Palestinian Hip Hop crew brings social protest to the west coast
by Rashad Al-Dabbagh
for The Independent Monitor
Los Angeles -- “Hip Hop is Not Dead, it’s Alive in Palestine,” reads the T-shirt worn by one of the members of DAM, a trio of Palestinian-Israeli rappers that has already captured the hearts and minds of millions in the Middle East and Europe. The shirt was an answer to the Queens, NY-based rapper Nas who released an album last year titled ‘Hip Hop is Dead’ - the reference being to the status of mainstream Hip Hop, a genre which Nas claims has been so commercialized that the lyrics now lack the consciousness and creativity that once brought Hip Hop to life.
In an era when mainstream artists are now focusing on their wealth and lifestyle, lovers of Hip Hop have begun to look back a couple decades to when politically minded artists such as Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest once dominated the scene. But while many, such as Nas, argue that Hip Hop has since lost its soul, such is not the case with DAM.
Founded by Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar and Mahmood Jreiry, DAM’s music has provided a platform for young Palestinians to speak out against Israel’s aggression in Israeli occupied-Palestine and to help tell their stories of discrimination, oppression and the struggle for freedom and equality. More akin to the early political rap and a fusion of East/West, the Lyd-based crew’s music is combines Arabic percussion rhythms, Middle Eastern melodies and urban hip hop with musical influences taken from both American hip hop artists (Nas, 2Pac, Mos Def, etc.) and Arabic music (Marcel Khalife, George Wasouf etc.).
Also drawing from such controversial issues as drugs and women's rights, DAM’s music features strong use of sampling, integrating the words and music of Fairouz, Ahmad Kaabour, Hisham Abbas, and a speech by the late great Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in their latest album Dedication - and the reaction to DAM’s music has been overwhelming. So far more than 2 million fans have downloaded their first hit single "Who's the terrorist?", while the Hebrew-language song, "Born Here", has proven to be another breakout hit – with many more to follow.
Here in Southern California DAM recently performed at Chapman University in Orange on November 15th followed by a headline performance with a number of other well known artists at The Poetry of Peace event on the University of Southern California campus on November 17th. Amongst the other performers present at with DAM at The Poetry for Peace event were the comedian Maysoon Zayid, actress Raya Meddine from "Bosta" - Lebanon's entry into last year's Oscar race for Best Foreign Film - Arab American hip hop artists Omar Offendum of N.O.M.A.D.s and Nizar Wattad of The Philistines (who also constitute half of the renowned crew The Arab Summit), and the Iranian-American rappers Apoetnomadali and Base One Basic.
The inspirational performances were followed by on-stage interviews with the artists conducted by UCI historian Mark LeVine and UCLA's Saree Makdisi, and their impact with the crowd was clear. DAM’s appearance was the first of what is hoped will be many performances on the west coast by a truly unique voice in the music industry, and one which can make a difference.