Busta’s Busted: “Arab Money”

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

I know, I know. If you’re looking for socially conscious rap or hip hop, you don’t go to Busta Rhymes. But this still surprises me:

Maytha from KABOBfest has highlighted Rhyme’s song “Arab Money,” which has some disgustingly racist lyrics. Maytha brings up some great points about this video, namely, that it is a blatant example of the acceptability of anti-Arab racism.

Let me highlight some of Busta’s rhymes:

Women walkin around while security on camelback

Club on fire now — dunno how to act

Sittin in casino’s while im gamblin with Arafat

Money so long watch me purchase pieces of the Almanac

Ya already know i got the streets bust

While i make ya bow down makes salaat like a muslim

Camelback?! Gambling with a dead PLO leader?! Elsewhere, there are references to growing beards and Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family known for his success in business (his…uh…bread).

Busta Rhymes’ song (and its fakey Arabic chorus–shudder) is just one more instance of hip hop’s cultural appropriation of Middle Eastern music (producer Timbaland has been “sampling” Arabic songs for years: remember Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin”? That is Egyptian artist Hossam Ramzy’s “Khusara Khusara” that you hear).

Rhyme’s references to Yasser Arafat and Saudi princes create the illusion of ownership: not only are we expected to think that he and Browz understand/speak Arabic and understand Middle Eastern politics and geography, but we’re also supposed to think that he rolls with said Arabs.

When I first heard the song, I didn’t know whether to be angrier about the sexism (Rhymes makes reference to “Middle East women and Middle East bread”—things), the racism, or the casual name dropping in what Maytha calls “baseless stereotypes masquerading as knowledge.”

Not to mention the insensitivity of the lyric “See now I take trips to Baghdad,” as if it’s a vacation destination and not a war zone full of people whose lives have been ripped apart. It’s almost as if Rhymes thinks all Arab countries are as rich as Saudi Arabia and as glitzy as the Emirates.

And if you want to know how much Ron Browz knows about Arabs, listen to this interview:

One point I have to disagree with Maytha on is her assertion that “Elite Khaleeji Arabs need to get off their consumptive high horses and stop making us look bad because of their wanton bougie-ness and hideously hedonistic materialism.”

I disagree with this mostly because blame for the stereotype of the unimaginably wealthy Arab who spends his money unwisely can’t completely be leveled at rich Arabs. Rich white guys spend money on stupid crap all the time, but it doesn’t reflect badly on their race. I think it also does a bit of a disservice to wealthy Arabs who have poured their money into their communities through infrastructural development and investments. But I digress.

The major problem with Rhyme’s song is that it uses cultural appropriation to perpetuate stereotypes, which are not only absorbed by non-Arab audiences, but can be internalized by Arabs. Case in point: Maytha shows us Arab American hip hop artist/producer Noose’s reworking of “Arab money” into an equally stereotype-ridden video. Perhaps it was missing the icing, however: there wasn’t a belly dancer.

So now it’s an Arab man producing this stuff, adding the hookah and the keffiyeh and the (presumably) Arab woman as a video vixen. Noose is obviously aware of the stereotypes that Arabs and other Middle Eastern people face, evidenced from his own lyrics:

Along with the Feds thinkin’ I’m bin Laden

C’mon people, I’m not gonna blow up Manhattan

And yet, he’s just as quick to roll them right out:

Arab money serious

I might buy a pyramid

Maytha’s analysis of the song and its producer is a great one: she says that she “cannot see this as more than a cheap appropriation of hip hop gangsta posturing with a superficial ‘Arab’ twist.” I’d have to agree yet again.

Another thought that crosses my mind is that “Arab” is used not as an ethnicity but as an adjective for money. Which begs the question, what kind of money is “Arab” money? From Busta Rhymes’ and Noose’s songs, I gather it has something to do with an obscene amount of wealth, which is in itself a stereotype. But this is especially dangerous in that colloquialisms are easily twisted (please reference the history of the terms “gay” and “queer” for further examples), and “Arab” could (and in some cases has) become a pejorative term, used in negative ways just like “African”, “native” and “Jew” have been.

This is the problem with cultural appropriation: initially, things are appropriated for a reason (wearing a keffiyah to show solidarity with Palestinians, for example). But quickly, this same appropriation turns into empty name-dropping, outright stealing (here’s looking at you, Timbaland), and/or derogatory usage against the original “owner” of whatever was appropriated.

I can’t help but wonder whether Busta Rhymes will get any Arab money for this album.

If Maytha has anything to say about it, I’m guessing not.