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"Lyrical Swords" review

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Forum Name: Books, Newspapers & Magazines
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Topic: "Lyrical Swords" review
Posted By: ummziba
Subject: "Lyrical Swords" review
Date Posted: 24 April 2005 at 7:48am

Here is an interesting book review I found on

Book Review: Raising the Social, Political, and Spiritual Consciousness of Hip Hop* - *

By - Dilshad D. Ali

April 19, 2005

Title: Lyrical Swords: Hip Hop and Politics in the Mix

Author: Adisa Banjoko

YinSumi Press, 115 pages

You bring up the subject of Hip Hop to the Muslim community at large, and most will probably scratch their heads trying to figure out what the popular North American music culture has in common with the world’s fastest-growing religion.

But now popular Hip Hop journalist Adisa Banjoko offers a strong, and often surprising case for how the spiritual aspects of Islam are becoming a potent part of Hip Hop in his new book Lyrical Swords: Hip Hop and Politics in the Mix.

At its crux is a head-scratching, “can it be?” kind of concept: That a presently crime- and thug-laced Hip Hop music culture, predominantly promoting a lifestyle of black-on-black crime, degradation of women, “bling-bling,” and “gangsta” ideals is reaching towards Islamic (and other forms of) spirituality to reinvent itself.

It’s a rather unbelievable idea. But Banjoko, a Muslim convert of eight years and a renowned West Coast Hip Hop journalist (and former B-Boy, or break dancer, as he says), argues that the teachings of Islam have a lot to offer to Hip Hop. And he attests to it in a number of provocative essays comparing various aspects of the religion to a growing positiveness and humbleness in Hip Hop—or rather the need for it.

Moreover, Banjoko also provides many interesting interviews with musicians from such well-known Hip Hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Everlast that investigate why these artists have embraced Islam (though I wish I could’ve read a lot more on this particular subject).

Hip Hop is a vital part of Black, and American society at large, Banjoko says. “What was written off as not even music is now a billion dollar industry that has changed the way people talk, shop, think, dance, and advertise.” He compares it to the rise of different religions by writing, “Many religious ideas that were once attacked and written off as cult teachings are now sweeping the nation across boundaries of race, age, and gender.”

The legendary Muslim MCs of A Tribe Called Quest

Yet Banjoko writes that the Hip Hop culture is losing itself to a dangerous emphasis on “keeping it real,” meaning a focus on artists at war with each other, raps filled with explicative and degrading lyrics, and a media hype on who’s got the most “bling” and power.

His socially and politically minded essays decry this descent of the music culture and call for artists to take back Hip Hop and use it as a means for positive change. It’s not an easy task, and Hip Hop media is largely to blame, but it has to be done, he writes. “I know Hip Hop comes from the street, and that everything about every MC and DJ can’t be squeaky clean, but we’ve gotta have a standard at some point.”

This standard can start with lyrics that mean something, that cry for a moral change, that demand a political upheaval, that recall the words of revolutionaries like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Banjoko writes. Many of his essays take Hip Hop to task for its self-exploitation and admirably offer useful suggestions for a change.

But more appealing to Muslim readers are his essays and interviews that explore the connection between Hip Hop and Islamic spirituality.

One such essay, “Hip Hop and the New Age of Innocence,” strikingly compares the current ignorant behavior of Hip Hop to the culture of the Jahiliyya (period of pre-Islamic ignorance). The Arabs of this era, Banjoko writes, were a courageous and trustworthy group whose oaths were always kept. The same can be said for Hip Hop artists, in which “the power of one’s word … is unmatched.”

But other aspects of the culture of the Jahiliyya, like the disrespect towards women and an emphasis on materialism are also large parts of today’s Hip Hop, he argues. “Unless we rid Hip Hop of all its Jahiliyya elements, we can only expect more sharp minded but misguided youth to perish over territorialism, materialism, and the pursuit of the sensual path.”

Another stimulating essay, “The Burden of the Beast,” cleverly explores how Black men struggle with a “beast” label that is often supported by their style of dress. Once Banjoko wore an Arabic thobe to an art exhibition, and received a lot of respect from everyone. He felt his Islamic attire was his “beast-free” attire. The point? That “You are not a beast. Never let others define you. Never allow yourself to portray the myth.”

Apart from his essays, Banjoko offers a rich collection of short interviews with prominent Hip Hop artists who converted to Islam. One of the best from this bunch is with Encore, a San Francisco Bay-area MC.

Banjoko asks him how his conversion has influenced his music. Encore answers that he now feels all his writings should be within Allah’s guidelines. Later, Banjoko asks the most provocative question of Encore: Should Islam dictate all of Hip Hop?

Encore replies that “Islam can dictate everything without it having to be out there in your face.” This line of thinking is one I wish was further investigated by Banjoko in other essays or interviews.

Malcolm X has been an important inspiration for many hip hop artists.

Unfortunately, Banjoko doesn’t foray into the divisive topic of what basic Islamic principals say about indulging in any type of musical habit. Though he undoubtedly proves how many Hip Hop artists have embraced “real” Islam (as opposed to the 5% nation or Nation of Islam), the larger subject of how these artists balance their Islamic and Hip Hop lifestyles is largely unexplored.

Still, Lyrical Swords is an undiscovered gem for those Muslims (and I’m sure there are many) who have a negative view of Hip Hop. There’s much more to it I discovered. “Hip Hop should not be feared,” Banjoko concludes. “It needs to be authentically researched, understood, appreciated, and discussed.”

And why not? If you want to reach out to the millions of Blacks (and Whites, Asians, and Hispanics) immersed in Hip Hop and bring them around to Islamic principals, why not manipulate their music culture for good to do so?

Sounds like an interesting read!

Peace, ummziba.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words...they break my soul ~

Posted By: blond
Date Posted: 25 April 2005 at 6:37am

Thank you.

History is cyclical. What was the Arab jahilliyah, is now the Black American state of total ignorance. The Prophet (pbuh) raised his people from that state and set them on the Path of Islam. This is the duty of the Muslims among the Blacks today.

5:67. O Messenger, deliver that which has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; and if thou do (it) not, thou hast not delivered His message. And Allah will protect thee from men. Surely Allah guides not the disbelieving people.

In other words, if you don't deliver the message to those who need it most, you failed in your basic duty as a Muslim.

Posted By: herjihad
Date Posted: 06 June 2005 at 8:21pm


This was a nice article.  Thank you Ummziba.  Can you name some groups that are muslim hip hop?  It doesn't seem oxymoronic to me, but I'd like to listen to some and see any videos they have before I decide if it's what I'd like.

Al-Hamdulillah (From a Married Muslimah) La Howla Wa La Quwata Illa BiLLah - There is no Effort or Power except with Allah's Will.

Posted By: ummziba
Date Posted: 07 June 2005 at 7:15am

Assalamu alaikum sister Herjihad,

Other than the ones mentioned in the article, I couldn't be sure.  It has been a while since I listened to Hip Hop - something I did when my son was a teen (you know - know what your kids are into by being into what they know!).  I wouldn't want to steer anyone wrong - maybe someone who knows for sure will answer your question.

I will say it was the Muslim catch phrases in songs that got me first interested in getting more knowledge about Islam!  Blond is right on when he talks about the importance of delivering the message of Islam to those who need it most.  Today's kids are so far removed from Allah and spirituality - if listening to music can get them there - it must be a good thing. 

"Truth crushed to earth shall rise again." - Everlast


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words...they break my soul ~

Posted By: MOCKBA
Date Posted: 07 June 2005 at 7:45am



With regards to Muslim catch phrases I heard there is a rap band called Soldiers of Allah... you may also want to try out some vocal arrangment by Sami Yusuf.

I would join Ummziba and also call for caution before steering anyone wrong.


Posted By: AhmadJoyia
Date Posted: 07 June 2005 at 3:00pm

Salam to everyone,

"Qawali" is another example, which was a kind of medium used by muslim preachers to attract local people of subcontinent towards Islam. In some parts of this land, this music is still considered to be an integral part of Islam. 

Posted By: herjihad
Date Posted: 14 June 2005 at 4:54pm


This is what I found on Qawali. -

I couldn't find Lyrical Swords. 

A Tribe Called Quest has a lot of links.  I didn't listen to any of this, however.

Al-Hamdulillah (From a Married Muslimah) La Howla Wa La Quwata Illa BiLLah - There is no Effort or Power except with Allah's Will.

Posted By: ummziba
Date Posted: 25 June 2005 at 10:09am

Assalamu alaikum Sister Herjihad,

I have been browsing a little bit.  Mos Def is a Muslim rapper and there is a group called Native Deen who do rock.  You might find this web site interesting: -     (Muslim Youth of North America Raps)     

Peace, ummziba.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words...they break my soul ~

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