“Yeah, they think “we’re termites, wanna terminate us,” but we’re still here.” In October of 2016, I stumbled across a Noisey article dubbing Heems, Riz MC, and Redinho, also known as the Swet Shop Boys, “The Heroes 2016 So Desperately Needs.” The article featured an interview of the Indian-American and British- Pakistani artists, as they appeared to discuss their 2016 album: Cashmere.
As the tagline suggests, the Swet Shop Boys’ debut has been refreshing, political, and necessary. But what if all that noise goes beyond the election year and still resonates as a powerful, revolutionary, and important motivation for today?
As the Trump administration continues their attempts to bar Muslim majority countries, activists, actors, and companies alike are banding together to show that America stands for freedom and fellowship. Recently, Spotify pioneered a unique playlist titled “I’m With the Banned,” featuring the work of fabulous artists from the countries the Trump administration is so readily attempting to ban.
Artists featured within the playlist, when interviewed by Pitchfork, noted how important music can be amidst strife. Music has the power to break barriers.
Even without a common language, a simple beat can speak to the soul and tell a story. In times of political instability and widespread hatred, we need this common ground more than ever.
People are often quick to condemn activism and protests against the Muslim Ban;
deeming it too violent, too disrespectful, or too far from a specific religious, political,
and personal belief. You can’t kneel without being seen as unpatriotic, march
without being deemed jobless and man hating, or merely pray without mirroring
Somehow, music can provide the same power and presence.
Politically charged music is nothing new. The original masters of controversial hip-hop with a purpose, N.W.A, released “F*** Tha Police” back in 1988. More recently, Beyoncé joined the scene releasing Lemonade as a visual album for the ages, decoded to examine varying levels of discrimination and prejudice within America.
M.I.A. inserted herself into the dialogue in the same year as Cashmere, using music video visuals to highlight the reality of life as a refugee while lyrically persuading people to stop Tweeting about change and instead choose to actively make a difference. Even the Black Eyed Peas re-released their famous “Where Is The Love” to acknowledge that though things have changed since 2003, we may not be that much better off.
In late January, amidst the early rumblings of the proposed travel ban, when the Swet Shop Boys reemerged as the soundtrack of the cause I was far from surprised.
Many protesters found the lyrics of the lead single, “T5,” to be a fitting tribute to the advocacy for immigration, refugee resettlement, and religious tolerance.
Amidst the sampling of Eastern beats and traditional “rap style” verses offer many references to Islam, traveling while brown, the colonial leaders themselves, as well as America and the UK. The magic within the Swet Shop Boys debut album has proven to be more than just a soundtrack for 2016.
As Riz and Heems recently added on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:
London’s burning, trust funds are earning
Trump’s under Russia’s thumb and I’m hurting
Talking about internment, banning me from traveling
Tricky when my pic is on the in-flight magazine
Your girl can strip-search me after
They love me on the strip: Vegas or Gaza?
Do it for the mans Bannon and Trump put a ban on
And do it mask off, Future meets Fanon
London’s burning and they earning while they putting us in urns
Taking turns, rape and burn, and we pray one day they learn
We can’t flee when they treat us like dogs with the fleas
We say please but they beat us like dogs with disease
Do I aspire to a hashtag of my memory?
How many likes will the hate crime receive?
How does my accent sound when I’m crying?
How does my accent sound when I’m dying?
Music has the power to break down rigid stereotypes, inspire activism, and get personal. Though rap is often deemed crass, the words behind the beat of “T5” expose the glaring reality of Islamophobia, racism, and the Western pursuit of “national security.”
Based on the current usage of the lyrics “Inshallah, mashallah/Hopefully no martial law” in current protests, the Swet Shop Boys are leading a movement filled with intersectionality, hope, and a rallying cry in a time when the black, brown, and Muslim communities living under the Trump administration are in need of unwavering support.
Editor’s Note: Do you want to learn more about activism during the Trump administration and how you can help the marginalized communities in your country? Sign up for the Middle East Collective newsletter to get more tips and stories straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading!