Stylistic to be divided as “other” and are
Stylistic Tourism and Religious Appropriation in Western Hip-Hop CultureWestern media often uses cultural appropriation as a trend, taking important traditional and religious aspects from different cultures and commodifying it as a form of entertainment. The term exoticism refers to Western stereotypes that define people or cultures as “exotic” based on geographical or ideological differences. It implies that a Western social and beauty standard is considered normal and that people or cultures that stray from Western standards are something to be divided as “other” and are routinely fetishized or degraded. However, the deeper – and ultimately harmful – meanings of these terms are often lost in the constant and overwhelming flow of media and pop culture that we view today. Media heavy industries such as film, music, and fashion regularly use cultural appropriation and exoticism without thought to the cultures in which they are sampling from, deepening cross cultural divides and disrespecting the people in which they are using. For example, Busta Rhymes 2008 song “Arab Money” demonstrates how Middle Eastern Orientalism can be used as a form of stylistic tourism in Western pop culture. By examining both the lyrics and music video in regards to the topic of religion, I intend to explore the intersectionality Orientalist themes in “Arab Money”, focussing on how Busta Rhymes uses Islam and religious practices for Western entertainment.When reading the lyrics of “Arab Money”, multiple forms of Orientalism are visible. The main hook of the song is as follows “La ilaha illa Allah, ha la ili hay yo.” Roughly translated, the first line “La ilaha illa Allah” is from the Shahada, the Islamic creed and means “There is no God but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.” By singing these lines, Busta Rhymes is immediately breaking Sharia law as it is prohibited to sing lines from the Qu’ran when not directly singing in praises or prayer. In addition to this, the circumstance in which Busta Rhymes is singing these lines can be perceived as mocking the Arabic language as well as disrespecting the sacredness of prayer verses by altering them to fit this song. In the video, Busta Rhymes and his crew dance along to the lines, showing a lack of respect and disregard for Islam. Later in the song, he raps a verse stating “…I make you bow down and make Salat like a Muslim.” Salat is the word for Muslim prayer, and in this circumstance he is making reference to his dominance and personhood being equal to God. The practice of bowing and kneeling in Muslim prayer is to show respect and honour to God, and Busta Rhymes is insulting religious practices in this instance by stating that people bow down to him the way Muslims in prayer bow to God. Although not overtly or even intentionally racist, this line is problematic as it both belittles Islamic practices by removing the sacredness from one of the 5 Pillars of Islam and also degrading the people who follow these practices. At a later point in the song, Busta Rhymes raps “Don’t need to get fresh gonna grow a beard duke.” Although seemingly innocent, this line is in reference to how Islamic religion states Muslim men should grow beards. By saying “don’t need to get fresh”, Busta Rhymes is “Othering” Muslim men by assuming that a lack of beard is more desirable and therefore normal, highlighting the divide between Western and non-Western beauty standards. The impact of lines such as these are seemingly small, but are ubiquitous of a larger problem; the Othering of Muslim practices in Western culture. By disregarding and disrespecting these practices with ease, “Arab Money” is highlighting how little we acknowledge and respect practices that are considered foreign to us. When first hearing this song years ago, I didn’t think about Orientalism or how this song may be portraying negative stereotypes. It was only upon examining it from a critical lens that I was able to understand how “Arab Money” and many other songs perpetuate stereotypes and “Othering.” Although the lyrics of “Arab Money” show evidence of Orientalism in multiple forms, the music video also contains Orientalist imagery in regards to religion. In the first 15 seconds of the video, Busta Rhymes and his “crew” can be seen wearing headscarves and keffiyeh scarves. Traditional Muslim headdresses that have now been appropriated as a fashion accessory, the use of keffiyeh scarves in this video symbolize how Western pop culture often uses cultural artifacts without regards to the cultures and meanings behind them. The setting of the music video is a stereotypical desert “oasis” palace, which is a common stereotype about what wealthy Middle Eastern life looks like. For those who are unaware of life in the Middle East, popular imagery such as this creates a disconnect between reality and media portrayals.For people consuming Western media who are unaware of Orientalism, this song holds no strong meanings. Orientalist views on women, religion, and cultural practices can all be brushed off as “just lyrics” or viewed as “cultural appreciation” rather than Orientalism and cultural appropriation. This mindset allows for the further perpetuation of negative stereotypes as well as increased divisions between cultures. When consumers become acclimatized to stereotypical and Orientalist imagery in the media, general perceptions of these cultures become altered both consciously and subconsciously. This allows for discriminatory views to grow in popularity, as a perception of Western standards as “normal” often causes other cultural practices to seem “backward” or “wrong.” The creation of this song in itself is a form of “Othering” as it views the Middle East through a Western lens. In addition to this, the semantics of the title as well as lyrics discussed both create a clear divide between being “normal” and being “Arab.” Many other hip hop artists have used Orientalism as a form of entertainment, such as Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” music video, where she appropriates Japanese culture and traditions. Popular pop singer Katy Perry has also been chastised for her continual appropriation of Asian culture in her songs and music videos. However, although Busta Rhymes “Arab Money” capitalizes off of simplistic stereotypes and exoticization, it is unique in his specific focus on Islamic practices. In today’s world, the Middle East and Islam are topics heavily debated, discussed, and often demonized by Western media. Busta Rhymes did not set out to create a song with Orientalist themes to it however, it is difficult to detach this song from the hip-hop culture that allowed for its success. Songs like “Arab Money” serve as an example of how Orientalism has been commodified within Western culture, and its success is a product of a society that has become accustomed to perpetual stereotyping and “Othering.” Although the impact of this song may not have caused large consequences, it is a reminder of how stereotyping has become deeply ingrained in our culture, and how Orientalism is casually used as a form of stylistic design in music.