Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Middle East Uprisings Release Their First Mix Tape

Posted By on 02.09.11 at 01:25 PM

Khalas_Mixtape_Cover.jpg
If you've been following events in the Middle East you've probably come across a mention of the politicized young rappers whose music is both reporting on and encouraging the popular uprisings there. Tunisian artist El General in particular has been attracting a lot of attention for his role as a spokesperson for youth unrest not only in Tunisia but throughout the region. Music critic Christopher R. Weingarten, writing for the new blog Popdust, has this to say about El General's "President, Your People Are Dying": "Its direct role in the Tunisian uprising and potential role in the current instability in the Middle East may make it one of the most influential hip-hop songs of all time."

Because this movement is geographically scattered and ideologically diverse, and because it's heavily dependent on the Internet not only to organize itself but also to make itself heard—judging by the early reactions of American cable news channels, much of the outside world isn't interested in getting the message—it's pretty much inevitable that somebody would put together a free digital mix tape of current political hip-hop from the Middle East. The Khalas Mixtape Volume One contains a couple of El General cuts as well as music by similarly politicized artists from Egypt, Libya, and Algeria.

Musically it's nothing any halfway committed hip-hop fan hasn't heard before. It's indebted to the grim, menacing sound of New York gangsta rap at its apotheosis a decade or so ago—understandable, because even with help from the Internet, it can take a while for aesthetic innovations to soak into new soil. You could also argue that this historical moment doesn't really call for Kanye-style artistry; under these circumstances, a beat that sounds like it's jacked from a lost Mobb Deep record works just fine.

The music here isn't being made to impress critics. As much as the songs are artistic expressions, they're also expected to do work, and once you've heard them it's easy to understand why El General has been arrested and questioned by Tunisian government officials—his tracks bleed with passion and anger, and the beats behind him basically beg the listener to bring some ruckus. I can only imagine the effect they'd have on a young Tunisian kid already sitting on a powder keg of resentment and frustration, but it must be incredible.

Here's the video to "President, Your People Are Dying," along with a real-time English translation:

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