Hip-hop music hasn't been this politically urgent or charged with energy since NWA and Public Enemy protested police brutality and told us all to ‘Fight the Power!' in the late 80s and early 90s. Although, if you didn't yet know, it's probably because the rappers of today's protest songs and new faces of popular dissent aren't in New York or LA and are definitely not on MTV, the news or any big music blogs. They are, instead, central figures in the global protest movements that have been sweeping through both the Arab and African worlds over the past year.
In today's New York Times, Sujatha Fernandes, author of Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation, had an illuminating op-ed piece on this nascent phenomenon, highlighting the crucial role that hip-hop is currently playing in galvanizing global revolutions. Whether it is by calling out repression and corruption, sustaining the popular energy of the movements or, in some cases, even helping promote community development and political alternatives, hip-hop has been instrumental in the ousting of repressive regimes and dictatorial control.
Rap music has played a critical role in articulating citizen discontent over poverty, rising food prices, blackouts, unemployment, police repression and political corruption. Rap songs in Arabic in particular - the new lingua franca of the hip-hop world - have spread through YouTube, Facebook, mixtapes, ringtones and MP3s from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and Algeria, helping to disseminate ideas and anthems as the insurrections progressed . . . The young populations of these regions are looking to rappers as voices of clarity and leadership. [One] raises money at his shows to support his community because, like many of his fans, he believes that "waiting for our political leaders to give us opportunities is a waste of time." Other Senegalese rappers helped found the movement Y'en a Marre ("We're Fed Up"), which has crystallized opposition to President Wade and led a campaign to register young voters for the elections next month. Some are even supporting candidates for president . . . Rappers are hoping to inaugurate a different kind of politics. They would sooner make a pilgrimage to the South Bronx than to the Senegalese, Sufi holy city of Touba; they reject the predefined roles available within the political arena.
From right in the middle of their respective movements, these young rappers have emerged as the most powerful voices of opposition, becoming uniquely responsible for giving wide and vocal expression to the once muted and marginalized populations everywhere from Egypt to Tunisia and Senegal to Guinea.
Visit the New York Times to read the article in full.