While the political weight of hip-hop may have waned and become overrun by commercialization in many parts of the world, over the past two years certain areas throughout the Arab world have witnessed a new wave of politically committed rap. With diverse and technical lyricism, eclectic productions and an active listenership, artists have aptly assimilated the art-form and made it their own; picking up microphones as their weapons of choice, supporting, criticizing and, in some cases, actively participating in the Arab revolutions.
Following last year’s critically-acclaimed release of Stronghold Sound’s, Sembeh Ma Fa Fe, a landmark compilation of Guinean hip-hop and reggae, the San Francisco-based label continued on to Beirut, Lebanon, where Syrian-American producer, dub Snakkr (Munaqresh) has been based for the past 2 years. With the objective of putting together a new compilation, dub Snakkr connected with some of the most interesting and representative acts in the Arab hip-hop underground.
Khat Thaleth, Third Line: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness is a comprehensive 23-track compilation that covers a wide spectrum of this new wave of conscious rap and features artists from diverse scenes like Palestine, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. The title, “Khat Thaleth”, refers to a third train rail or track, a metaphor for a third way of looking at the polarized political context in the region, as well as a reference to the “hijaz” railroad that used to connect much of the Arab world. Artists team-up, in most cases from different regions and countries, to deliver critical blows to the various political systems in place, and offer sharp social commentary as well as sober realities currently being faced on the ground.
The immense relevance of the unprecedented Khat Thaleth compilation in the Middle East is not only limited to the politically charged content of the verses (full English translations of the lyrics are available online). Artistically, the album also provides us with a glimpse into the avant-garde of some of the most musically adventurous artists and producers in current Arab rap, who smoothly mix their lessons learned from American golden age rap luminaries with their very own folk traditions creating a completely new school of lyricism and production.