15 of the Very Best of Palestinian Hip-Hop Artists
Whether home-grown or from the world diaspora of their people, first or second generation or more, Palestinian hip-hop has become a means of expression for many gifted young people.
Inspired by the great US rap artists and by their own Arab musical culture they have taken up the microphone and carved their own special niche in the scene.
Here are some of the best that Palestinian rap and hip-hop can offer.
Unusually, Arapyat is a female duo and they come from Acre in Israel. They were inspired by listening to hip-hop tapes from the 1980s.
They began after one of them, Safaa Hathot, suffered a parental ban from performing with the group MWR. Consequently with her friend, Nahwa Abed Al'Al, she flexed her girl power muscles and Arapyat were born.
Although their music tends to avoid politics, they still found it difficult to get recognition, particularly due to their status as Israeli-Arabs. Both communities considered them neither one nor the other and radio and TV exposure was difficult.
But nevertheless they did get to sing with MWR as well as DAM. Songs to look out for are 'What Happened in Life," "Our Acre," and "Live Forever Khaled."
Ahmad Balshe was born in 1984 in Jenin in the Occupied Territories.
He is a Palestinian-Canadian artist and producer.
He took the stage name Belly, short for "rebellious."
Although born in Palestine, he grew up in Ottawa. His musical career began in the club scene and since then he has won many awards and top chart positions.
Protest songs include "History of Violence," "Follow Me," and "Revolutionary" in his back catalogue. Belly has also collaborated with Snoop Dog on the track "I Drink I Smoke'" and with The Weeknd on "Might Not."
No stranger to controversy, in an infamous event in 2008 his home and recording studio was raided by Ottawa Police causing over $30,000 in damage. Then in 2016 he cancelled a TV appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in protest at the presence of Donald Trump.
3. Da Alc'z
This band hail from the United Arab Emirates and were established by Palestinian rapper MC-SyndRoM in 2007. The name Da ALC'z means the "AL-Ain City Thugz."
This is because they were founded in the Al-Ain area of Abu Dhabi City and subsequently the young group developed under the leadership of OrTeGa.
They promote freedom of opinion and expression through music, particularly in safeguarding Arab culture and its development through the media of Rap, Rock, R&B etc. In most of their songs they rap about fighting for the freedom of Arab nations.
DAM were founded in 1999 in the city of Lod. Therefore they are also are Arab citizens of Israel
The group comprises the brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar plus Mahmoud Jreri. In 2015 they recruited a female member in Maysa Daw.
Their songs centre mainly around the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the military occupation. Top Tunes are "I Have No Freedom" and "Who's the Terrorist."
But they also sing about poverty and the conditions of the Palestinian people including drug issues and in 'Freedom for my Sister' and 'Who_You_R' they tackle sexism and womens' rights. They consider their words and music as sending a "message of justice" to the world.
The group's name is Arabic for "eternity" but in Hebrew it means "blood". It can also simply be seen as an acronym for "Da Arabian MCs." The group actually rap in three languages, mostly in Arabic, but also in Hebrew and English with over 100 singles to their name.
Excentrik is a Palestinian-American from San Francisco. His real name is Tarik Kazaleh. His parents were also born in the USA but his extended family come from Palestine.
His songs are an eclectic mix which are laden with samples, break-beats and verses of rap. His authentic sound features much of the instrumentation typical of the Middle East such as the oud and the doumbek.
More western touches of murky keyboard effects and distorted guitars give it a touch of contemporary rock. He is also a producer and has collaborated with other artists in the 'Arab Summit' musical project. Best tracks are "Dheisheh," "Go Down Standing," and "Now Here Nowhere."
6. The Hammer Brothers
The Hammer Brothers were founded in the late 1990s by real brothers Mustafa and Omasik. Hailing from New York they are descendants of the Nakba refugees of 1948.
Mustafa learned his trade with the hip-hop band "Dujeous'"at underground gigs in Manhattan. Omasik began with the beat production squad 'Everyday Wonders' in the Bronx several years later. They became regulars on the college circuit including holding lectures as well as gigs.
The Hammer Brothers address issues of racial profiling and discrimination against Arabs in the USA while expressing solidarity with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and also those around the world. Their most well-known song is "Free Palestine."
7. Shadia Mansour
Mansour was born in London in 1985.
Her parents are Christian Palestinians originally from Haifa and Nazareth.
She is known as the “First Lady of Arab Hip-Hop” and as such prefers to rap in Arabic rather than English.
She has worked with Iraqi rappers Lowkey and The Narcicyst as well as DAM. On the international stage Mansour has recorded with producer Johnny "Juice" Rosado of Public Enemy and has been supported by Chuck D.
Her single “El Kofeyye Arabeyyeh” (“The Kuffiyeh is Arab”) refers to the the traditional Palestinian chequered scarf. She sings about protecting the kuffiyeh as a symbol of the Palestinian struggle. Other songs are 'We Have to Change," "Assalamu Alaikum," and "Song for Lebanon."
8. MC Gaza
Ibrahim Ghunaim, aka MC Gaza, is, as you would expect, from the Gaza Strip. He wrote his first rap song in 2005. Hip-hop has saved many a person from turning to crime and when it comes to the Middle East, it may have saved MC Gaza from a life of violence.
MC Gaza chose to become a rapper and immersed himself in the scene with American superstar Eminem being a big inspiration. He is known as the first Palestinian rapper from Gaza with exposure through Arab and global media such as Melody and MTV.
Ghunaim has worked with both local and international institutions through art and humanitarian work. He used to volunteer in helping Gazan war victims after Israeli attacks. Top songs include 'Meen Aja," "El Dinya Bard," and "If I Knew."
The group are one of the first Palestinian hip-hop artists But also one of the first from any Arab country.
They rap about positive expression, common everyday life and the conditions of being under occupation.
Their lyrics talk about Palestine and Israel and the troubled relationship between the two lands. Their song "Because I'm An Arab" evokes this feeling.
Over the years they've developed from raw beginnings into a considerable force in Arab hip-hop. They have also featured on CNN and MTV giving a boost to their international profile.
10. Palestinian Rapperz
Palestinian Rapperz, or simply PR, began in 2003. They were the first rap group to emerge from Gaza.
The group describe hip-hop as “a peaceful way to protest."
Subsequently they have collaborated on songs with DAM and other artists from around Palestine and the Middle East. Have a listen to "Falasteen Wel Tahadi," "Sajeen," and "Ya Watani."
They were unable to perform outside of Gaza for many years because of border restrictions but eventually frontman Mohammed Al-Farra was able to go to the USA. This was in 2008 at Robert Redford's Sundance Festival for the premiere of the documentary film “Slingshot Hip Hop.”
11. Palestine Street
Palestine Street started in 2004 and were originally called ''Badluck Band'." They are from the Dhiesheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.
They sing for the Palestinian cause and for the people in the refugee camps particularly since they come from a camp themselves. One of their tracks is therefore called "Living in Dhiesheh."
Palestine Street have conducted performances in Europe and collaborated with many artists from the USA, Europe, the UK and Africa. They also hold workshops with children to encourage them to express themselves through hip-hop and rap and other forms of music. Other good Tunes are "School Song" and "From Where,"
Another American band who come from Tennessee, the Philistines were formed in 2001 by rapper Ragtop (real name Nizar Wattad). They play live benefits for Palestine and other causes.
The group kicked off when Palestinian/American brothers B-Dub and Ragtop released an album called 'Self Defined' in 2003. It contains 17 songs of a varied blend of musical beats and lyrics.
They relocated to Los Angeles and were joined by the DJ "Afterwords" and they have gone from strength to strength ever since. Check out "Down in the South," "Invincible," and "Time."
Their eclectic mix is reflected in the influences they cite which include The Roots, Marvin Gaye, Fairuz, Miles Davis, Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Tupac, Michael Jackson, and the Beatles.
Although he grew up in Palestine, Raffoul was born in Connecticut. He is from the minority Christian community of Palestinians.
Raffoul's parents returned home when he was only 7 months old.
From an early age, he fell in love with hip-hop and Tupac Shakur was one of his big influences.
His parents divorced when he was 10 years old and travelling between them on visits was difficult. “I listened to a lot of hip-hop passing through checkpoints.”
Other influences are Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli, Biggie and Jedi Mind Tricks among other artists. Raffoul has since returned to the USA but has has filmed several music videos in Palestine singing inEnglish about his experiences growing up there. These include "Tears Over Palestine," "Scars of Gaza," and "Bloodstream (with Bashar Murad)."
Sameh "SAZ" Zakout is from Ramle in Israel. He was inspired to write hip-hop rhymes by one of his teachers.
At the tender age of 16 he started to do live shows and began his rise to prominence in the scene. He sings in Arabic, Hebrew and English and is noted for his skillful beatbox style.
He also sees his music as a powerful tool for building bridges between people and fighting ignorance and apathy across the entire world.
He has broken into the international scene with features in 'Rolling Stone' magazine and 'CNN' and has also performed in the USA and Europe, even appearing live in 2014 at the prestigious Glastonbury Music Festival in the UK.
SAZ chose hip-hop as a means to overcome the divisions between people and to deliver a message of unity and love between people. Best tunes are "EPK," "Hip-Hop," "Yuma (with Shadia Mansour), and "Beginning."
15. Will Youmans
Born in 1978 Will Youmans, is a Palestinian/American writer from Michigan and activist and has performed as a hip-hop artist under the stage name "Iron Sheik." Between 2000 and 2006 he released two albums, "Camel Clutch" and "Yet We Remain."
A part of the growing Palestinian hip hop movement, much of his music is related to the historical plight of Palestinians. Inspired by artists such as Public Enemy and KRS-One amongst others, Iron Sheik has featured on the BBC, CNN and The New York Times.
He has performed regularly at venues throughout the USA and the UK and places such as Egypt and Lebanon. Look up the songs "Ambition," "Chronicles," and "Ascension."
I hope you enjoyed this marvellous collection of artists from Palestine and beyond and will keep in touch with new enterprises they may bring to us.
For now here is the documentary 'Sling-shot Hip-Hop' where you can hear the youngsters talk about their inspiration, their background and experiences as well as their future musical ambitions.