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Hip-hop's Arabic-language kin

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"It's black music, in my opinion," RGB said in an October interview posted to YouTube. "But I feel like it doesn't have to be specifically just for blacks.... It has messages, stories of using your smarts, and a people victimized. It has power."

"I take hip hop like it's a big school and I'm learning from it," he added.

Rayess Bek, who is something like the father of Arabic-language Lebanese rap, helped start the trend of hip hop as social commentary. "I lived the war.... I've been taken advantage of.... I'm speaking in silence," he sang a few years ago over a beat every bit as ominous as the shell-shocked landscapes of some Beirut quarters. A newer music video features him rapping against the backdrop of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombs in 2006.

"Most of the artists here are from the streets, they live in a very unfair system," music producer Zeid Hamdan says by phone. Mr. Hamdan produces and promotes several different acts, including Malikah, Lebanon's best-known female rapper. "They use hip hop more to express themselves than as a source of money," he adds. "[Lebanon] is a good ground for hip hop. The 'bling bling' hasn't arrived yet. The bling-bling scene is in the pop music."

Hip-hop beats, which are quite different from traditional Arabic rhythms, have not caught on with an older crowd. But there are strong connections between hip-hop lyricism and Arabic's heritage of poetry. For centuries, writers who mastered the art of self-expression in Arabic have been folk heroes. According to Joe Namy, a Lebanese-American music producer and a fine-arts graduate student at New York University, that heritage has converged with the current social dimensions in Lebanon.

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