More than 30 years since its birth in the South Bronx, hip hop has become a truly worldwide movement—and Palestine is no exception. The first and most recognized Palestinian hip-hop group is known as DAM, which means “eternity” in Arabic and “blood” in Hebrew, and also is an acronym for “Da Arabian MCs.” DAM recently finished their second full-length album, Dabke on the Moon, but told XXL that because of the current situation in Palestine—even before Israel’s recent bombing of Gaza, movement of goods across the border was (and still is) severely restricted—they have thus far only been able to release it at www.damrap.com.
Earlier this month, DAM dropped the first single from Dabke, “If I Could Go Back in Time.” The track has already won serious international praise for drawing attention to the brutal realities of “honor killing.” Rapped in Arabic, the verses tell the story of a young woman murdered by her family for refusing an arranged marriage. Reminiscent of Nas’ “Rewind,” the track and video—produced in collaboration with U.N. Women (also known as The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women)—depict the subject’s life story in reverse. The track is right in line with DAM’s reputation for using rap to protest all shades of oppression, whether it’s sexism, racism or the Israeli occupation.
The group was created in 1999 by brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar and their friend Mahmood Jrere. The three MCs grew up in Lydd, a mixed Palestinian-Jewish town near Jerusalem. Typically deeply segregated, the Palestinian neighborhoods in cities like Lydd often suffer from disproportionately high poverty and crime rates. It was in this environment of struggle that Tamer discovered hip-hop as a teenager in 1996, teaching himself English by studying Tupac lyrics.
The group won widespread international acclaim in 2001 with the single “Min Irhabi” (which translates to “Who’s the Terrorist?”), and their first album, Dedication, was released in 2006. Mahmood Jrere and Tamer Nafar recently sat down with XXL over Skype to discuss the often-controversial history of DAM and the message of their new work. —Katie Moore
XXL: What can you tell us about your new single “If I Could Go Back in Time”?
Tamer Nafar: Normally hip-hop is known as chauvinistic, and the Arab world has a history of oppressing its women. We are Arab rappers doing a song against honor killing.
XXL: You rap mostly in Arabic on the new album, but one song is in English.
Nafar: Yeah, it’s a love song, a sarcastic love song. It’s called “I’m in Love With a Jew.” It’s a metaphor for the situation. I get stuck in the elevator with this beautiful woman, she’s Jewish, and we start to talk. It’s the same thing—we’re both stuck here in this situation, like an elevator, and the only difference between us is that, in the elevator, she’s pressing the up button and I’m going down.
XXL: Your last full album was 2006. What are the biggest musical changes between that project and this one?
Nafar: Musically, we worked with different producers. When we did Dedication, our knowledge of music was strictly hip-hop. The last five years, we went to pop, Arab music, rock ‘n’ roll, world music, reggae music. This time the music limited the length of the verses. With the first album, it was 16, hook, 16, hook, 16, hook. And now in certain songs, according to the vocals, you only have 8 bars. So it was challenging for us to deliver the message, it takes more working on it, more effort. Of course sometimes we were more hip-hop and we said, “I want to have 24 bars here and that’s it.” So it worked different for different people. [Dabke] is a feature. You know when you finish cinema [school], you do a documentary and then a few years later you do your first feature? So, our first album is a documentary and the second one is a feature.
READ ON TO FIND OUT ABOUT DAM’S NEW ALBUM DABKE!