Hip hop is one of those musical genres that can travel across all kinds of cultural and language barriers. In parts of the Middle East, hip hop has taken on a definite anti-West, anti-US jihadist tone. So how does the US counteract this? But fighting hip hop with hip hop.
The Atlantic reports on this fascinating use of soft power:
For several years now, American and German officials have struggled with how best to respond to Deso Dogg. The Ghanaian-German artist, whose legal name is Denis Cuspert, gained popularity during the mid-2000s as a pioneer in Germany’s gangsta-rap scene, performing with DMX and recording tracks
like “Gangxtaboggy,” “Daz Iz Ein Drive By,” and “Meine Ambition Als Ridah.” In 2010, following a car crash, he embraced Islam and began documenting his Malcolm X-like transformation—from a life of women and bling to the “straight path”—in lyrics and music videos.
Soon enough, he left hip-hop altogether and became a Salafi named Abu Maleek, embracing an ultra-conservative strain of Sunni Islam that frowns upon music and the use of instruments. He began describing his hometown of Berlin as a kuffar metropole (infidel metropolis). Instead of rap, he started composing and performing a cappella nasheeds, or devotional chants.
The hip-hopper-turned-Salafi evangelist or a cappella preacher is not an unusual figure in Muslim youth culture today: Napoleon of Tupac’s Outlawz, Loon of Bad Boy Records, and Sean Cross of Ruff Ryders Entertainment have all recently found God, quit rap, and toured European and Muslim-majority states speaking out against hip-hop culture. Their sermons and poems tend to be apolitical, focusing on atonement and self-improvement.