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Hip Hop Straight Outta Lebanon

Shereen Meraji in Lebanon

On today's show, Farai talked to Shereen Meraji, a producer for NPR's Day to Day, about hip hop in the Middle East.

Meraji traveled to Lebanon on a fellowship and reported on how last summer's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah affected the country's youth. She found that, much like in the United States, young people there were using hip hop as a primary means of expression, to convey life as they saw it.

She shares her experiences in her blog, excerpted here:

"I received a phone call from a photojournalist and friend inviting me to go with him to the Borg Al Barajne Palestinian camp in Beirut. We were there as guests of Yassin, a 17-year-old beat maker/MC in a hip hop group called I-Voice (Invincible Voice).

Yassin told me that Tupac inspired him to rap because he had a message; he said he respects artists who have something real to say. Yassin and Amir want to be famous rappers, but right now, they told me that they're using hip-hop as a way to get out a "message" about how the Palestinians live in Lebanon, without citizenship, as refugees living on the margins of Lebanese society. He said there are 57 jobs Palestinians are not legally able to do in Lebanon. That list, he told me, includes cleaning the streets. But, Yassin reminded me that he's not just rapping about politics and Palestinp; he raps about love, too. He played me a track where he rhymes about the passing of his aunt who was like a second mother to him.

I wish I spoke Arabic so I could understand what Yassin and Amir are rapping about! They truly believe in their music and the power of hip-hop to help them share their dreams with other Arabs. And this isn't some rinky-dink hip-hop, the beats are HOT and Yassin is doing an incredible job producing, using Fruity Loops and Sound Forge, two fairly basic audio editing programs that he's manipulated to create professional sounding beats."

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See for yourself: Watch this video of another MC, DJ Lethal Skillz, scratching in Beirut.

What do you think about hip hop's global reach? If you've traveled abroad and encountered different takes on the sound, tell us about it.

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