- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
I didn’t think it would be hard to find "9 Disturbingly Good Jihadi Raps" online, but it was. There were, of course, the stylings of al-Shabab’s rapper laureate, Omar Hammami, and the music video for "Dirty Kuffar," which was designed to go viral on social media sites like YouTube and Dailymotion.
But the most professional-sounding jihadi raps weren’t on YouTube or SoundCloud — they were tracks off M-Team’s album "Clash of Civilizations." And to listen to them, I bought the songs on iTunes. They’re also available for download from Amazon.com and Google Play, and they can be listened to on Spotify.
M-Team (that’s short for Mujahideen Team) offered some bold thoughts about violent jihad in their debut album:
SPOKEN: Today is the day of retribution!
Today is the day of jihad!
Today is the day of victory or martyrdom,
so all you who believe, raise your hand and ready your weapons…
SUNG: Bust your weapons, take off oppression,
take their lives and right-hand possessions,
snatch a politician out the election,
give him injections, lethal infections…
The revolution, kaffir execution,
the true solution, the day of retribution!
"It’s certainly very provocative," Rolling Stone associate editor Simon Vozick-Levinson told me when I asked him what he thought of it. "Rap and hip hop in particular are effective ways of getting a message out to a broader audience. If you have a strong conviction, putting it to a catchy beat is a good way to get your message across. To a Western audience, it’s going to be pretty shocking."
It’s also hardly the first time music has encouraged violence. And it’s not just rap; before songs like "Cop Killer" and "Fuck tha’ Police" in the early 1990s, there were controversies over groups like Black Sabbath and Twisted Sister. But is there a point where musicians go too far for mainstream music outlets?
Graham James, a spokesman for Spotify, said they were looking into M-Team’s work and pointed out that Spotify, in its company policy, "reserve[s] the right to remove content that, in Spotify’s opinion, is likely to incite hatred or discrimination of any kind, be that race, religion, sexuality or otherwise, or content that is deemed offensive, abusive, defamatory, illegal, pornographic or obscene in anyway." But he also expressed concern about using the policy for anything other than exceptional circumstances. "It’s a very slippery slope. If you start taking down things you find objectionable, where do you ultimately draw that line?" he told FP. (Representatives from iTunes did not respond to requests for comment.)
Vozick-Levinson agrees: "Artists test boundaries, like Ice-T’s song ‘Cop Killer.’ But that song didn’t lead to an epidemic of violence; that song is a work of art. Time has shown that censorship isn’t the answer. The better choice is to discuss these things and why they’re objectionable rather than try to censor them."
And its worth noting that, like Ice-T, who went from rapping about shooting cops to playing a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, M-Team took a decidedly more moderate tone in their sophomore album, "My Enemy’s Enemy." As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and jihadi rap critic, described it on Twitter, "M-Team’s later deviations diminish their jihadi cred. Kind of like how Katy Perry’s later music diminishes the credibility of her early work as a gospel singer."