The Soundtrack of the Egyptian Revolution

January 01, 2012 Writer Name: Maha El Nabawi
While new age social media and citizen journalism have received much of the credit for galvanizing the uprisings washing over the Arab world, little attention has been brought to the real voice of the streets – namely, hip-hop music

Using their microphones as weapons, local rappers such as MC Deeb, MC Amin, Arabian Knigthz, and Alexandria’s Revolution Records are at the vanguard of the youth-driven socio-political movement sweeping the streets of Egypt. Even prior to the fall of Mubarak - and through their own distinct styles - these rappers have painted jarring pictures of the oppression, social injustices, and attacks on humanity experienced by the Egyptian people.

A HISTORY LESSON

Hip-hop is the culture from which rap music materialized. In its inception, hip-hop consisted of four main elements: graffiti art, break dancing, DJing and emceeing (rapping).
Charged from the socially oppressed boroughs of New York City in the late 1970s, hip-hop has always been rooted in socio-politic commentary.

Inspired by Gil Scott-Heron’s timeless spoken word piece, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and later manifested in protest anthems by Talib Kwali and rap crews, Dead Prez and Public Enemy – socially oppressed musicians birthed an accessible means of combative self-expression.   

THE EVOLUTION

According to Mohamed El Deeb aka MC Deeb, it took hip-hop nearly 30 years to permeate the Egyptian market - becoming locally popularized in the early 2000s by rap crews such as Asfalt, Zero Boys and MeyaMeya.
In 2006 rap crew, Arabian Knightz, solo artists MC Deeb, MC Amin and beyond, evolved local hip-hop from western imitation into their own expressive musical language – a dialect that speaks directly to the oppressed populous of Egypt.  

Since its inception, hip-hop narrates the experience of people who have been oppressed or marginalized – it is a platform for resistance and gives a voice to those who are typically unheard.

This alone validates the existence of Arab rap and its growing popularization within a region notoriously blanketed by dictators and their strong-armed regimes.

The rap crews driving this musical rebellion have adopted the beats and classic structures of hip-hop, but they have also reshaped rap to fit their own ambitions, channeling the genre aura of defiance to vocalize their societal outrage.

ARABIAN KNIGHTZ

The Egyptian rap game officially began its culmination in 2006 when Cairo-based rappers E-Money, Rush, and Sphinx’s formed their crew, Arabian Knightz – now one of Egypt’s most known hip-hop groups.

Arabian Knightz’s member, Karim Adel aka Rush, told Community Times, “Historically, hip-hop in Egypt was late to develop – in large part due to the atmosphere of artistic censorship. However, that all changed around 2005 with the formation of various rap crews.”  
“The culture in the Arab world has always placed a heavy emphasis on poetry – rap is rhythm and poetry in the end of the day. So, when we saw rap developing as a voice of struggle in America, we couldn’t help but try and voice our own struggles in Egypt through this medium,” he adds.

In the midst of former president, Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year regime, Arabian Knightz began fearlessly loading their lyrical content with socio-political underpinnings – seen through songs like, “Ya Allah.”

The group’s powerful messages combined with Ehab Adel’s (E-Money) often-imitated speed-rapping, and Hesham Abed’s (Sphinx) English verses – Arabian Knightz have received considerable notoriety through out the region over the past several years.

MC AMIN

Ahmad Amin, was born and raised in the city of Mansoura – being drawn to rap’s bludgeoning street pulse and attractive musical beats, the genre quickly became his chosen means of artistic expression.

MC Amin first started receiving local notoriety in 2006 after forming two stylistically varying groups called Black Attack and the Arab Rap Soldiers and uploading their mix-tapes on the Internet.

In 2007, the well received mix-tapes gave him increased street credit and landed him a spot MTV Arabia’s, “Beit El Hip Hop” (House of Hip Hop) show hosted by fellow Palestinian producer and beat-master, FredWreck.

Within a few years, and with the help of his monumentally growing fan base, he was offered a record contract, however he quickly refuted the deal because he was unwilling to change his politically charged and often aggressive lyrical persona.

MC Amin told Community Times, “I have a message I want to deliver through my music – this isn’t only about political commentary, it’s also about honoring my word.

“If I sign to these record labels, they’ll want me to create something easy, with mass appeal – that would discount my entire message. This isn’t about fame, it’s about having something to say, and needing to say it,” he says.  

MC Amin is known for his politically charged, combative lyrics and militant rap persona. AMIN describes his style of rap as, “hard core aggression, hard cord style, and hardcore lyrics.”

The power behind his messages can be seen not only through his prolific lyrics in tracks like, “The Situation Must Change (Part I)”, written in 2009, but additionally through his raw beats and enraged emotion – the combination somehow gives his music a genuine and engaging tone.

MC DEEB

Cairo-based conscious rapper and poet, Mohamed El Deeb stumbled upon his rap skills in the least likely place: French Class.
He said, “I was 14 [years old], in class and our professor told us to write a rap poem in French. I was excited because I was just really getting into hip-hop at then.  Instead of submitting it on paper like everyone else, I recorded it and looped in beats. I played it to the class and everyone loved it.
“I figured if I can rap in French, then I can rap in English, and that’s what led me to writing in Arabic,” he adds.

While Deeb is predominately a solo artist, he was formerly part of a crew called “Asfalt” in 2005 for two years.  In 2007 he left Asfalt to start another group called, “Wighit Nazar” (Point of View). In recent years, he has gone back to being a solo artist, preferring the flexibility in the solitary creative process.
In December 2010, shortly before the 25 January Revolution, MC Deeb released his first solo EP; “Cairofornia” boosting the poetic, nationalistic ballade, “Bilady” (My Country) and “New Day” – the latter also features Arabian Knightz.

In the regional rap-game, Deeb is known for his almost prophetic and certainly poetic lyrics. His style can be heard through his socio-political narration layered within the smooth, oriental inspired beats produced by his younger brother, Arketekt.

Paying homage to legendary Egyptian singers like Sayed Darwish and Abdul-Rahim, Arketekt often loops in samples of their timeless folk anthems to create Deeb’s distinctive yet familiar sound.   

REVOLUTION RECORDS

Alexandria based rappers Ahmed Rock, Mezo, Rooney Hoodstar, and Amr C-Zar were undeniable ahead of the game when self-titling their crew, “Revolution Records” in 2006.
Ahmed Rock told Community Times, “There was only so much we could take with all the ‘Habiby’ (love) music by people like Tamer Hosni – we wanted to create a music revolution against the established commercial industry.”

Known for the street-style rap and usage of live instruments while performing, Revolution Records has gained a substantial fan base over the past several years, primarily in Alexandria but also stretching to Cairo and Ismailia.

Staying true to the street-pulse origins of hip-hop, Revolution Records breakthrough song, “Kalam Shaware3” (Street Words) foreshadowed the rap infiltration with lyrics like, “Raised and coming up from the street school – the revolution is coming from my heart. We all need a revolution and we are the music revolution.”

While their lyrics implied a musical revolution, the Revolution Records infused dangerously suggestive metaphors predicting Egypt’s social uprising.

Revolution Records continue to deliver their hard-knock lyrics, yet are also working on expanding the rap market by evolving into an underground record label – scouting new talent and helping to nurture and expose them.  

THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE REVOLUTION

The 25 January Revolution was led by various youth groups in the 18 to 30 year age bracket – notably, youth under 30 make up the largest age segment in the 22 Arab speaking countries.  This movement includes a strong musical element, and Arab hip-hop is one of the most powerful forms that emerged through out the uprisings.

Prior to the fall of Mubarak, local rappers often used metaphors to camouflage their politically militant lyrics out of fear of persecution from the previous regime.

In early January 2011, MC Deeb was approached by director and friend, Mustafa Eck, to create a music video for his hit track, “Marsah Deeb” (Deeb’s Stage).

“We shot the video two weeks before the January uprising,” Deeb said. “The video was shot very close to Tahrir Square. I decided to release the video on Feb. 7, while the revolution was still at its peak, to remind the people of the social issues and political oppression that we experienced during the Mubarak regime.
In August 2011, Deeb followed up the anthem with another social conscious, yet motivational track called, “Oum Ya Masry” (Stand Up, Egyptian) – the song urges listeners to look deep within themselves to maintain the momentum of the revolution.

‘THE SITUATION MUST CHANGE’

Since 2006, MC Amin has been lyrically rallying his listening troops to engage in regional socio-political transition through his track, “The Situation Must Change”. In the song he yearns for the Arab world to unite – while highlighting the detainment of regional activists.

Now, in “The Situation Must Change – Part III” – released this past year, Amin asks listeners to change the situation deep within them in order to manifest sustainable metamorphosis.
As the movement continues to intensify, local rap music echoes the sentiments of the protestors mobilizing the message of the movement beyond the typical rhetoric of modern media.
The commercial success of Arabian Knightz and their renegade pre-revolution track, “Rebel” generated more than 200,000 views - lines from the song highlight government sponsored injustices, “Eyes wide as I see the violence/ The media denies it, masses just buy it because they keep us all frightened.”

Shortly after, Arabian Knightz released their revolutionary soundtrack, “Not Your Prisoner”, produced by FredWreck, and featuring Palestinian female rapper, Shadia Mansour. The half English, half Arabic protest ballad includes lines like, “I want my nation free from all injustice, I want my land and the land of Arabs to be free.”

 Meanwhile, Revolution Records continue to directly combat the developing acts of violence seen in Egypt through songs titled, “The SCAF Song” with lyrics such as, “We saw death in front of us and were standing smiling / We are the revolutionary generation/ Despite any increased oppression, we will break all cells.”

ARAB LEAGUE

Sparked in Tunisia, popularized in Egypt, and spread through the Arab world, youth-led revolutions and uprisings have taken center stage in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region this past year.  

In an attempt to build regional solidarity, rappers like Tunisian El General, Syrian-American Omar Offendum, and Lebanese female rapper Malikah often collaborate in songs or concerts to voice their similar concerns and their community activism.

The unified front came into culmination with the anthem of solidarity titled, “#Jan25Egypt” – produced by Palestinian-American composer Sami Matar and featured rappers Omar Offendum, The Narcicyst, and Freeway.
The track was inspired by the resilience of the Egyptian people during the January 25th uprisings and aimed to ignite regional unity and empowerment – receiving over 300,000 hits on YouTube, the “#Jan25Egyp” was an instant phenomenon.  

Another notable effort to create a unified Pan-Arab front comes in the form of Egyptian-based, Arab League Records, a melting pot of rappers from across the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Their aim is to join forces to spread their message and their music cross-culturally.

Rush said, “Arab league is all about spreading the message of our music and a unified front. We are putting our governments in an awkward position by showing our solidarity - we are hoping to motivate a greater regional unification.”
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