Lebanon straddles the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Peninsula, with influences throughout its 7000-year history coming from both sides. The Phoenicians flourished in the area for nearly 3 millenia followed by a parade of ruling empires, up through the Ottomans, and then the French. During World War II, while France was occupied by Germany, Lebanon declared independence (1943), though the French threw the first Lebanese government in prison, only to release them under international pressure and recognize Lebanese independence.

For many years after independence, Lebanon enjoyed peace and prosperity, with booming agriculture, banking, and tourism. Beirut came to be known as the Paris of the East, attracting culture and commerce from the world over.

Then, in 1975, civil war broke out and did not end for 15 years, resulting in over 150,000 deaths and close to 1 million displacements. The causes for the civil war are debated but seem to be rooted in post-Cold War polarization, the ongoing conflict over Israel, and the flood of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Syria, the US, the PLO, and Israel were all involved in the bloodshed and backstabbing during this devastating period, which finally came to an end after the signing of the 1990 Saif treaty.

Then, in 2006, just as Lebanon was completing years of reconstruction, a month-long war broke out between Hezbollah (the militant political party that formed in 1982 to resist Israeli occupation) and Israel, causing significant civilian casualties and heavy damage to Lebanese infrastructure.

Lebanese Hip Hop first made it on to the international scene by way of diaspora artists in France and the UK, many of whom had moved out of Lebanon during the civil war. The most notable stars include Rayess Bek, of the Beirut-based group Aksser, who raps about a society torn by civil war; RAmez, the first Arab rapper to rise to the top of the charts in France; and Clotaire-K, who has toured the world with his blend of French and Arabic rhymes .

The new class of Lebanese rappers dominating the scene today include the UK-based Eslam Jawaad, and members of the ‘961 Underground’ collective, including beatboxer and lyricist RGB, and Marseille-born female MC Malikah. With this much talent, no doubt Beirut will rise again…

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