Cosmopolitan Islam Influence on Hip Hop

Illustration of "I Contact" Verses, by Wilson Qin

Illustration of “I Contact” Verses, by Wilson Qin

In the course material we discussed Islam influenced hip hop groups like Aki Nawaz and Propa-Gandhi of Fun-Da-Mental, who advocate “a certain Islamic orthopraxy, expressing total opposition to alcohol and drug usage” (Swendenburg 59). Nawaz characterizes the struggle against anti-racism as a militant struggle much like jihad, with a goal of uniting Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Islamic concerns in their music and statements. In particular shocking white people tends to be their style of music – making references to the “white devil” and also promoting Nation of Islam teachings in their lyrics (Swendenburg 61).

However, I would like to introduce a hip hop group I discovered in my musical listening journeys in recent past. They are an underground hip hop trio called Lunar Heights. They claim Rastafarian, Ethiopian, and Filipino roots. Although it is unclear they are all Muslim, their lyrics make frequent reference to Sufi mysticism, symbolism and struggle in suffering, which is at least Islam influenced. However, they take a completely different approach in getting their Islamic ties across.

From their song “I Contact” (see later in the post for the Youtube link) I have sampled some of their lyrics which I have chosen to illustrate with a sketch.

(3:13)
I can tell if you truly spiritual;
Got to buy spirit or something material;
Really though, you want to be a CEO?
I’d rather be a Sufi and let it all go!
No pain in suffering;
No pain in wondering
if we make it in this Babylon
Steps thundering
Rastafarian
Ethiopian
Abyssinian
African
Jern Eye from the Tribe of Dan
Rep the Philippines as original man.

My illustration takes the verse, and embodies the Ethiopian/Abyssinian/Rastafarian flag colors in the background at the top (is the color match a coincidence?), while lining Filipino flag colors at the bottom.Their diverse ethnic makeup is a testament to the cosmopolitan influence of Islam and how it has spread historically. Ethiopia and former Abyssinia was touched by Islam when an envoy of Prophet Muhammad’s first followers migrated there in the 7th century and integrated themselves into the Abyssinian society.

In the center is a crescent moon which also acts as a dinner plate, surrounded by utensils, with the absent space of the crescent moon filled with sketches of material things, referencing Lunar Heights’ call that buying “spirit” – in this case alcohol, or excessively spending on something material is probably the opposite of spiritual. However, their lyrics “you want to be a CEO? I’d rather be a Sufi and let it all go!”, seems a far cry from shocking non Muslims and white people the militant way Aki Nawaz’s lyrics go. If anything this is a lament in the context of the 21st century of materialism and capitalism in the global society, when the pursuit of finding the intrinsic spiritual self and its relationship with God has become distracted by extrinsic trappings  – especially the cribs (houses), cars, jewelry and alcohol and drugs mainstream hip hop culture has glorified.

 

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