A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted how hip-hop is playing an important role in the revolutions that have been sweeping through the Arab world. Across the region, rappers are using their lyrics to voice the plight of the young generation. Rappers are risking imprisonment to speak up for the disenfranchised and try to bring change to the Middle East.
It is hard to fathom that the same genre of music that was created in New York City 30 years ago is helping Arab revolutionaries bring down their authoritarian regimes. The way in which hip-hop artists like DJ Outlaw from Bahrain and Kla$h from Saudi Arabia are calling the Arab people to action is inspiring. But that feeling is also bittersweet, as the call to action within American hip-hop has yet to materialize.
The earliest forms of hip-hop in the early 1980s served as the voice for the impoverished, reflecting the struggles of everyday life on the streets of New York City. During the golden era of the genre – between the late 1980s and early 1990s – catchy beats strengthened by socio-political commentary made hip-hop a force for change. Artists like the Beastie Boys, 2Pac, and Public Enemy rallied young Americans to pay more attention to societal problems and speak out against issues affecting them. Hip-hop was the voice of a generation that could not be heard through other means.
Unfortunately, the political commentary in early hip-hop has all but vanished in the flashy world of today’s rap game. From 50 Cent to Lil’ Wayne, today’s hip-hop artists are using the medium to share misogynistic, materialistic, and violent lyrics. Rather than rallying young people to fight against political and social problems, today’s hip-hop has led young people to idolize the materialistic and unrealistic viewpoints of today’s popular artists.
Hip-hop artists in the Middle East have managed to single-handily carry the torch of the positive impact that the genre previously held on youth in America. Tunisian rapper El General’s song “Rais Lebled" (Head of State) deals with the corruption and poverty of young people in Tunisia. The song became the anthem of the Jasmine Revolution, similar to how “Yankee Doodle” was America’s anthem during the Revolutionary War.
The fact that hip-hop has incited the youth of Tunisia and elsewhere to revolt confirms the impact that the genre has on today’s youth worldwide. Yes, the revolution taking place in the Middle East is more severe than the problems we face in America, but I still wonder where the U.S. call to action is. As unemployment levels hover around 17% for young people ages 16-24, when is a rapper going to stand up and become the new voice for our generation?
When is Kanye West going to drop the fancy clothes and pick up the issues regarding anti-gay hate crimes? When is Snoop Dogg going to talk about the failure of the “War on Drugs” instead of just smoking them? When are U.S. millennials going to have our El General?
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