Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Palestine vs. Morocco: A Hip Hop Battle

On Sunday, I finally got to a screening of Slingshot Hip-Hop, the documentary of the Palestinian hip-hop scene by Jackie Reem Salloum.  The documentary itself was very well done, both cinematographically and historically, covering 1998 to about 2006.

Despite being a long-time hip hop head, I was fairly new to the Palestinian hip hop scene when I first heard of the film last year.  I’d heard of one of the groups featured in the film, DAM, previously – but only because of their 2007 performance at Casablanca’s Festival des Jeunes Marocains and their subsequent popularity in the kingdom.

As it turns out, DAM happened to be at the screening I attended on Sunday; I was impressed but unsurprised by their eloquence during the Q&A following the film (during which my personal favorite comment was that every Israeli “has a little Lieberman residing in the back of their head).  They also did a show in Cambridge that evening, but due to its being sold out, were asked to do a brief freestyle post-show.  They did, and they did not disappoint.

All of that said, I can’t help but contrast the Palestinian hip hop scene to the Moroccan one; not only is the Moroccan hip hop scene the one that I am most familiar with in the Arab world, but arguably the next most vibrant.  Groups such as H-Kayne and Fnaire, and solo acts like Bigg rule the scene.  I’ve met them all.  I’ve appeared in one of their videos (you won’t be able to spot me but for two seconds, but I was there all day).  I have a definite affinity for Moroccan hip hop.

That said, despite the fact that both scenes have been given international attention in fantastically done documentaries (the Moroccan scene was covered excellently by Joshua Asen and Jennifer Needleman’s I Love Hip Hop in Morocco), the major difference is in the lyrics, and the intent.  While the Palestinian hip hop scene identifies with the resistance hip hop of artists like Tupac Shakur and Talib Kweli, Moroccan hip hop, for the most part, seems rooted in pop hip hop…Despite the changes brought about by newer artists (namely Bigg) and the discussion in hip hop of a Moroccan identity, the scene is still young, and still reeks of superficiality (see Sma3ni if you don’t get what I’m talking about).  Not so different from French artists like Booba, for example.

I don’t mean to judge; I learned a lot from Moroccan hip hop…But the staggering differences between the two countries demonstrate the truth in hip hop – that the best music comes from the struggle.

5 Comments

  1. Yes, one of my favorite things about DAM is the intertextuality of their lyrics, with all the quotations from Mahmoud Darwish and Nizar Qabbani…when they say in the the film that their work is 30% literature, they’re not kidding. It’s not necessary for good hip hop but it gives their work a lot more depth.

    • You’re right – it’s the literacy. I re-read this earlier and was kind of surprised at how hard I’ve seemingly dissed Moroccan bloggers. Bigg, for sure, is super-literate, and I’m sure many of the others are too, but the culture in general is not – Moroccans are simply not readers, on the whole, for a variety of reasons (cost and accessibility certainly play a role). So the audience is thus different, and the themes.

  2. Mgharba talmout, my ass…
    Moroccan Hip Hop is nothing but a vehicle for shallow nationalism/chauvinism. Even the so-called educated or literate (you like to mention BIGG) happen to be hired mics serving the highest bidder; i’m obviously talking about Bigg’s performance at the USFP campaign gathering on the eve of the past elections…
    The Palestinian one, on the other hand, is an expression of a collective tragedy, a ghettoized voice that speaks to the suffering of a people for more than 60 years. DAM is the articulation of this collective identity and narrative whose art is respectable and appreciated.

    Peace

    • I mention BIGG mostly because I actually enjoy his music more than any of the other Moroccan groups; but I don’t think we disagree…it’s quite clear that Palestinian hip hop actually has something to say, whereas Moroccan hip hop, for the most part, emerged from middle class boredom.

      Looking forward to reading your blog!

  3. You are right. HIP HOP can mix and reblend with all kinds of languages and the experiments were successfull. Music lovers appreciate this. am a hip hop dance trainer, NYC

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