Lebanon's Hip-Hop Struggle
For one year from 2007-2008, Amar traveled around the world reporting on how people from all walks of life view the United States through text and video. The following is one of a number of posts from Lebanon. For more, click here.
Beirut - "Lebanon's MC's spit the sickest flows," insists Lynn Fattouh, a.k.a. MC Lix, a.k.a.Malikah ("The Queen"). Long after the party has ended, she is sitting on the dance floor of club Black & White on Monot Street. Lynn is one of seven top Arab rappers, hand-picked by MTV Arabiya, a new cable channel that began broadcasting over the weekend.
Hip-hop first caught Lynn’s ear nine years ago. She was twelve, chilling with her big brother Mustapha, bouncing to Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Bone Thugs, Foxy Brown, Da Brat and Left Eye. She got hooked, and began spitting rhymes with friends. At sixteen Lynn hit Beirut’s epic nightlife scene, climbing on stage for the first time.
She let loose her "aggressive rhymes" incognito, wearing a baseball cap to cover her eyes and adopting the stage name Lix. “There’s a stereotype here of the female singer with no self-respect,” she explains. Her parents shared this prejudice, telling her that performing in public was beneath her social status.
Lynn spent her first few years of college at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, where tuition cost half what it did back home and where she'd be closer to the “birthplace of hip-hop,” . The move paid off. Through MySpace, Lynn met DJ Mighty T.H.O.R. in the Bronx, and traveled down to NYC twice to meet him and his crew. Now they’re collaborating on her first album, to be released in March ‘08.
“There is no way you cannot associate hip-hop with America,” Lynn says. “It was born in the Bronx with the minorities who were angry because they were treated in a very bad way in the States.” This resonated with Lynn, who says, “We [in Lebanon] are suffering too; we are being treated in an inhuman way” by neighboring nations and local politicians.
She chose hip-hop to fight back. It has “sixteen to eighteen bars to speak out through,” she explains, rather than four to eight bars in conventional English or Arabic songs.
Though hip-hop's form fit her message, her journey to the Bronx complicated her image of American rappers. At the Canadian border, she encountered a petrified security agent who turned “ghost white” when he saw all the “ins and outs from Arab countries” on her passport.
Lynn was also carrying the business card of Hassan bin Laden, “a perfectly normal guy,” who happens to be the brother of America’s most wanted man, and owns a chain of Hard Rock Cafes, including the one in Beirut. At the border she ripped it up frantically. “Just having all that attention [from security agents] made me start tripping, thinking I did something wrong.”
American media has built up such a bad image of Arabs, she says. “But why should [the agent] be scared? I’m just a girl. I’m not going to hurt anybody.”
In the Bronx, she again found this image of the real bad Arab. Wrapped in the blue bandannas of the East Coast Crips gang, the rap artists she met applauded her struggle without understanding it at all. They imagined gangster Arabs strapping guns and bombs to their bodies, but "thought Lebanon was in Africa or near India,” she says with surprise. “War interested them,” but not school, not her real struggle.
She was surprised that America, the world's great power, didn't educate all its citizens. And she was surprised these artists didn’t appreciate the opportunities around them. Their squabbles seemed petty to her.
She remembered the horrors of the 2006 July War in Lebanon, and decided Lebanese hip-hop was her niche. Before finishing school in Canada, she went back to Beirut in 2006 to craft her own message.
Lynn is grateful to American hip-hop musicians for creating a “diverse culture” that accepted her immediately and provided her with a platform to counter the negative images of Arab people around the world, and to demand change from her leaders in the Middle East.
But it also convinced her that Americans had a lot to be grateful for, and a lot to learn.
As for herself she says she's going to focus on all the work that hip-hop has left to do in Lebanon.