Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Rhymes With Ayatollah?

by Bary Weiss

Wall Street Journal
November 13, 2010

President Obama provoked some controversy earlier this fall when he professed his affinity for the rap of Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, the latter of whom spent the past eight months jailed at Rikers Island on gun charges. But if the president really wants to cause a stir next time he's asked what's on his iPod, he should mention Hichkas and Yas instead.

Those are the names of two of Iran's most famous rappers—musicians who have a huge following among Iranian youth despite the fact that their songs are officially banned by the regime.

Since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, Western music has been forbidden in the Islamic Republic. To record a CD, musicians have to get the official blessing of the Culture Ministry. No prize for guessing what sort of lyrics they deem kosher.

But perhaps no musical genre vexes the regime quite so much as rap. And understandably: Hip hop was born in the South Bronx. Iranian rappers openly admit that they've been inspired by American artists like Tupac and Eminem, imitating their use of slang and heavy beats. Forced to record in basement studios, these determined rappers—men and women—get their songs out on black-market CDs, websites devoted to Persian music, and YouTube.