Last year, San Francisco, CA-based label Stronghold Sound released Sembah Ma Fe Fe, a compilation of Guinean hip hop and reggae. As a compilation the album, the album managed to reveal the soul of a proud people who are crawling out from the wreckage of generations of oppressive dictatorships. Of course, following up a critically well-received album can be quite difficult – you can ask several dozen bands about that and they’d say the same.
After spending time in Guinea, the Syrian-American founder of Stronghold Records, Dub Snakkr went on to Beirut, Lebanon with the objective of putting together a compilation of the most interesting and representative artists of the underground Arabic hip hop scene. Khat Thaleth, Third Line: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness is a comprehensive 23 track compilation of conscious and politically-charged hip hop that will give Westerners a real glimpse into the hearts and minds of the people of Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and others. But what makes the compilation really stand out is that various artists team from different regions and often different countries team up to deliver commentary on their larger political and cultural world – and fact, much of the commentary deals with the sobering realities of their every day life.
Stronghold Records released a 7 track sampler of tracks from the compilation which will drop on March 5th, and I think that it should reveal several lessons for listeners everywhere. Certainly, as Fela Kuti and others quickly learned music can be used as a weapon of change. But it should also show us something that I’ve mentioned countless times on this site – hip hop is the lingua franca of kids everywhere. And perhaps just as important, that kids everywhere have found that hip hop perhaps more than any other musical genre in recent moment, wields an incredible power – the power to unite across race, religion and class. While we in West complain about the shallowness and consumerism of (mainstream) hip hop, let’s remember the fact that there’s always relevant hip hop with something to say. The sad fact is that we have to search it out, more than ever.