Onstage at the infamous Club Congress in Tucson last April, a DJ who goes by the nom de guerre Konradio is glowering out of a black ski mask as a video projected stage right displays Valley artist Adam Wheeler's montage of terrorism, war, violence, and American politicians making absurd declarations like "mission accomplished."
Shortly, once the video has concluded with its spelled-out written factoids reminding the Southwestern American hip-hop kids, who've come out to see indie/underground phenom Immortal Technique play, how much money has been spent on the war in Iraq and the effect that amount could have if directed toward solving world hunger, a 5-foot-10 half-Pakistani, half-white young man takes the stage in a beat-felt march. The rapper, who calls Phoenix home and will repeat this performance here in the Valley and in Flagstaff in the next couple of days, calls himself Grime an acronym for "Got Revolution In My Eyes."
With a closely buzzed haircut and meticulously trimmed beard intentionally longer than his militant headscaping, along with his Middle Eastern Arabian complexion, Grime strikes the innocent observer as a preprogrammed knee-jerk threat. To be blunt, thanks to the tension brought on by the war on terrorism and its attendant media attention, Grime looks like a terrorist. He'll tell you that he's really more of a guerrilla.
Grime asks the packed house who in the crowd attended the pro-immigrant marches a couple of weeks previous to the show, on April 10, his 23rd birthday. "Be there next time," he admonishes, before launching into an a cappella series of declarative rhymes. He enunciates his lines, speaking of slaves slammed into the decks of trading ships and natives massacred for Christian glory, before spitting his line about getting his instruction from Sun Tzu, the author of the ancient treatise on military strategy The Art of War.
When Konradio drops a militant beat, Grime points in a triad configuration, first to the crowd, then shaking his fist against his heart, then toward the sky. "This is a declaration of war," he proclaims, before stomping around the stage sporting his self-made white tee shirt that reads "STOLEN LAND" over a line drawing of North America. The crowd bounces and pumps fists in the air, clearly responding to Grime's anti-establishment poetics.
For the last song of his set, Grime asks the sound guy to kill the house lights, and asks the audience to throw up their lighters, cell phones, pagers . . . shit, flashlights if they've got 'em. "I want y'all to be my illumination," the Arizona State University political science major tells the crowd. They oblige, and while he launches into his most syllable-intensive, emotional song, "On the White House Lawn," at least one fan in the audience lights a piece of paper on fire and holds it up until his fingers can't hold it any longer.
Meet Tariq Rahman, the revolution-preaching, violence-advocating MC the most incendiary personality Phoenix hip-hop has ever seen.
"It's all wrong, and none of it has honor/So I fight back like Sandinistas in Nicaragua/Like the Zapatista movement in Chiapas/This is my jihad, my voice is the intifada."
"Everywhere Is War"
It's only been a couple of weeks since the Britain-based plot by young Muslims and Muslim converts to explode America-bound jets was foiled, but Grime isn't among those rejoicing at this victory in the War on Terror. Not that he wants to see civilians killed, or terrorist plans succeed, but he's suspicious of the timing, given George W. Bush and Tony Blair's plummeting poll numbers.
"Stopping crimes before they're committed is a dangerous game," he says. "Lots of groups talk about overthrowing the government, they have these open discussions. If we allow this to happen to the Arab community, does it reach to the activist community for advocating revolution and social upheaval? It scares me. It's not as if the government hasn't seen dissent as a threat before and taken severe actions to prevent it."
Grime's revolutionary philosophy is of the far-left variety, though he doesn't subscribe to a particular ideology. He says he's an advocate for the working class, the ghetto folks, and the poor (even though he was raised by academics and lives comfortably in a clean east Tempe apartment), and he believes the revolution will come at their hands, when their oppression and frustration go past the tipping point. "In this country, we have a difficult time understanding the frame of mind of what our society calls a terrorist," he says. "It's similar to somebody living in a slum the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the cells are bred, they're pushed against the wall. These actions become the only way for them to be heard."