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Slingshot Hip Hop

2 Apr

Palestinian hip hop, by nature, must be political, at least according to a member of pioneering Palestinian hip hop group, DAM. For a people split apart by war and conflict, with limited communication between them and restricted movement, art has become the most important messenger. The documentary Slingshot Hip Hop follows handful of young Palestinians as they struggle under oppressive circumstances to develop their form of personal expression through rap music.

The documentary mainly follows DAM – three young men from Lyd (approximately 10 miles from Tel Aviv) – credited with becoming Palestine’s first hip hop group. Having never heard rap in Arabic and with influences like Tupac, Biggie, Nas and Common, DAM began by simply imitating their counterparts in the US. However, self discovery leads the young men to start tackling issues pertinent to their community in their own language.

Hip hop’s role as a liberating force among marginalized peoples internationally becomes increasingly evident shortly into the film. Viewers are taken to hip hop shows and refugee camps where the emcees speak to children about national pride and encourage other young Palestinians to vent their frustrations through rap. With lines like, “Who’s the terrorist? This is my homeland,” they unapologetically affirm their right to be.

Another emcee from the group PR (Palestinian Rapperz) in Gaza, likens his hood to “a big prison,” with its checkpoints and road closures. One of the main issues throughout the film is how the occupation has prevented Palestinians who live in different areas from meeting.  Formal permission in the form of a travel visa is needed to access certain areas, and even then, access isn’t always granted.

Considering the length of the doc, there is but a brief appearance by Arapeyat, a female-emcee duo, that DAM helps develop. This feels like a token nod to the women, until we’re brought deeper into the life of R&B vocalist, Abeer Zinati (aka Sabreena Da Witch). Here, the filmmakers look at the issue of sexism with sensitive nuance as Abeer attempts to balance familial relationships, tradition and personal desire.

While framed within the culture, the issue that runs throughout is bigger than hip hop. The people are not villainized, rather, Israeli dominance exists as an ominous force, always felt although at times unseen. But as the camera pans in on a large billboard in the distance with the words, “WE WILL WIN” in Hebrew, it’s difficult not to root for the underdog.

-Alison

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Drake – So Far Gone Mixtape

13 Mar

I like my emcees arrogant.  Rap lyrics with a hefty dose of bravado otherwise they lack flavour. Admit it: punch lines combined with a certain amount of cockiness is often what leads to classic material.

Last month Drake released a “mixtape” (I love how we’re holding on to the “tape”) called So Far Gone with 17 tracks so-far-gone-front-coverand guests spots by Trey Songz, Lil’ Wayne, Santo Gold and a few other friends. Besides talent, young boy’s persona exudes a cockiness I kind of like: seemingly effortless and consequently far from corny.

When Boi -1da told me during an interview back in 2006 that he was working with an emcee named Drake, who in his opinion was one of the best lyricists out, I had to hold in my laughter. Really? “Jimmy” from Degrassi (Canadian TV show) is an emcee AND he’s good? I figured it was Boi’s youth speaking, turning “good” into “the G.O.A.T.” But respect due, Aubrey Graham/Drake has managed to successfully distance two sides of the same coin.

Some listeners will have to take him in short doses because, understandably, too much of anything makes you annoyed. To his credit, Drizzy does take off the mask and show some vulnerability (rare, but it happens) a few times on So Far Gone.

Brothers with confidence are infinitely more attractive than the herb who is always second-guessing himself and I hear it’s the same on the flip side. The same principle holds true in the rap world. And that rumoured line that separates confidence from arrogance, like good from evil, might not actually exist.

-Alison

*I’ve chosen the word “persona” carefully, I’m not just trying to sound fancy. I meant persona, as in character, role, front. I’m old enough to know better than believe every story I hear in a rhyme.  I grew up listening to lot of Boot Camp Clik…loved them. And when I met most of them at an interview session, I was pleased that they were extremely friendly, well-mannered young men. A storyteller’s worth is in the way s/he tells the story.