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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 15:23 GMT
Rival rappers reflect Mid-East conflict
Rob Winder
BBC News

Palestinian rappers DAM
DAM are proud of their overtly political message

"Our message is one of humanity - but it's also political - we make protest music."

These are the words of Tamer Nafer, lead rapper of the first Palestinian hip-hop group, DAM.

Rap music has always been unafraid to speak about conflict and social problems so it is no surprise that its uncompromising style has spread from the deprived ghettos of 1980s New York to Israel.

In fact, Nafer, an Israeli Arab, believes that the struggle of African-Americans against discrimination is mirrored by that his of own community.

"Black people in America were oppressed for hundreds of years - that's why we feel connected to this music."

Familiar subjects

DAM tackle other issues familiar to hip-hop fans around the world, including drug-related violence.

"Our city, Lod, is considered the biggest drug market in the Middle East. You can get everything here - including weed and cocaine," says Nafer.

Despite not having a formal recording contract, DAM's 2001 single Man Irhabi? - Who's the terrorist? - was downloaded more than a million times from an Arabic hip-hop website.

The group have also delivered their message outside Israel and the occupied territories on four European tours.

Israel is still dangling like a cigarette in Arafat's mouth
Israeli rapper, MC Subliminal
Their live performance features images of Israeli soldiers clashing with stone-throwing Palestinian youths.

Despite this, DAM's latest single is in Hebrew and they are hoping they can bring the Palestinian message to an Israeli audience.

"Arabs already know how they live - we have to educate Israelis on what's going on."

'War of words'

That message will probably not be well received by DAM's polar opposite, Israeli rapper MC Subliminal.

Subliminal has developed his style by adopting the 'bling' image of gold jewellery and fast cars of US rappers - and then adding a large portion of Israeli nationalism.

The cover of MC Subliminal's last CD - Light and Shadow
Subliminal's image relies heavily on the Star of David
As a self-described right-winger, he is never pictured without his Star of David jewellery, and often expresses his admiration for the army and police.

"It's a war of words," he told a recent BBC Radio documentary. "And I'm on a mission to let the world know our side of the story."

One lyric from his last CD described Israel as "still dangling like a cigarette in Arafat's mouth".

Subliminal often calls for unity among Israel's politicians and has lampooned left-wingers, describing them as "not really for us".

His message has proved popular with young Israelis in the uncertain climate of the current Palestinian intifada.

Subliminal's last album sold 54,000 copies - a platinum success in a small country like Israel.

Like many US rappers, he has set up a clothing label, TACT, whose aim is to "transform the Star of David into a fashion statement".

While Subliminal and DAM might not agree on many things, both are adamant that politics are an essential part of their music.

As Subliminal said recently: "In Israel the words are very militant, like the situation we're living in. You open the newspaper in the morning in Israel, and this is what you get."


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