This article is about Arabic Hip Hop – specifically about rap in the Arabic language. There is a lot to be said about the political, social and cultural changes in recent history in the countries Arabic Hip Hop comes from (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and more) that would require a longer explanation and more expertise in the subject. This piece is intended only as an introduction to rap in Arabic, touching on some of the important releases and well-known artists since the movement began in the 90s. As well as my own research into Arabic Hip Hop online and in Morocco, IBMCs has been extremely fortunate to have other researchers provide materials and a more comprehensive understanding of Arabic Hip Hop music. This of course comes about first by understanding the Arabic language and secondly by experiencing the culture which creates the sound and just as important – by studying the music itself.
(Boikutt,- حيوان ناطق ) (2013) (Palestine)
IBMCs members have travelled extensively in Arabic countries, especially my brother Al who lived in Syria, Libya and Dubai, and Delta9 who has spent a lot of time in Morocco. Al speaks fluent Arabic and has collected many Hip Hop CDs on his travels. On our last trip to Morocco together in 2005 we scoured the streets of Fez and Rabat for signs of Hip Hop and collected a stack of music, from Moroccan artists and Algerians who rap mainly in Arabic but also often in French. The quality of a lot of it is dubious, keyboard produced beats and not-quite-there raps, well intended and sometimes listenable but nevertheless providing an insight into the early days of North African Hip Hop artists and rap in Arabic.
As well as these examples of underground Arabic Hip Hop, an awareness of more mainstream groups and artists began with French Algerian groups like M.B.S. who released the classic ‘Le Micro Brise Le Silence’ in 1999, and Intik’s ‘La Victoire’ in 2001. Tunisiano from the group Sniper also dropped verses in Arabic on the groups first 2 albums (Pris Pour Cible (2000), Entre Deux (2003)). The Algerap compilation album (Virgin France, 1999) is also an essential piece of the puzzle (one of the better groups featured on that compilation, Hamma, released 2 great tracks on ‘The Power of Unity’ compilation album as well (2000)). Clotaire K was the first Lebanese Hip Hop artist on wax (‘Lebanese Shortcut’, 2002).
Palestinian group Dam released their classic ‘Dedication’ in 2006 which made a lot of noise and helped provide a platform for more great Arabic Hip Hop artists like Shadia Mansour, Omar Offendum, Salah Edin and many others. Arabic rap in the Netherlands began with artists like Ali B, although Moroccans had already played a major part in the early years of Dutch Hip Hop. In 2009 Salah Edin released his album ‘Horr’, rapping in Arabic with hopes of expanding the reach of his music to Middle Eastern and North African countries and setting a new standard of Arabic Hip Hop generally (he recently quit rap and now does spoken word).
More recent Arabic Hip Hop artists I can recommend are Tunisia’s Medusa (her track ‘Naheb N3ch Hyati’ appeared on the Sawtuha compilation album (2014)), and Tripnol, an experimental collaborative Hip Hop album from Beirut, Lebanon (2013). The Khat Thaleth compilation is also a great album to check for (Stronghold Sound, 2013). Finally, another figure who cannot go unrecognized for his input in the Arabic Hip Hop scene is Lebanese DJ Lethal Skillz who has put in considerable work promoting many artists and pushing the movement forward.
(pictured: DJ Lethal Skillz, Shadia Mansour, Omar Offendum, Medusa)
I also recommend this book Arabic Graffiti for further study