Verbal Mujahidin in the Transglobal Hip Hop Umma: Islam, discursive struggle, and the weapons of mass culture
What happens when Beanie Sigel, one of the hardest Rappers in the United Streets of America, clenches his jaws and spits in that South Philly Black street speech, “I fear nu’in [nothing] but Allah”? What has attracted such a large number of Rappers to seek Islam as a means of establishing their faith claims? More generally, how much do we know about the relationship between “Hip Hop” and “Islam”? In what ways are the two compatible? This chapter explores aspects of the complex relationship between two entities-Hip Hop Culture and the Islamic Faith-which have both been separately constructed by dominating discourses as “threats to American civilization.” To some practitioners, Hip Hop Culture represents a counterdiscourse that is not only mass-based, but also mass-mediated, circulated, and communicated to millions of youth. Like the Muslim umma, the Global Hip Hop Nation functions as a worldwide network of “believers” around the world who have created “nationhood” through cultural, ideological, and imaginary means. In this chapter, I view Hip Hop artistsparticularly those engaged in what I have called the “transglobal Hip Hop umma” (Alim 2005)—as “verbal mujahidin,” with their speech activities serving as alternative media sources narrating the beliefs and experiences of a “nation.” Their very experiences, when verbalized, represent a discursive struggle against oppression. This struggle is not fought in the language of classical religious texts-it’s fought in that sacred, steetiﬁed, slick-ass Black Language (BL). Here, I’m viewing BL not as a checklist of linguistic features, but as discourse itself, that is, as a potentially powerful weapon of mass culture (WMC). As Dyson (1991: 22) noted in a special issue of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology:
The rap artist, as Cornel West has indicated, is a bridge figure, who combines the two potent traditions in black culture, preaching and music: the rapper appeals to the rhetorical practices honed in African American religious experiences and the cultural potency of black singing/ musical traditions to produce an engaging hybrid. In a sense rappers are truly urban griots dispensing social and cultural critiques, verbal shamans exorcising the demons of hiphopcrisy and a laissez faire orality that refuses to participate in the media of cultural exploration and social provocation. The culture of Hip Hop has generated a lexicon of life that expresses rap’s bboys/b-girl’s Weltanschauung, a perspective that takes delight in the postmodern practice of demystifying high classical structures of language and celebrates the culturally encoded twists of phrases that communicate in their own idiom.