The Global Imaginary of Arab Hip Hop: a case study

Stefania Taviano


Hip Hop is a complex cultural and musical phenomenon resulting from the interactions between globalization and localization processes. Hip Hop artists operating in different locations – and often moving between multiple localities – appropriate and (re)interpret the genre on the basis of local musical and cultural traditions while defining their identities as artists and more often than not as political activists. English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), combined with other languages, is the common code shared by Hip Hop artists throughout the world, while translation, both in its traditional function and in a broad sense, is intrinsic to Hip Hop as a political site allowing local expressions to connect at a global level. Drawing on translation and globalization studies, and applying the notion of prefigurative politics, I will show how Hip Hop music aims to create its own imaginary to give voice to people of all cultures beyond geopolitical boundaries. More specifically, diasporic Arab Hip Hop artists, such as the Syrian- American Omar Offendum and the Iraqi-Canadian Narcycist, among others, aim to subvert the representation of Arabs as terrorists codified in mainstream Western discourses. They construct their identities as global citizens and activists through songs and videos such as Fear of an Arab Planet, a play on the title of legendary Hip Hop group Public Enemy‘s Fear of a Black Planet, and a parody of Western images of Arab people.. Most important of all, they adopt a series of prefigurative strategies to create alternative imaginaries and to put into practice principles of peace and justice in the here and now rather than in an ideal future. An analysis of Hip Hop global imaginary from an interdisciplinary perspective can shed a new light on the role of art activism in challenging mainstream imaginaries and social and political practices.


Arab Hip-Hop; English as Lingua Franca (ELF); Politics of translation; Borders; Global Imaginary; Prefigurative Politics

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