Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Maurya Wickstrom

Committee Members

Jean Graham-Jones

Christa Salamandra

Mark LeVine

Subject Categories

Fine Arts | Music Performance | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Performance Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


rap, hip hop, Arabic rap, Arabic hip hop, neoliberalism, Levant


This study is about politics in Arabic rap. Specifically, it is about affective dynamics and material negotiations during rap concerts in three cities in the Levant. I analyze Arab hip hop culture in the context of three different but related histories of cosmopolitan, middle class growth, and gentrification. Using an ethnomusicological framework rooted in participant observation and performance theory, I compare concert conditions, audience behavior, and accessibility of music production in Ramallah, Amman, and Beirut.

In Chapter One, I elaborate the discursive and theoretical frameworks that have pinned the political valences of Arab youth, Arab artists, and Arab rappers in particular into representations of “resistance.” A confluence of energies I call “neoliberal orientalism” drives the recent, widespread attribution of “resistance” to Arab youth and cultural production, especially rap and hip hop in the aftermath of local protests over the past decade. As an alternative, in Chapter Two I propose tracing the emergence of what I call political feeling when the music is performed live. In this chapter, I argue that tarab can be built and does emerge in contemporary Arabic rap. Based on this proposal, I build an ethnographic model for analyzing this subcultural music production that is attentive to the holding in tension of political feelings as politics in process. This is one answer to the question: how can we talk about politics in cultural production without talking about resistance?

Chapters Three, Four, and Five are case studies centered on concerts in Ramallah, occupied Palestine; Amman, Jordan; and Beirut, Lebanon, respectively. They apply the theoretical frameworks built in the first two chapters in each context. In all three cities, I locate the overwhelming majority of hip hop concerts within the provenance of increasingly cosmopolitan middle class culture. Tracking how neoliberal urban changes like gentrification affect concert venues and programming, I consider how material realities influence the choices that rappers and their fans make. This puts musicians and audiences in the material context of the political concerns they relate without assuming their work is “resistance” to them.