i’d been avoiding busta rhymes’ “arab money” track ever since it came out. i just thought it would be some really ignorant ish, something i didn’t really feel the need to expose myself to. i mean, i cringed every time i heard palin say eye-raq, until i discovered that if i wanted to avoid being annoyed, all i had to do was switch the channel which she came on (a larger-than-necessary expenditure of energy as my remote does not work). so if something annoys me, or i think it’s going to annoy me, i simply don’t expose myself to it.
a couple of days ago, a friend asks me, “what are they saying in the chorus?”, and played me the original release with busta and spliffstar. they weren’t really saying anything. it wasn’t as offensive as i thought i would find it. i mean, the first release says a lot more about the ignorance of busta (which i found disappointing, as i had really given the man more credit than that) than it does about arabs. i’m really not that sensitive that i’m going to get insulted every time an american says “a-rab”, however, i’m totally going to judge them.
the day after, i was actually defending “arab money”, saying it wasn’t worse than other examples of rappers misappropriating arab culture (jay z, wyclef jean, noriega, etc.) or east coast rappers’ love affair with anything remotely related to kung fu. or the current jamaican fetishism that’s going on in hip hop.
but then i heard “arab money”, the remix.
and i was mad offended.
i thought i was down, vowing to die for the protection of free speech. i didn’t have to agree with what someone else said to argue that they had every right to say it. i mean, i still am, except now i’ve added a caveat. with rights come responsibilities, and although the right to free speech covers a lot, i don’t extend it to cover blatant disrespect with the intent to start controversy. there’s a responsibility to respect others.
this is all because the song’s hook includes t-pain singing the first two lines of the quran to a beat and other rappers brag over it. it’s mad disrespectful.
oh, and i hate the fact that commenting on or challenging the fact that busta (or t-pain or ron browz or whomever) took something that is sacred to millions upon millions of people and used it as the hook on some jiggy track means that i’m getting all up in it because people can’t do anything un-islamic. it doesn’t. i did have a strong visceral response to hearing the quran used in that way. but to write this, i tried my hardest to remove myself from responding from a place of gut feeling, and moved somewhere more rational.
so here’s my argument: free speech/artistic license is a beautiful ideal. it means (or should) that you are able to say what’s on your mind or in your heart without fear of persecution. it means that you have a voice. it means you can point out the problems with the system, talk about what’s going on, ask questions, demand answers, and make art that upsets the status quo. but, if you have the right to free speech, you also have to acknowledge that you have a responsibility to respect.
hip hop knows free speech. and it also recognises the power of languages (“these are the words that i manifest”, “word is bond” etc.). yet rappers persist to distance themselves from responsibility once they put their music out, but cry out “free speech, artistic license, blah blah, y’all” every time they’re criticised for their content. this hypocrisy has got to stop. if you can’t own your words, if you can’t take responsibility for your artistic output, if your intent is not respectful, then in my opinion, you’ve given up your right to free speech. and commercial success. unfortunately, i’m not going to be agreed with here, as lack of integrity has never been a deterrent to success.
i’ve already seen busta in concert twice. i won’t be seeing him a third time. and that makes me sad because he’s a talented lyricist and an excellent performer.
ps – and on a side note, muslim and arab are not synonymous. a person can very very easily be one and not the other. i happen to be both.