oppression, use music by acts like ‘Pac as our battle cry. Music that incite us to action and allows us to vent frustrations at our own issues of race, identity, police brutality and more. Doing my research on the significance of not only “Rais Le Bled” but tracks by other Middle Eastern artists who’ve raised the consciousness of the youth, allowing them to become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, I couldn’t help but think of the magnitude of it all. If there were no ‘Pac’s, no Fugees, no Wu Tang Clan‘s–heck, even no Jay-Z in his more introspective moments—where would our anger have been channeled? Where would we have found our voice? While I understand there are rappers making conscious music these days, the glaring lack of buzz surrounding them cancels out their opportunity to have a real impact on society. In the meantime we have Waka Flocka Flame and Rick Ross at the forefront; two artists who though unapologetic in their style, are contributing absolutely nothing to the evolution of the genre in terms of using it as a weapon for change (Ross’s “Tears Of Joy” is perhaps the closest he’s come so far).
Without the machine gun funk of Public Enemy, Ice Cube and more, today’s U.S. hip-hop generation—more concerned with living a fast life than anything else—is dangerously apathetic. This naturally means their international peers will eventually become so, too. The revolution happening across the Middle East shouldn’t only reinforce the power of hip-hop, it should provide a serious wake-up call to those making it in the country where the artform was created. The magnitude of what can take place when musical leaders harness the energy of their people against a backdrop of bass-heavy production can truly renew the world.
Listen to “Rais Le Bled” below (with English subtitles):