Che Guevara and Malcolm X are two of the most quoted figures in underground hip-hop. In “No Me Importa” – Immortal Technique states “I am the resurrected Che Guevara, but y’all cats are just a bunch of fake Tony Montana’s, I bring drama like revolucion Cubana, and block stages like my last name was Santana.” Although many political artists show love to revolutionary activists, the response from their idols is not always as positive as you’d expect. For anyone seeking inspiration, there is plenty to take from Che’s life, but his subsequent rise as a hip-hop ‘culture icon’ is revisionist at best. After Fidel Castro established his government in Cuba, Che suggested that Jazz and Rock music should be banned. He viewed the artforms as ‘imperialist music’ and supported an outright block on it’s production. It is almost certain that if Che was alive today, act’s like Immortal Technique would have been banned due to hip-hop’s perceived connections with American capitalism.
Nas’s album “Untitled” featured a song called “Louis Farrakhan”, it contains a sample which states: “They did not have the power to stop Louis Farrakhan. They were trying to touch on and thieve envy within the leadership. But as a general and a man that rose through the ranks through discipline. His presence inspired those men with the discipline he imposed on his own life.” There is quite a lot of history here i feel Nas neglects to tell us. Farrakhan was himself an ex-recording artist. At the age of 6 he was trained to play the violin and by 13 he was competing nationally and drawing media attention for his talents. In the early 1950’s he saw success performing calypso music under the name “The Charmer”. Perhaps he would have later introduced political messages to his music, except he was ordered by Elijah Muhammad to give up his career in music. This begs the question, is hip-hop compatible with the Nation Of Islam? judging by this episode it would seem impossible to perform as an emcee and rise within the ranks of the NOI.
We must remember that artists such as Snoop Dogg consider themselvs members of the Nation Of Islam, despite his lyrical content contradicting almost all Islamic beliefs. This poses a fundemental problem for many hip-hop artists. The music seeks to embrace a revolutionary ideology and yet finds itself in a struggle for acceptance. Today Farrakhan stops short of condemning hip-hop music but call’s on it’s artists to seek a higher understanding, believing that hip-hop’s audience is highly receptive to a rappers message. In an interview with BET he attempted to bridge the gap between the uncompatible nature of gangsta rap and Islamic teaching:
“You go into the Islamic world where they hate Western culture, the young may be hiding it under their bed or something but their listening to rap artists. So to me that says to the young rapper, look man, you didn’t want to be no leader but you have millions hanging on every word you say, why don’t you become a teacher of them?“
This simple message serves as an olive branch to much of the rap World. Farrakhan can not support the music, but he will still look to rappers to make a difference. However, a prodigy of the late Tupac Shakur has a different outlook on the relationship between hip-hop and Islam. Napoleon from The Outlawz converted to the Muslim religion and stated “Leave the music alone because the music is really tearing the Muslim community apart, may allah protect us from that.” After ‘Pac died he took a low profile and today has ceased making music of any sort. It is his belief that the two things can not co-exsist as the hip-hop lifestyle is at odds with Allah’s message.
The following image is taken from a Young Jeezy mixtape which many Muslims found highly offensive. It is an imitation of Malcolm X using Jeezy’s face, furthermore the mixtapes lyrics express a gangsta message which is deplorable within Islam. I have used it to link a video which highlights the use of Islamic philosophy within hip-hop. It is the perfect example of the contradiction of Islamic themed rap. The youtube description for this project states: “Many of the songs used in this video contain a lot of profanity and other than a small excerpt these songs in no way shape or form represent islam and many muslims consider music to be forbidden.”
In Iran, music was banned in 2010 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and few if any concerts are allowed to go ahead. The banning of music in certain Islamic cultures is at great odds with underground groups like Jedi Mind Tricks who mix violent lyrics with Muslim ideology. When Jay-Z was confronted about wearing a Che t-shirt he confessed to having little knowledge of who Che actually was, but it didn’t stop him rhyming “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, i’m complex” in an attempt to explain why his Capitalist pursuits could mix with a socialist freedom fighter. But the truth is it would be a more honest line if he said “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, i don’t make sense.” Which is the same result Snoop Dogg has when he claims to be a Muslim rapping about making girls ‘wet’. Ultimatly it benefits no one if hip-hop exploits pictures of revolutionists for aesthetic value. If a rapper claims to be under the divine inspiration of Allah then he should be held accountable to those beliefs as otherwise it becomes a mockery of a religion sacred to many.
AUDIO: Teabag Da Herbalist - Makes The World Go Round
FREENESS: Has-Lo - Illegally Yours
Paddy Lane is a passionate hip-hop fan from Dublin, Ireland. He is also one of the longest serving members of the Word Is Bond team.