Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A-rab $ Remixed and Refixed

I've been e-mailing a bit with Wayne Marshall about Busta Rhymes' "Arab Money" since it came out. We recently had an exchange over e-mail about the new remix that came out featuring Lil Wayne, Akon, Diddy, Swizz Beatz, T-Pain,and Ron Browz, (and I feel that the Vocoder should get a credit on the track too).

I brought up the point with him that many of the artists say "Arab Money" rather than the original "A-rab Money." (although as Wayne pointed out Wayne keeps the hard A towards the end). I wondered whether pressure from the Arab community was the cause of the change. I also wonder whether someone might have told Busta that A-rab is a derogatory term and not the correct pronunciation of Arab.

Wayne had asked in an E-mail whether there was actual Arabic being used on the hook tool to which I responded:

There is totally Arabic in the song BISMILLAH AL-RAHMAN AL-RAHEEM which is at the beginning of every verse. The phrase signifies “in the name of Allah, the most gracious, most merciful” it is the first verse of almost every chapter of the Qur’an and is typically associated with daily prayers. A few of the artists are Muslim and would know the significance of the phrase, so why include it in a song about stacking chips and getting ass? It’s kinda crazy! I’m actually posting on it tomorrow.

To my untrained ear it definitely sounded like the common phrase uttered in religious contexts, but I was a little off. Wayne asked some of his students who are fluent in Arabic whether it was actual Arabic and they disagreed saying that there were words that might come from Arabic but were mispronounced or out of context. They had an interesting take about the way that "Arab" and "Muslim" are conflated in the song which I really appreciated.



There may be some words in the “Arabic verse” that might come from Arabic, but its definitely not Arabic. i’d say they recite words that are directly taken from Islam (or Christianity, for the Arabic speaking Christians) like hamdulilla - thank god, or bismillah-(pronounced bishmililah in the song) in the name of god. So i’d say these words might be taken from Arabic, but they r not pronounced in an Arabic accent… it sounds much more like something of indian music to me.


I join what Lisa wrote, and I’ll just add the word ignorance….because the “Arabic” (dangerous, terrorist) stereotype goes together with Islam, but the truth is, and most people are not aware of the fact that most Muslims in the world are NOT EVEN ARABS! and thanks to Busta now, no one will go search and find this out so the Muslim Arab stereotype is here to stay along with “Arab Money”


i definitely agree with you guys. its a very sad example of how brainwashed a lot of artists are by the media, and then brainwash the people. they can’t really tell the different between Muslims vs Muslim Arabs vs Christian Arabs Muslims etc.. so we hear the terms “hamdulila’ ‘bismila’ ‘habibi’ i have to say that i have met a lot of people that associated me with this words.. so its very common stereotype..

And it’s important to remember, as Marisol notes, that guys like Busta, Akon, etc., are well acquainted with various Arabic words and phrases for various reasons: whether from their own participation in or acquaintance with (African-)American Islam (or Senegalese Islam in Akon’s case) — notably a lot of the comments on the YouTube videos debate which of these artists is actually Muslim — or the longstanding colloquial use among African-Americans of greetings like “salaam alaikum” (which Busta throws into the mix here).

I am definitely grateful to Wayne and his students for taking the time to think about this song, especially since it is definitely gaining immense popularity. (Driving around last weekend I heard the song at least 5 times in an hour on Hot97 and Power105 combined)

I did want to point out some of the problematic ways that some of the artists evoke Orientalist imagery and women in subservient roles. Just a few quick examples...

T-Pain saying "I drop money bombs like the Taliban"

Swizz saying "she call me her habibi while she feeling me linguine/left right left right get that A-rab dance poppin' right"

Akon saying "I got that Arab money/ waking up to my concubines and my money"

I also find it fascinating that Dubai is becoming emblematic of the Arab world in hip-hop discourse (in the remix Diddy talks about buying Dubai and swimming with sharks, although I didn't quite understand the connection and Busta talks about Dubai and the UAE). I've had a few discussions with Michael Ralph about the song and he says that its curious that Dubai becomes the symbol since Dubai is very much a space predicated on the idea of fantasy, globalization, and neoliberalism. I wonder how that discourse is enabled by and in response to rhetoric about the Arab world being associated with danger and terrorism as Noam alluded to in his response above.

Please check out Wayne's whole post at



Matt said...

Here's the video to the original...

Oddly, Khaled's in the video (along with everyone else basically). Think I saw Drama wearing a keffiyeh, which made me laugh. And the dance has weird traditional Persian echoes.

Anyway, there's the obvious orientalism of the song and the video--the 'arab' dude in the video is at best sensual and oversolicitous (if not feminine).

But I wonder if this is completely a bad thing. In the same way that minstrelsy could be both love and theft, maybe it's hopeful that folks are even trying to conceive of Arab beyond terrorist/muslim, however stereotypical (and historically rooted) the result.

w&w said...

Thanks for keeping the convo going, Marisol.

One small correction: it's not a vocoder that deserves a shoutout, it's that ubiquitous software plugin, auto-tune.

Marisol LeBron said...

Thanks for the correction about autotune!

THT said...

thanks for pointing out the new orientalist imagery on the remix, which refixes the old orientalist imagery by busta himself on the original. changing the ay-rabs to a3rabs on the hook is slightly commendable, but replacing the gibberish hook to a butchered version of a rather important phrase in islam is mad ignorant even if it was done is a way that was intended to show respect. also, it could be dangerous. if this song keeps getting bigger and gets noticed by certain circles, we might be able to file busta protests next to danish cartoon protests.

busta gave this 'interview' to bossip today about the song and some of his rationales:

regardless of his defense of the track, i still think dude is missing the big point that most arabs are living in poverty, trying to cope with rising food prices, and being subjected to wars and military occupations- not popping bottles and stacking chips in dubai.

matt: i guess it is better than an entire epic posse cut about arabs being bloodthirsty terrorists, but the conflation of arabs with material security living some kind of perpetual gulf oil-fueled high life also dangerously masks the very real problems in the arab world.