why busta rhyme’s “arab money” may be the biggest hip hop sell out song of my generation

dear readers,

for a nation strung out on comfort, we sure are going through a lot of changes!

1. ny times sunday mag: pakistan is the next iraq

the u.s. war dial swings along four axis of evil, and lands in quadrant pakistan. the graphic design on the cover of this week’s new york times magazine is awash in blood red and death black, the word “pakistan” emblazoned like the word “danger” on a bottle of poison. streaming off pakistan are words, whispery white like rabid spit, words like: perilous, violent, corrupt, armed, broke, and “governable?” but this is not balanced journalism. this is fodder for war.

2. busta rhymes and the “arab money” sell out

i remember sneaking into the club in downtown san diego with my iranian homegirl and dancing with b-girl glee to krs-1 and busta rhymes rip it tight in the late 90’s.

busta rhymes is solidly back in high rotation off “arab money,” a stomach churning song in any era, but especially now in this time of war. the song boasts of “gettin arab money.” busta defended the song as complimentary to oil rich “ay-rabs.” but the video depicts no arab-black friendships, there are no scenes of arab and black high rollers chilling tight in a crew sharing wealth. the core notion of the song, “arab money” is one of taking. which is exactly what war relies upon, a sense of entitlement to the lives and sovereignty of a less human other.

moreover, the lyrics of “arab money,” point dead on at propaganda, the kind that dehumanizes first and second, numbs the finger for the kill. in his lyrics, busta pronounces arab like “ay-rab,” arguably a racist epithet unto itself. further, the chorus of the song mocks arabic singing in an unintelligible, idiotic whine.

a peek into hip hop web sites devoted to lyrics reveals a debate as to whether the “arab money” mimicry is actually an attempt to emulate a call to allah. but upon even a cursory dissection, it is clear that the radio version chorus makes no nod towards actual arabic, and certainly pays no respect to allah. on the contrary, it conjures the coldness of imitating a native american war cry, or the chains behind the minstrel’s macabre smile.

busta made a smart press move when he extended a symbolic, highly reported apology to iraqi rapper, “the narcicyst,” who took deep offense to the song. but word on the street is busta burned bridges with that fake narcicyst apology.

“arab money” stands in sharp contrast to the swizz beats hit, “i’m tryna get that oprah.” “michael jordan, tiger woods, im tryna get that oprah,” is the chorus and the message is clear: these are named human beings, rich people who are inspirations for folks on the money track. but most importantly, “im tryna get that oprah” speaks of people, human beings with names. and that is what “arab money,” sorely fails to do: humanize.

3. blame it on the a-a-a-alcohol (corporations)

jamie foxx (!) is still lighting up the night with a remixed version of “blame it (on the a-a-a-alcohol),” a top 5 winter hip hop hit by any stretch. but its not a stretch to remember the npr reports on alcohol corporations being the biggest donors to both the republican and democratic national conventions. i love that song as much as anyone else (remixed version not so much, too much fire in it when the gem of the song is in its water), but even though they spit catchy, the lyrics be gratin on me. alcohol? really? the whole song?! too many doing too much to have no memory and no control.

but the song does pop.

4. partition: breaking up is hard to do

out of winter comes the green anew
recently broke up with my boo
drones rain along the border
where our love once was
punjab dissolves
case is solved
partition fills the 1947 edition
of the new york times index
in my brooklyn public library
a book with yellow pages
is india’s whisper wall
i can still hear them
the stories of change
out of winter comes the green anew

stay with me for more.

political poet
(roopa singh)

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5 thoughts on “why busta rhyme’s “arab money” may be the biggest hip hop sell out song of my generation

  1. Justina LaSalle says:

    Prof Singh!

    Just wanted to give you mad props for this post & for your blog in general. Soooooooo many good posts & photos, I don’t even know where to begin. Your poetry & words are like chai to me, i.e. I can’t ever drink enough of them. So good!


  2. Hakim says:

    Hey Roopa,

    Selam alaykum. Whats going on? Just checking on ya. How is the music coming?


  3. Not my real name says:

    In fairness… Busta is the type of guy that does these things to make music and the track is absolutely sick… I don’t think poking fun at arabs or any kind of war motivation is intended or present at all… It’s a song, get over it…

    • naxal says:

      i can’t lie, i can feel where you’re coming from. but check out what’s going with this fort hood shooting. folks are seriously talking like, “should we even let muslims be in the military?” and all i can think of is, imagine if that same racism was applied to a black officer whose mind broke and started shooting. like if we are a society that would entertain a discussion like, “well, should we even let any black people in the services at all,” then we need to be clear about it and not act like we not substituting one target of racism for another. the racism that existed before the civil rights era did not die, it got quieter but still deadly (just check out the infant mortality rates and life expectancies for african americans), except when it comes to muslim folks who appear to be of arab or south asian descent. that racism is loud and clear. watchu think?

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