Last year, XXL introduced readers to the groundbreaking Palestinian hip-hop group, DAM. At that time, the three rappers—Mahmood Jrere and brothers Suhell and Tamer Nafar—had just dropped their second album, Dabke On The Moon, and were gearing up for a U.S. tour. They’ve just wrapped up another quick U.S. tour, and XXL caught up with Mahmood and Tamer last week in Brooklyn.

As the first-ever Palestinian rappers, the members of DAM are certainly qualified to explain Palestinian hip-hop, Arabic hip-hop on the whole and their unique position at the center to all of it. The MCs spoke with XXL about where they think rap in the Middle East is headed, and about their current group and solo projects—including Tamer’s deepening journey into writing English rhymes and the daunting challenges of rapping in a third language. Tamer hesitantly dropped XXL a rough cut of an English verse he recently recorded over the “1 Train” instrumental (which he requested remain unreleased), featuring lines like:

So this mic is the subtitles for my subconscious
it’s the hardest when I’m the artist with the hardest concept
but don’t speak the accent of the contest
Hope the CIA don’t get this one out of context
'cause I’m about to blow this shit up


In the Arabic school I was causing real drama
classmates pronouncing “mother” while I’m rapping “Dear Mama.”

This American rap influence paired with DAM’s upbringing in Arabic music has birthed a whole generation of Arabic hip-hop, buoyed as of late by the Arab Spring uprisings—but there are still issues to be worked out. "Palestine is my country, but I’m an Arab and I cannot disconnect from myself," says Jrere. "The whole Arabic music movement is changing. There are new things happening in the Middle East... If we’re talking specifically about Palestine, we cannot ignore the political problem. As long as Palestine is under occupation, the culture and the art will be limited. Our art, our culture is dependent on our freedom. So what can we do in 10 years, if there is still Occupation?"

As pioneers of their genre now launching individual projects in and outside of hip-hop, the energy around DAM has the excitement of artists just finding their footing and the seasoned wisdom of players who invented a whole new game. —Katie Moore (@kmoorenyc)