Our first in a series of vintage pieces, is provided below. Enjoy:
So, I have a little problem.
Busta Rhymes and 'Arab money'. Absurdly sampling the Qu'ran , gambling with the ghost of Arafat. ''Ay-rab'' money. What is this? Some kind of outright disrespect? A really, really bad joke? An attempt to solidify Western media's agenda of culturally dividing East and West, or...what, exactly?
You know, I often wonder about Mr. Rhyme's reaction if say, Justin Timberlake released a song called 'Negro Chicken'; a wonderfully produced track focused on the beauty of southern fried poultry, as made best by Black people, especially when accompanied with some of big mama's gravy. A pimp cup of watermelon heaven to wash it all down, ooooh and some of those tasty 'grits', flavoured so deliciously by today's pick of baby mamas. The video even includes a scene of JT playing dominos, with his 'bitch', his bulldog and a dead Malcolm X.
Not quite so peachy, is it?
"We gettin' Ay-rab money!" Ay-rab? And this song is in heavy-rotation?
Furthermore, considering Akon's a little more cultured than his peers, it is particularly sad that as a born and raised Senegalese Muslim, he too, along with his Iraqi DJ (Khaled) would actually endorse, and take part in this facade.
Now, as an individual whose life sound track includes [good] hip hop, I love hip hop, live hip hop, often defend hip hop (although the defending part is becoming more and more difficult these days).
A song like "Arab Money"—no matter its intentions—is indefensible. It's as bad as hearing emcees randomly, indiscriminately, brazenly call white people "crackers" in their rhymes, as if being Black means being above the law of even a very modest level of racial decorum. It should be no less offensive for Souljah Boy to run with a cat he calls "Ay-rab" than for the Jonas Brothers to hang with a dude they called "Blackie."
Rapper Omar Affendum, an Arab American from Los Angeles, listened to "Arab Money" while he was on tour in Damascus. He said he was immediately struck by three things: the ignorant and fake-Arabic chorus, the foolish mispronunciation of 'Arab' and 'the stereotypical depiction of Arab culture, with focus on some of the extreme opulence you might see in Dubai or a few other places.' The song combines lines about playing golf in the desert, seven-star hotels and money as long as Arab beards with quips about 'gambling with Arafat' and 'security on camelback.'
Busta defended the song on ContactMusic.com saying, "Sometimes, people like to twist things. We ain't mockin' the culture. We ain't tryin' to be disrespectful. Ain't no racism going on right here. If you listen to the song, you see that we are actually acknowledging the fact that the Arabian culture, a Middle East culture is one of the few cultures that value passing down hard work and riches that's been built amongst the family…So, we are actually biggin' up the culture." Err, no my brother. You are not.
This Busta track is not satire, nor is it uplifting cultural critique. It's pure, unadulterated, disrespectful ignorance. With art imitating life, hip hop is often a musical vehicle to drive this ignorance. XXL editor Bonsu Thompson said that the hip hop community is emboldened by a sense of audacity that comes, in part, from a victim's complex. But in cases where rap artists toss out hateful racial slurs for no fundamental reason other than to exploit boneheaded stereotypes, Thompson says, "instead of teaching, they're playing to an ignorant base of their fans."
In Busta's "hood", Arab Americans, Middle Eastern immigrants and Black people coexist in a somewhat-tense relationship, like many neighbourhoods in urban centers along the northern Atlantic coast and Great Lakes regions, where Blacks are the consumers and immigrants are the ubiquitous business owners. The interaction isn't always neighborly, and the proximity doesn't necessarily breed much mutual enlightenment. Black patrons often derisively refer to the Arab-owned delis, bodegas and marts as "the Habibi" or "the Ay-rab store." Like many neighbourhoods of predominantly one ethnicity, varied manifestations of xenophobia fester, and ethnic and cultural ignorance pervades.
There's alot of work to be done in these American neighbourhoods to calm existing tensions and - of paramount importance - inform the ridiculously high level of ignorance. Songs like "Ay-Rab Money" do not help.
Busta, a proclaimed Muslim, would undoubtedly be peaved if in a conversation with say, a record exec, and the suit called him a "Mooslim." Yet, here he is, a grown man, a Brooklynite apparantly familiar with Arab Americans, in this current social climate, calling people with Middle Eastern backgrounds "Ay-rabs", spitting trivial rhymes about stereotypical excess found only in certain small corners of the Middle East.
Recently, before he performed the song at NYC's Knitting Factory, Busta hit the crowd with this impressive bit of profundity and cultural call-to-action: "We ain't stackin' chips no more…we ain't makin' it rain no more. After Nov. 4, we gettin' so much new sh**, we gonna call that motherf$%&@ Ay-rab money."
Wow. And more wow.