take five

The rhythms of revolution: Hip hop goes global

In her latest book 'Close to the Edge: In Search of a Global Hip Hop Generation', sociologist Sujatha Fernandes asks a simple question: can hip hop change the world? In this article, she picks her five favourite rap tracks from around the planet.

I first heard the rap song 'The Message' – credited to the legendary Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – in the mid-1980s. I didn’t know why the song about an American ghetto struck a chord with me, a teenager growing up in a working-class beachside neighborhood of Sydney.

Maybe it’s because hip hop culture – which includes rapping, djaying, beat-making, b-boying, fashion, graffiti and film, among other elements – is able to express the everyday realities of “livin’ on a see-saw”. The music appeals so broadly across diverse cultures, not because everyone shares the same situation chronicled in the genre, but because it gives young people an outline that they can color with their own experiences. Hip hop is a way for those on the margins to tell their own stories – in all their hybridity, pain, and humor – in societies where there is no other language or medium for these stories to be told. The strength of hip hop is the myriad local forms of expression that it makes possible

Here are some of my favourite tracks from around the world.

 1. 'Se Busca' by Obsesión (Cuba)

The Cuban rap duo Obsesion are one of the most innovative and long-standing groups in the Cuban rap scene. In this song, Magia raps about being a woman in a male dominated genre, and how she retains her own unique voice as a female emcee.

  2. 'Born Here' by DAM (Palestine)

This song is about the life of Palestinians in Israel and their daily encounters of police harassment, displacement, and racism.

3. 'Coup 2 Guele' by Keurgui Crew (Senegal)

“Coup 2 Guele” (from a phrase meaning rant) is a scathing critique of formerSenegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. The song, rapped in Wolof, accuses him of of election fraud and of siphoning money. The song was part of a wave of protests in the country during 2011-2012.

  4. SOS by Issiaka Amkoullel (Mali)

Before the militant takeover of northern Mali in 2012, rapper Amkoullel warned of the dire situation of the country in a song called 'SOS'. He used news footage of the northern takeover to make a video for 'SOS' and despite receiving death threats and facing bureaucratic obstacles, he founded the Plus Jamais Ça collective to spread awareness about issues of social justice.

5. 'I Still Call Australia Home' by Australian Aboriginal rap group The Last Kinection

Peter Allen’s classic ballad 'I Still Call Australia Home' is sampled in this song about Australia’s history of mistreatment of its Aboriginal population. Click here to watch if the video fails to display.

 Sujatha Fernandes is a writer and professor of sociology at the City University of New York. Her books include Cuba Represent!, Who Can Stop the Drums? and Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation. Read her work at www.sujathafernandes.com.

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