“So, we must ask ourselves,’ begins British rapper Lowkey, in his track Terrorist, “what is the dictionary definition of Terrorism? The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.
“But what is terror?"
A decade on from the Twin Towers tragedy, an event that now symbolises twenty-first century terrorism, it is an apt time to pose such questions. Whether you raised a glass or an enraged fist to the declarations of a ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11, and were filled with joy or riled by the celebrations on America’s streets that met the death of Osama bin Laden this year, it is an unquestionably important time to evaluate how we perceive terrorism.
Lowkey, real name Kareem Dennis, would have been placed firmly in the latter camp regarding each of the above scenarios, as is clearly conveyed through the track in question. Terrorist, which has over 1.5 million views on YouTube, offers a damning critique of western foreign policy before and after the ground zero attacks. Akin to many leftist interpretations of post 9/11 international diplomacy, Lowkey argues that the western powers have twisted the definition of terrorism to suit their economic agenda and justify an assault on the resources harboured in the Middle East and beyond.
The Anglo-Iraqi’s lyrics also tackle events in the centuries preceding 9/11; events that in his view detract from any democracy-coated moral standing the likes of Britain and America have in political affairs overseas. In a nod to the United States’ role in removing the democratically elected leaders of the Congo, Iran and Chile respectively, Dennis laments:
“Lumumba was democracy, Mossadegh was democracy, Allende was democracy, hypocrisy it bothers me.”
Lowkey asks: "what’s the bigger threat to human society… remote controlled drones killing off human lives, or a man with homemade bomb committing suicide?”
Moving onto the post 9/11 years, with the States’ prolific use of drones and military base expansion, Lowkey asks: "what’s the bigger threat to human society… remote controlled drones killing off human lives, or a man with homemade bomb committing suicide?” Adding: “This is very basic, one nation in the world has over a thousand military bases.” Similar themes emerge in Dennis’ latest offering, Obama Nation Part 2 that went online this month. Along with widely-tipped British compatriot Black the Ripper, the track features M-1 from US duo Dead Prez, demonstrating Lowkey’s increasing impact across the pond. For further evidence, see charm-merchant Glenn Beck mocking Lowkey via his radio show on YouTube.
Though many have been enlightened and inspired by the rappers’ music, you don’t have to be as far-right as Beck to prefer a less dogmatic pursuit of his leftist political agenda. Yet, whether or not the arguments resonate with the listener, it is undoubtedly refreshing to have an artist from a scene derided for its superficiality willing to pose such questions. Lowkey was ranked 10th in MTV’s most recent Best UK MCs list, but unlike much of the work produced by fellow nominees Chipmunk, Skepta, Giggs and co, Dennis’ work attempts to provoke thought, political activism and social responsibility among today’s youth. A welcome trend that should be noted by commentators and politicians who pointed the finger of blame at British rap music after the London riots.
The current promo surrounding the October release of Lowkey’s second album, Soundtrack to the Struggle, seems well timed. Approaching the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, political discourse is already saturated with reflections on terrorism and western policy since the fateful morning in New York. Agree with his message or not, one should appreciate the efforts of a talented British hip-hop artist attempting to engage the youth with matters beyond their typical spectrum.
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