I do not like hip hop. Well, let me take that back. I like some of the older hip hop but now I guess I’m just too old and cranky to even try to like it or try to seem hip anymore. So when Jackie Reem Salloum’s documentary about the rising Palestinian hip hop scene kicked off, I immediately started in with the eye rolling. We meet Tamer, the frontman for politically minded rap trio DAM and we get a kind of “Cribs” look at his house. He’s toking on a hookah and shows off his CD collection which is at least 35 deep. As we see more of Tamer and his crew it’s clear that all the annoying accoutrements of hip hop culture have made their way to the Middle East. Baggy jeans, Nike hoodies, untied shoes and thick chains adorn the three as they rap about the trouble and hardship they face day to day. And right about then, I realized that this movie is actually pretty insightful and amazing.
In fact, it seems only natural these men would turn to hip hop, especially the old, politically minded hip hop of Public Enemy and the like to try and rally youth as well as make themselves heard. Whereas hip hop frequently talks about day to day life in the ghetto and in the hood, the people in Gaza and Palestine have it ten times worse. The Israeli occupation has forced them to basically live in a prison. At any given time the Israeli’s can and do lay siege to the peaceful Arab neighborhoods. Hearing Tamer and his groups raps with titles such as “Who’s the Terrorist?!” really drives home the point that these people need an outlet and they need a way to bring youth together in order to try and create change.
There’s also an intense feeling of impending doom throughout “Slingshot Hip Hop” because if the Israeli’s were to discover DAM and other activist hip hop groups, it’s pretty much a given they’d be headed off to prison or worse. It’s exactly this kind of fear that forces up and coming female rapper Abeer (aka “Sabreena da Witch”) to cancel out of a big show. Or rather, her parents force her to cancel which plays back into the Fresh Princes classic hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” And thus, my knowledge of hip hop is now spent. Another example of the constant pressures felt in this society happens when two young boys, up and coming rappers who are taken in by DAM, are arrested for throwing rocks in protest…two years earlier. The last we hear from them they’re in prison for eight months, still awaiting a trial.
At one point the Palestinian rappers decide to get together a bunch of Arab hip hop groups for one big concert. DAM is on board as is Abeer as well as another group featured in the film, MWR. They invite Gaza rappers PR (Palestinian Rapperz) to the show and we follow WMR as they make the 5 hour journey to travel 14 miles into occupied Palestine for the gig. They get stopped at the border as do hundreds of others in a car jam reminiscent of the one in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Week End.” The annoyance level and stress the men onscreen are feeling bleeds into the audience as the wait seems eternal. A mere 14 miles might as well be 14,000.
“Slingshot Hip Hop” is an exciting film as well as a frightening and sad look at the people in Palestine and Gaza. While I still don’t understand why these young men and women need to take the obnoxious American hip hop styles in order to truly be real “rappers,” I still respect their message. I also noted a proliferation of crappy American style hip hop graffiti and again, not to be a cranky cynic, it just seems silly. But on the other hand, whatever these guys and girls can do to get through the rigors and stress that go along with living in an occupied area, they should do.