ISIS and Its Pull on the Hip Hop Scene

An article called “Beats, Rhymes and Jihad” draws this interesting line between ISIS and their recruiting efforts and hip hop communities.

Whatever the group’s name, it has caught the world’s attention in a way that is only rivaled by al-Qaeda in the weeks after 9/11. One of the main ways in which ISIS has differentiated itself from previous Islamist militant groups is in its ability to connect with foreign youth throughsocial media and popular culture, particularly young men living in Europe. It was not just the brutality of the beheading videos that shocked Western observers, but the fact that executioner spoke with a London accent.


British and American media have been filled with stories of “Jihadi John”, a British national who left the UK to seek infamy fighting for ISIS. Authorities even speculate that the masked man conducting the executions in the videos is Abdel Majed Abdel Bary (also spelled ‘Bari’), an aspiring rapper from London who gave up everything to fight for ISIS. There is also American jihadi Kenneth McCain, a 33-year old from Minnesota, who rapped at some shows in Sweden before joining ISIS and dying in battle in Syria earlier this year.  While recent intelligence reports suggest that it is unlikely that the man in the beheading video actually conducted the executions and that voice heard in the video is probably not Bary’s, the nexus between immigrant hip-hop communities in Europe and Islamic militants is not altogether unfounded.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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