how the world sees america

Lebanon's Hip-Hop Struggle

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BEIRUT, Lebanon - "Lebanon's MC's spit the sickest flows," insists Lynn Fattouh, a.k.a. MC Lix, a.k.a. Malikah ("The Queen"). Long after the party has ended, she is sitting on the dance floor of club Black & White on Monot Street. Lynn is one of seven top Arab rappers, hand-picked by MTV Arabiya, a new cable channel that began broadcasting over the weekend.

Hip-hop first caught Lynn’s ear nine years ago. She was twelve, chilling with her big brother Mustapha, bouncing to Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Bone Thugs, Foxy Brown, Da Brat and Left Eye. She got hooked, and began spitting rhymes with friends. At sixteen Lynn hit Beirut’s epic nightlife scene, climbing on stage for the first time.

She let loose her "aggressive rhymes" incognito, wearing a baseball cap to cover her eyes and adopting the stage name Lix. “There’s a stereotype here of the female singer with no self-respect,” she explains. Her parents shared this prejudice, telling her that performing in public was beneath her social status.

She hid her burgeoning passion from them for two years. She embedded herself in Lebanon’s hip-hop scene, joining the “961 Family,” named after Lebanon’s country code.

Lynn spent her first few years of college at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, where tuition cost half what it did back home and where she'd be closer to the “birthplace of hip-hop,” . The move paid off. Through MySpace, Lynn met DJ Mighty T.H.O.R. in the Bronx, and traveled down to NYC twice to meet him and his crew. Now they’re collaborating on her first album, to be released in March ‘08.

Lix3_still.jpg
Lynn with MC Moe and the 961 Family.

“There is no way you cannot associate hip-hop with America,” Lynn says. “It was born in the Bronx with the minorities who were angry because they were treated in a very bad way in the States.” This resonated with Lynn, who says, “We [in Lebanon] are suffering too; we are being treated in an inhuman way” by neighboring nations and local politicians.

She chose hip-hop to fight back. It has “sixteen to eighteen bars to speak out through,” she explains, rather than four to eight bars in conventional English or Arabic songs.

Though hip-hop's form fit her message, her journey to the Bronx complicated her image of American rappers. At the Canadian border, she encountered a petrified security agent who turned “ghost white” when he saw all the “ins and outs from Arab countries” on her passport.

Lynn was also carrying the business card of Hassan bin Laden, “a perfectly normal guy,” who happens to be the brother of America’s most wanted man, and owns a chain of Hard Rock Cafes, including the one in Beirut. At the border she ripped it up frantically. “Just having all that attention [from security agents] made me start tripping, thinking I did something wrong.”

American media has built up such a bad image of Arabs, she says. “But why should [the agent] be scared? I’m just a girl. I’m not going to hurt anybody.”

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In the Bronx, she again found this image of the real bad Arab. Wrapped in the blue bandannas of the East Coast Crips gang, the rap artists she met applauded her struggle without understanding it at all. They imagined gangster Arabs strapping guns and bombs to their bodies, but "thought Lebanon was in Africa or near India,” she says with surprise. “War interested them,” but not school, not her real struggle.

She was surprised that America, the world's great power, didn't educate all its citizens. And she was surprised these artists didn’t appreciate the opportunities around them. Their squabbles seemed petty to her.

She remembered the horrors of the 2006 July War in Lebanon, and decided Lebanese hip-hop was her niche. Before finishing school in Canada, she went back to Beirut in 2006 to craft her own message.

Lynn is grateful to American hip-hop musicians for creating a “diverse culture” that accepted her immediately and provided her with a platform to counter the negative images of Arab people around the world, and to demand change from her leaders in the Middle East.

But it also convinced her that Americans had a lot to be grateful for, and a lot to learn.

As for herself she says she's going to focus on all the work that hip-hop has left to do in Lebanon.

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Comments (19)

Meryem:

I would like to respond to some of the commenters who have mentioned their approval of Ms. Fattouh's not wearing "a burqa."

First of all, I should mention that I just returned to Istanbul from a week in Lebanon and I did not see a single burqa the whole time I was there: not in Beirut, not in the Bekaa Valley, not in Trablous, not in Sour. I did see plenty of women in hijab (just covering the hair and neck), but even many of them were wearing it with tight, Western-style clothes.

Furthermore, the article didn't mention Ms. Fattouh's religion at all-- and not all Arabs are Muslims, either. Lebanon is home to a sizable Arab Christian population, and I met a few Arab atheists while I was in Beirut, also.

If the previous commenters were referring to the current political developments in Lebanon, I must say that I don't believe the current crisis will lead to the installation of a conservative Muslim regime in Beirut. But politics aside, even in the most conservative areas of Lebanon, I still saw women with their heads uncovered.

Finally, in Lebanon as in many other religiously pluralistic democracies, including the United States, to cover or not cover one's head is a personal choice, and women have different reasons for doing it. Personally, I think it would be good for there to be more Middle Eastern celebrities who wore hijab, if only to show the rest of the world that a liberated woman can cover her head just as easily as she can show her midriff.

T. West:

This is a response to Robert of Los Angeles who ended his diatribe with “go peddle your crap somewhere else”. First of all, this is the worldwide web and not an area where Robert, can do as many in America did for such a very long time, which is determine what others, deemed to be of lesser humanity can or cannot do. I am here for as long as I choose to be here. It is to uplift the minds and thinking of those who are blinded by those who financially and otherwise benefit from their blindness. I will begin with indicating that there is no conclusive evidence on what you state with regards to CCR-5 Delta 32 having anything to do with Black Death, i.e., the Bubonic Plague that devastated much of Europe. In fact, the “founder group” did not suffer the Black Death and had this genetic characteristic prior to migration from Eastern Europe to Western Europe. Hint: Many of them were Hitler’s scientist and later employed by USA. Robert, you will have to quote more sources than Wikipedia. I have studied and written extensively about this. To be more precise, there is one group that is up to 30% immune to HIV/AIDS and did not die during the Black Death of Europe. This group have renown microbiologists who know how to create some very nasty stuff and make it appear endemic. Do you feel me yet? Now, what does this mean? It means that Black Death had nothing to do with that group building up a “natural immunity” to a “synthetic” man-made virus. Robert, you are quiet about PUBLIC LAW 91-171. Why? Is it not because you cannot defend it? I encourage the young hip hop artists to educate the world about the realities of the biggest terrorism every carried out. This is where it stated that America had created a “DISEASE CAUSING MICRO-ORGANISM” to which there is no cure. That quacking duck was and is HIV/AIDS, constructed in the beloved USA, not the Soviet Union. Robert, present one shred of evidence showing the Soviets had anything similar. Robert you are also wrong about HIV/AIDS hitting “primarily homosexuals” in the West. The primary group affected in the West are Blacks, and specifically, Black females, and at a rate 20 times higher than White females. Why? It is CCR-5 Delta 32-. They have been targeted for extermination. You can probably tell by now that you have bitten off far more than you bargained for. I can even apply it to the Palestinians and Arabs where Israel threatened the use of a “genetic specific” weapon or “ethnic bomb” in the late 1990s. I have a mountain of facts that I assure you would make others see what you call “crap” as having origins in what you have stated. One more point, the best minds in the universities and private enterprise are employed via contracts by the US military. What Robert calls the “military industrial complex” is made up of ordinary citizens, albeit, some of them far more evil than Hitler could have dreamed of being.

Now, I think Robert wishes he had remained silent.

To all the Hip Hoppers, do the research. I say nothing that I cannot backup with facts. Truth is power…… Knowledge is power.

T. West
AfriSynergy Production

Robert of Los Angeles:

On the other hand, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, though I believe T West is very intelligent but is using this forum to manipulate emotions if not change minds. He is certainly incorrect about CCR-5 Delta 32 which is a gene protective of immunity heavy in Caucasians only because of selective genetics of survivors of the "Black Death" - the plague of medieval white Europe - "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CCR5. What this has to do with germ warfare which admittedly the US engaged in, as did the USSR and others in 1960s and 1970s.

Certainly the HIV virus which mushroomed in African heterosexuals has hit primarily homosexuals of various hues in the West. I don't understand the motive inferred either - population control - why would we use it on Africa that is not a strategic or economic rival? or for internal politics - as said before, this somehow synthetically created AIDS then misfired on its target, didn't it?? And anything we are capable of creating is something that competent minds of recognizing its origin - not only for purposes of investigation but to find a cure. It makes no sense that the best of the world's minds, most not conceivably controlled by a military industrial complex, would not have made these answers available.

Short summary - go peddle your crap somewhere else.

T. West:

Some good comments from the young lady. It is true that some Blacks, not all, the originators of Hip Hop,have become complacent with what is around them. However, to their credit, they are the only people who have, not only survived, but flourished within the most oppressive nation in the world. In fact, a nation that has and continue to fund and train other oppressive nations. To understand this, one must know and understand how America covertly oppress and even kills so many people. Look up CCR-5 Delta 32 and understand how HIV/AIDS is a bio-weapon with a "genetic key" to Blacks, particularly, and many Asians, secondarily. Look up Public Law 91-171 and understand how this "disease causing micro-organism" was legislated into place by White men of America in 1969-70. This oppression includes much of what's happening in Lebanon. America told Israel to attack Lebanon in 2006, causing the deaths of more than 1,000 Lebanese and billions of dollars in property destruction. The source from which revolution has been defined around the world in modern times, generally, points to the Black movements in the United States. That movement has never died and is about to spring forward as big as ever.

Hip Hop without knowledge (education in its variouis forms) is almost meaningless, and knowledge must be followed with action and results. Youth and adults must become "Hip" to technology and how to create it. They must become "Hip" to doing the right thing towards others, and reject the dog-eat-dog mentality. "Hip" is NOT a 24/7 party. "Hip" is not the drug and alcohol culture. "Hip" is not the acceptance of religious traditions without questioning it. Hip is knowledge of the truth and acceptance of that truth.

T. West
AfriSynergy Productions
http://www.youtube.com/user/westthea

Westerner:

It's nice to see that a young Arab woman like Lix is able to do something positive in Lebanon despite the horrible circumstances. I'm glad she doesn't wear a veil or burka and also wondering how long that will last.

Amethyst:

I am appalled by the way this was written! First of all, it is trippin', spittin', chillin', etc! If this columnist is going to report about hip-hop, learn to write it!

Secondly, I hate it when someone from a war-torn country critizes Americans simply because they maybe a little ignorant and group those few with an entire nation. But, it is okay for foreigners to emulate and take on American, no, Afican American culture and make it their own and talk about how they can relate! What hyprocrisy!

Amar C. Bakshi:

Rob, read the post from two days back about avoiding political assassination if you want stuff on geopolitical maneuvering and Syria's influence in the upcoming elections:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/america/2007/11/lebanon_elections_assassination.html
Or check back tomorrow where I post from the southern suburbs of Beirut by Hassan Nasrallah's old home, talking to Shias there about Hezbollahs role in Lebanon, and America's influence on it.

rob:

Dude Amar,

Are you just trying to boost the WaPo's younger
readership? There's some pretty important
geopolitical manuvering going on right now in
Lebanon, and although I was born here, I care
enough about my people in Lebanon to want to see
better coverage of that, rather than this
flippancy.

pjb23:

the thing about hip-hop is that it can be good or it can be bad. does lynn know the difference? maybe she should seek some different sources. public enemy started as a college band. what about the roots, or jurassic 5? thoughtful, educated music is out there. lynn has but to choose it, and hopefully emulate it. or she could stand out on the block with the crips and listen to biggie.

Mulla Abdulla:

Hai Alla, Muslim woman dancing in public? Toba Toba Toba!


It is haram Ameican culture, let us burn something.

Mulla Abdulla:

Hai Alla, Muslim woman dancing in public? Toba Toba Toba!


It is haram Ameican culture, let us burn something.

I'VE LIVED TOO LONG.:

SOMEONE WAKE ME WHEN THIS IS RELEVENT.

Aamir Ali:

Raj:

Good you go a little more educated today.

Vic van Meter:

It's not that we don't educate every American, it's that some Americans don't want to be educated. I know that sounds absolutely absurd, but it's true.

It's probably not localized to America, but I'm a suburban guy who's done most of his traveling abroad in big-city Europe. I've never met someone who didn't want to know. Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury here in America. Here, ignorance is proliferating, and not because the government isn't concerned about it. We've been trying our best to educate every citizen in a fair manner for most of America's life (the definition of citizen has changed over the years). In fact, education is something people in America have fought for over the course of many years. The struggle of African-Americans to achieve equality in education has been a tooth-and-nail fight with segregation for years.

And now where are we? Hip-hop culture in America has made traditional knowledge-based education a compliment to street credentials. Luckily, not every enthusiast buys that party line and the most popular rappers nowadays tend to at least display a modicum of intelligence. And it's not just hip-hop culture. Sometimes traditional education is seen as hostile to local culture. American ignorance doesn't tend to apply as much to the educated upper crust. It's more of a stereotype generated by having a country so large and isolated that you don't suffer only knowing one language and having a weaker idea of geography. But I seem to know offhand trivia as much as the rest of mmy friends internationally, so I don't think I'm struggling.

The problem is that, despite the overwhelming opportunities for success, more so than in other countries, Americans sometimes collect at the bottom out of a hostility to traditional education. There can be very cynical views towards interests in science and math, and sometimes the States can be very hostile to sciences because of the collective religious establishment here. But moreover the problem is that Americans can look at higher-level education as a kind of eliteness that gets away from the grass-roots of a more locally traditional life.

Thankfully I never had that problem. I was absolutely expected to go to college and I always thought it was imperitive to do well in school at every level.

Sure, even I'll admit that I can be a bit of a nerd sometimes, but even I'm shocked, sometimes, when people look at me as if I'm speaking gibberish when I'm talking about things I learned in middle school. And it's not because the education isn't there. Education in America isn't just available and free, often it's mandatory unless you have a very valid excuse. So the only excuse to not knowing is that you've turned away to not listen.

It's depressing.

Raj:

Nice to see a Muslim women without a burka and having a career of her own in the Middle East Islamic cutlture

Kevin:

Having brick-and-mortar schools isn't the same as educating its attendees. Education goes far beyond the institutional walls, and I'm sad to say that in some parts of America, schools serve as holding cells or day care centers for hordes of young people.

Isis E.:

I am a Hip-Hop lover from Ohio, USA. I really appreciate this article regarding Hip-Hop abroad and how all of humanity is affected by this beautiful art form. Very Enlightening!

Robert of Los Angeles:

Of course, America does educate all of its citizens and non-citizens, for free thru 17 and has over 5000 institutions of higher learning.

Lebanon has 7 major universities probably the best in the Middle East in quality and quantity but on top of a primary education system that would make the old South look like liberals - segregrated, no free mandatory education for Muslim children. It desperately needs educators -as well as doctors, businessmen, etc - to feel safe to return from exile.

Of course, Lynn mentioned the mistreatment as similar to old racial wounds in the US but she can be forgiven to ascribing the ignorance of her fellow musicians to the schools. Public schools can be a mixed bag but its the road of improvement for all if its taken advantage of. Most modern musicians black and white revel in "gangsta" and rebellious style without even understanding anything about how their society works let alone what's happening the world.

Watching:

She is a smart person America should invite
her back again and again

Man, the Bronx actually knew where Lebanon
was on the map? Why didn't she do Atlantic
Ave. Brooklyn, home to Lebanese for over 100 years

She needs an hour on the Diane Reem show
or PBS

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