29 May 2009
“Hip hop came from the streets, from the toughest neighborhoods, and that’s always where the Muslims were.” — Adisa Banjoko
Journalist Harry Allen once called Islam “hip-hop’s unofficial religion.” This theme is echoed by Adisa Banjoko, unofficial ambassador of Muslim hip-hop, who says, “Muslim influence was at the ground floor of hip hop. Hip hop came from the streets, from the toughest neighborhoods, and that’s always where the Muslims were.” . . . In spite of this pioneering and continuing role, Islam as a cultural force in hip-hop is severely under-documented. In the most recent oversight, Jeff Chang’s exhaustive hip-hop history Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (Picador, 2005) pays only fleeting attention to the Muslim connection. Elsewhere in mainstream media, the Muslim connection is never spoken aloud, even in the middle of thorough analysis and journalism. Ted Swedenburg calls this “almost willful avoidance.” In this, there are parallels to the larger invisibility of black Muslims, who have been shut out of many conversations around the role of Islam in America.
This deliberate invisibility mirrors America’s continuing unease with Islam. Black Muslims and hip-hop are frozen out of the larger debate over Islam because they would problematize the entire conversation. If we acknowledge that the largest segment of American Muslims are blackamericans, it makes it more difficult to stereotype Muslims as “immigrants” or “outsiders.”
Furthermore, if we look at Muslim anger and see within it a portion that is African-American, we are forced to confront an indictment of American society. This is a viewpoint that the music press has assiduously avoided. Finally, the idea of Islam as a obscurantist force rubs against its positive influence within hip-hop. Hip-hop scholars have not been able to absorb or observe the Muslim role in creating unique rhyme flows and politically conscious hip-hop. Safer perhaps to avoid the topic.
Download the PDF MuslimPlanet_Mohaiemen.pdf