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KAI RYSSDAL: The rapper Busta Rhymes has a new album in the works. It’s set to be released next month. But the first single’s already out. It’s a song about money, with kind of a twist. It’s called “Arab Money.” Because apparently flying to Dubai to play golf in the desert is the new bling. The song’s controversial — even among Busta’s Arab fans. They say it’s ignorant, even racist. So one of them busted out his own rhyme in response. Marketplace’s Sean Cole reports.
Sean Cole: Yassin Alsalman, aka “The Narcicyst,” is an Iraqi rapper living in Montreal. He’s an independent artist — records and performs socially conscious songs about war and racial profiling. And he remembers the moment, last fall, that he first heard “Arab Money.”
YASSIN ALSALMAN: I was actually hoppin’ out the shower to get on a plane to come to Dubai. And it was playing on the radio. And I was like what is this? Is this like serious?
SONG: We gettin’ Ay-rab Money! We gettin’ Ay-rab Money! Now there ain’t no way that you can kill the beast dead. I got Middle East women and Middle East bread. I got oil well money.
Now Busta Rhymes is a huge rap star. And Yassin’s a huge fan. But he had some issues with this track.
ALSALMAN: The word Ay-rab, you know, you could say Arab money.
The chorus, which is a bunch or random sounds passed off as Arabic.
SONG: Shalai Lai Lai Halilili Hai Lo! Hi Li Ba Lai Hey Hi Li Bai Lo!
Plus there’s the small matter of the lyrics.
ALSALMAN:“I’m lookin’ kinda weird dude. I got that Ay-rab money. I’m growin’ my beard dude.” Or something like that.
SONG: I don’t need to get fresh, about to grow a beard dude. So much cake even the money look weird too.
ALSALMAN: I just got offended. Me personally, as an individual, I was offended.
A lot of people were. Busta defended himself on TV and radio. He wouldn’t talk to me, but he told Hot 98.1 in South Carolina that he was trying to talk up Arab culture, especially regarding finance.
BUSTA RHYMES: The family inherits the success of the prior family in the lineage and the bloodline. And they know how to take what the prior family in the lineage of the bloodline did to another level of profit.
But Yassin had a problem with this idea too.
ALSALMAN: If you’re gonna big up a culture don’t big it up through money. Big it up through the beautiful things in the culture. ‘Cause money is international — like, everyone has money in their country.
So anyway, Yassin flied to Dubai. He had a role in a movie there. And the song is bumping in all the clubs. And he tells a friend of his “I feel real funny about this.” And the friend says:
ALSALMAN: You know what? Why don’t you record a response track.
A parody basically. He’s done a bunch of these.
ALSALMAN: So he’s like you make ’em really funny. Why don’t you remake “Arab Money.”
ALSALMAN rapping: Yo this song is so racist right now! The beat is so…
ALSALMAN: So I sat down and wrote it in like 15 minutes and then just went into the booth and recorded it.
ALSALMAN’S SONG: Let’s let these brothers know what the Middle East is about! Busta. Misreprentin’ us in Dubai. It ain’t Ay-rab money. It’s called Arab money.
ALSALMAN: A elah inik means May God like show you that it’s more than this. It’s more than money.
ALSALMAN’S SONG: Even if you never heard o’ me verbally, you shoulda done your research about the current state of currency. We hurt way more than we ball. In Palestine kids can’t shop at these malls.
So this version goes up on the Internet. And a website about hip-hop interviews Yassin.
ALSALMAN: And within like 30 minutes of it getting posted his manager called me out here and was like Busta Rhymes wants to speak to you.
OK, wait. So Yassin had been struggling away in relative obscurity for ten years. And he does this little throw-away track and suddenly one of the biggest names in hip-hop is like “let’s chat!”
ALSALMAN: He was very apologetic and was like “I didn’t mean to disrespect the Arab community,” you know, “I didn’t expect this kind of backlash from Muslims.”
Yassin explained his concerns. And Busta said he was taking the song off the radio.
ALSALMAN: Which he did, you know, and they changed the word Ay-rab on the song to Arab.
SONG (NEW VERSION): We getting Arab money. We getting Arab money.
There’s a lot more to the story. Busta Rhymes did a remix using the first lines of the Quran as chorus. And this is in a song about money, women, drinking, so a lot of Muslims got even madder. Ironically, Busta himself identifies as a Muslim. But the true irony lost in all this is that the Dubai economy is contracting. Real estate there is imploding. Arab money isn’t exactly what it used to be.
ALSALMAN: Yeah! They should do ‘I’m credit crunch money! I’m getting bailout money!’
Cole: I know. I’m getting bail out money.
Alsalman: ‘I left my car up at the airport with my visa card in it!’ That’s what should be goin’ on you know?
But it’s not. The other night I walked past this house party here in Boston. And guess which song is blaring out of the windows. It was the original version, with the word Ay-rab in it.
I’m Sean Cole, for Marketplace.
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