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Jay Electronica: Back to the Roots!

The roots of hip-hop trace back to impoverished African-American communities in New-York; economic deprivation, social ostracism, as well as jay344
police brutality directly influenced the hip-hop scene.  The golden age of Hip-Hop was replete with Islamic themes and imagery, perhaps, best highlight ed in the profound lyricism of Rakim, the militant spits of public enemy, and the Afrocentric themes of Brand Nubian. As Hip-Hop began to transition to more Mafia-oriented ‘gangsta-rap’ consisting of materialistic melodies, the socially conscious nature of hip-hop with provocative political commentary would began to fade.   However, we may be entering a new era of conscious rap signified by black consciousness and Islam, and revival initiated by an incredibly talented Jay Electronica!

 

electornicaJay Electronica describes himself as growing up in a crime ridden, drug infested, New Orleans Community that consisted of “fighting, shootin’ dice, smoking weed on the corners trying to find the meaning of life in a Corona.” Finding this alcohol-oriented life empty, along his journey of life, he turned to Islam. Now at the top of the Rap game with his sharp unrivaled lyricism, Electronica can only relented “Alhamdulillah, it’s strictly by faith that we made it this far,” using the Arabic phrase to express his praise to God for having overcome so much adversities.

 

Islam in Black America has always led to social discipline, righteousness, and improving ones life.  The leader of the Nation of Islam, The fruitofislam43Honorable Elijah Muhammad instructed black men concerning their wives,” “Stop them from using unclean language in public (and at home), from smoking and drug addiction habits.” Malcolm X, a once  drug-dealer to clean Muslim, proclaimed,”Gambling! You don’t find it around Muslims. Profanity!  You don’t find it around Muslims.”  It is due to this, that many criticized Electronica  for misrepresenting the Fruit of Islam by his performance which included frequent swear words.  This led to  the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, issuing a letter  in which he ask,” Has any of us who have accepted Islam and its required high degree of moral excellence and civilization ever said or done anything that is less than representative of what we believe?”  He calls for mercy and compassion over the ordeal  and for brothers to reconcile with each other to recognize that all humans have shortcomings.

 

naselecontricaIt was one profound  influence of Electronica’s,  Nas, who on the controversially titled,”Nigger Album” proclaimed,”They did not have the power to stop Louis Farrakhan.”  Rather than using the profanity by Electronica as a point of attack, one should heed Louis Farrakhan’s emphasis on compassion, indeed Electronica’s performance  and other Islamically theme raps, conveys much about the state of Black America. On Nas’ most recent album, “Life Is Good,” the socially conscious rapper Nas spits:“New-York Is Like and Island, The cops be out wilding, all I hear is sirens. It’s all about surviving. Try to stay alive when they be out robbing. I been out rhyming since born knowledge. Like prophet Muhammad said the ink from a scholar. Worth more than the blood of a martyr. So I’mma, keep it on ’til I see a billion dollars.”

 

nasprojecctwidowsIn the ghettoes of America, the situation is chaotic and characterized by a lack of stability. The mentality that it breeds is one of pure survival. Dead Prez once stated, “Cops shot you just because you black, that’s war.” In the government sanctioned police war on black youth, many Afro-Americans from Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, to Eric Garner die as martyrs in the continuous police occupation of black ghetto neighborhoods. As a hip-hop artist then, Nas is significantly influenced by Prophetic Traditions emphasizing the importance of knowledge and scholarship.  For the hood, the hip-hop artists  are the organic intellectual who must convey the social plight of Black America.   As for Nas, since the Prophet Muhammad(Peace Be Upon Him) taught that the ink of a scholar is worth more than the blood of a matyr, he would rather write socially conscious lyrics than die as a martyr in the continuous war against black youth.

 

naskingtutOn the Stillmatic Mixtape, Nas’ song, “H-To the HOMO,” a diss at his then rival Jay-Z who released the song ”H to the IZZO,” Nas tells a story in which he must prepare himself for war: “Loaded up shells, one by one, you smelled blunts from my room door.”  Nas is furious and prepared unleash his rage through the barrel of the gun: “Little Nasir was at war, Crew deep with a few heat, now it’s time we settle the score.” His lifestyle is marked by vengeance and violence, but just as Nas is about to carry a hit, an astonishing event occurs: “But in the projects, I envision Muhammad, in linen garments. Preaching Man, Woman, and Child, the living Prophet.” Nas has a vision of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace Be Upon him) who calls him to a higher level of existence beyond drugs, black on black crime, and senseless violence.

 

 

elcotnrica2222In contrast, Jay-Z, a once rival to Nas, stated, “Never read the Qur’an or Islamic scriptures. Only Psalms I read was on the arms of my niggas.” Growing up in the hood, Shawn Carter in the midst of drug dealing, gang violence, and other social mayhem that accompanies inner city life, was never able to read the divine scriptures. This is in contrast to Nas who is not only named after a verse in the Qur’an, but also frequently invokes Qur’anic themes in his socially conscious songs. Yet Jay-Z takes a stab at Nas, stating, “Cause the nigga wear a kufi, it don’t mean that he bright.” Kufis are worn by West African scholars of Islam; Nas often wears this attire when performing some of his socially conscious music; Jay-Z does not want fans to be fooled by his attire and seeks to cast Nas as inauthentic, raising the rhetorical question?

Is it “Oochie Wally Wally” or is it “One Mic” Is it “Black Girl Lost” or shorty owe you for ice?

nasgaveyoupowerJay-Z points out the multiple contradictions of Nas’ career highlighted in his music. In “Black Girl Lost,” Nas seeks to uplift black women who are involved in the street life, but in ‘Shorty Owe You” he objectifies black women. The selective quoting of Nas’ lyrics enabled Bill O’Reilly and Fox News to label Nas as an ignorant “gangsta rapper” responsible for violence in the black community, despite the fact that many of his tracks are uplifting. This theme of contradictions can also be found on the theological views promoted in his music. On the Illmatic album, Nas states: “God I don’t believe in none of that shit, your facts are backwards. Nas is a rebel of the street corner, Pulling a Tec out the dresser, police got me under pressure,” clearly expressing anti-religious views while running the streets. Yet, on another track, Nas tells a story of a song in which he is engaged in the midst of a shootout and states, “Started praying to Allah, Muhammad, the most beneficial through you all things as possible, I know your listening,” clearly calling upon God, and invoking the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be Upon Him)  during this troublesome moment of his life.

In “Black Zombies,” Nas states, “Bismillah al rahman al Rahim” and “ Islam’s a beautiful thing … helps us to bring peace against the darkness, whichfe871-nas2b22b32bhero5b15d is ungodly.” The beginning of this bar is the opening line of the first Surah in the Qur’an. Nas also begins his Stillmatic “Smokin’” song with the opening of the Qur’an but then proceeds to discuss smoking blunts and getting high with his friends.  How does one make sense of the blatant contradictions of Nas’ music? Sometimes commercial, other times politically conscious, sometimes anti-religious and other times Islamic themes? Political conscious rapper Immortal Technique sheds answers in his song which expresses solidarity with the third world,”I’m from where they lost the true meaning of the Qur’an cause heroin is not compatible with Islam. And niggas know that, but grow that poppy seed anyway cause that food drop parachute does not come every day.”  Immortal Technique notes that in many Muslim countries, poor inhabitants often sell narcotics despite the blatant contradiction with Islam.

immortaltechniqueIn “Black Zombies,” Nas states, “Bismillah al rahman al Rahim” and “ Islam’s a beautiful thing … helps us to bring peace against the darkness, which is ungodly.” The beginning of this bar is the opening line of the first Surah in the Qur’an. Nas also begins his Stillmatic “Smokin’” song with the opening of the Qur’an but then proceeds to discuss smoking blunts and getting high with his friends.  How does one make sense of the blatant contradictions of Nas’ music? Sometimes commercial, other times politically conscious, sometimes anti-religious and other times Islamic themes? Political conscious rapper Immortal Technique sheds answers in his song which expresses solidarity with the third world,”I’m from where they lost the true meaning of the Qur’an cause heroin is not compatible with Islam. And niggas know that, but grow that poppy seed anyway cause that food drop parachute does not come every day.”  Immortal Technique highlights that in many Muslim countries, poor inhabitants often sell narcotics despite the blatant contradiction with Islam.This is because their countries are so impoverished that narcotic selling is done from desperation.

Similarly for Nas and Electronica, they highlight a reality in the inner-city of black America, that the damage is even worse. Black people werejayz5percent separated from the Qur’anic revelation for so many years that Jay-Z in the streets has been unable to read it; despite Islam’s re-emergence demonstrated in the hip-hop scene, the prescribed way of life has not developed and often people struggle to live up to the Islamic way of life.  In his,”My World(Nas Salute),   track with Electronica, Jay-Z states,”Now I’m banging on Rumsfeld and bells ringing Him and Dick’ll be in hell singing.  Woe to the hypocrites and infidels screaming niggas can’t handle.”

Jay-Z, calls out Dick Cheney and Ronald Rumsfeld for their neglected of the black community borrowing a rhetorical device from the Qu’ran which in the English translation says,”Woe to every fault-finding, back biter..who sees himself above others because he has amassed wealth and counts it fruitthein greedy love for it.” This is a clear jab at U.S Politicians, who have longed neglected the black community and pursued imperialistic wars for wealth. Then,  the Brooklyn rapper demonstrates that since his The Dynasty: Roc La Familia days, he has now read the Qu’ran,”  “I can make a true believer outta curious dyke. She’ll be wearing hijab singing ahmaduillah”, bragging about his profound Dawah  skills.  Thus, despite struggles highlighted by the contradictory nature of Nas; criticism of Electronica for using profanity in a FOI uniform;, nonetheless,  the frequent Islamic themes in their songs, as well as even Jay-Z’s devotion to dawah  indicates that we may be entering a new era of hip-hop, in which, Hip-Hop revives   its Islamic roots.

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“Indeed the human being is lost, except those who have faith, do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual teaching of truth, patience, and constancy. “ (Al-Asr)