Help us understand what it’s like to be Palestinian rappers. How is it harder for you than for American rappers?
Mahmood Jrere: American artists have radios, have TVs, a place to show their art. And this is what we don’t have, as Palestinians. Because we don’t have a country. It’s a lot of doing something from nothing. There are no studios owned by Palestinians, nothing supported by the Art House of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority. I’m talking about art in general in Palestine. So everyone is doing his thing, but at the same time they don’t get distribution, they don’t get radio time or TV. So it is very, very difficult. This is actually where we were blessed by the Internet as Palestinians; this is where we got exposed to the world.
We started to rap in Arabic in 2000, and this is when Arabic hip-hop also started, not only Palestinian hip-hop. We are the pioneers of the whole Arabic hip-hop movement. This is something we are also proud of. If people follow the news, I bet they’ve heard about the Arab Spring, which is the revolution in the Arabic world. Each soundtrack that’s coming out of those revolutions has to be a hip-hop song. In Tunisia, there was a rapper who was arrested in the beginning of the revolution.
“If people follow the news, I bet they’ve heard about the Arab Spring. Each soundtrack that’s coming out of those revolutions has to be a hip-hop song.”
Rap has started to be really big in the Arabic world and is starting to be a tool of expression, of changing, of facing the government, facing the laws, anything you see that is not right. It is very poetic at the same time, as the Arabic language is. So, this is where we are. We still don’t have the same tools that the Western world has, but we are building it now.
Tamer Nafar: Imagine we are Palestinians living inside of Israel. Imagine not to get played on the Israeli radio because we are Arab. Or not being invited to festivals because we are Palestinians. And at the same time, imagine that we are not being played in the Arabic media because we are Israelis. Imagine how shitty the situation is. Imagine the isolation.
But at the same time, imagine three young kids who are coming from not just Palestine in general, but in the worst city in Palestine. Lydd is considered the biggest drug market in the Middle East. I’m 34 years old, and I saw only one show in my life in Lydd. There is no culture, no pulse. So imagine all the bad things that I said, but at the same time, imagine these three young kids suddenly having tours in the U.S. and tours in Europe and living from that.
And the content?
TN: I would say that my main influence is American hip-hop, but I’m influenced by other kinds of music. I did not create the wheel, I just translated it. But I would say that I added to it. Here hip-hop was influenced by jazz, reggae and all these things. I was influenced by hip-hop, but I influenced that hip-hop with the sounds I heard when I was young, which was Arabic music. Everyone is influenced from someone, but the question is, what can you add to it? You took from it, now what can you add? And that’s what makes the difference between a dope rapper and a good rapper.
“Their Independence Day is—they’re taking the country and the land from us, so they do it in a happy way. To celebrate. And we go and we do shows for free. To mourn.”
How is it different for Israeli rappers? Is it easier for them?
MJ: Yeah. But they have a country, which makes a huge difference.
TN: For example, on Independence Day, they pay the Israeli bands around $20,000 per show. We don’t have a country, so we don’t celebrate Independence Day. Their Independence Day is—they’re taking the country and the land from us, so they do it in a happy way. To celebrate. And we go and we do shows for free. To mourn.
You have Israeli passports?
TN: We have Israeli passports, that’s one of the good things. But Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza, they don’t travel. One of our friends, a rapper, Mohammad al Ferra from PR Gaza, he left and he cannot come back since. It’s been like eight years. So of course, it’s all relative.