Case Studies

Morocco, 2005

The first Hip Hop Diplomacy project began as a Fulbright-sponsored research project looking at the impact of American Hip Hop music in an Arab-Muslim context. After launching a successful promotions campaign in Paris for legendary Hip Hop label Rocafella Records, I journeyed south to investigate the ways in which American rap music was being consumed and contextualized by Moroccan youth (the project originally titled, “Eminem in the Medina”). What I discovered, though, was that Morocco had long since evolved from the stage of merely absorbing American Hip Hop culture to producing its own artists and groups for over a decade. It was at this moment that I shifted my focus and began following the leading Moroccan Hip Hop artists, including DJ Key, H-Kayne, Fnaire, and MC Bigg.

The more time that I spent with these young artists, the more I came to see the huge gap that existed between their highly developed talent and the relatively non-existent opportunities for them to showcase their talent before sizeable audiences, let alone earn income. At that time, the only performance opportunities, even for the most well-known groups, were small concerts at local youth centers, sponsored by a foreign diplomatic agency, such as the French Institute or British Council, for which the groups earned little to nothing. Additionally, a youth music festival had been launched a few years back, but featured mostly rock groups.

I eventually proposed the idea of a US-sponsored Hip Hop festival to several different American organizations in Morocco, from the Coca-Cola Company to the US Embassy and, after months of lobbying, convinced the latter two to co-sponsor the “I Love Hip Hop in Morocco” festival.

The festival itself had over 36,000 attendees at free concerts in Meknes, Marrakesh, and Casablanca, and the documentary film that I co-directed with Jennifer Needleman has since screened at film festivals and universities worldwide, reaching tens of thousands more.

After the success of “I Love Hip Hop in Morocco”, the US State Department began doing more Hip Hop-related programs in various regions, and even appointed a ‘Hip Hop Ambassador’ for a goodwill tour in 2007. However, it is in this blog’s opinion that much more can (and needs to) be done to fully explore the potential of global Hip Hop culture to promote freedom, dialogue, and peace, and to combat extremism around the world. The model pioneered by “I Love Hip Hop in Morocco”, unlike other programs that focus on US artist-envoys, puts the spotlight on the local artists, strengthening their unique ability to positively influence their peers. This is the core mission of Hip Hop Diplomacy, to empower global youth communities through support of their indigenous Hip Hop movements. Morocco was just a beginning…

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