US rapper Busta Rhymes' single 'Arab Money' - offensive or not?

US-based hip-hop legend Busta Rhymes’ single “Arab Money” has managed to anger a legion of fans, but the healing has begun. MENASSAT's Jackson Allers takes a look at what has been a heated controversy between Rhymes and the Arab hip-hop world for several months now.
Old school hip-hop impresario Busta Rhymes - at the center of the controversy regarding his song "Arab Money."

BEIRUT CITY, April 16, 2009 (MENASSAT) - There's a controversy in the Arab world, but it doesn't stem from some inter-ethnic squabble or some military blunder or diplomatic miscue.

No this controversy involves a song  - the hip-hop single from New York City-based rapper Busta Rhymes called “Arab Money”

Here's the song:

Busta Rhymes' single "Arab Money"

Here is just a taste of the song's lyrics:

“Now there ain’t no way that you could kill the beats dead
Middle East women and Middle East bread
I got Oil Well money in the desert playin’ Golf…

Women walkin’ around while security on camelback
Club on fire now — dunno how to act
Sittin in casino’s while I’m 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”

Errr. Put the brakes on!

Busta Rhymes. My man. Former member of the legendary hip-hop crew in the early 1990’s – the Leaders of the New School. Multi-platinum selling recording artist. Movie star…

What were you thinking homie?

Putting out a heavily released single called “Arab Money?” Using verses from the Quran’s Surah Fateha as a hook in the remix chorus – propping up oil money as an admirable Arab trait as if it’s something you gotta glorify?

The stuff doesn’t add up.

Just ask Iraqi MC the Narcicyst, one of your biggest fans and an up-and-coming wonderkid on the mic.

“As a person of his [Busta Rhymes] stature, I would have expected more and would have loved to see our people celebrated for our culture and not our money,” he said, adding, “I just think the song wasn’t calculated right. Get an Arab dude on the hook, talk about the reality. I respect that it was an attempt at bridging the gap, but unfortunately it did the total opposite.”

And Busta there’s definitely been fall-out since you released the song. Not nuclear fallout but pretty volatile nonetheless. Ask Steve “Smooth” Sutherland, a UK DJ with Galaxy FM.

“Smooth” played Arab Money in late November and was suspended along with his producer after Galaxy’s owner, Global Radio, received several complaints about the content of the song.

“How you gonna have Qu’ran in a song about Money? The new chorus (for the remix) is the opening to every time you read a su’ra from the Qu’ran. Arabs do not take that lightly at all,” the Narcicyst explains.

“Then you got cats talking about women, cars, houses? What does “In the name of God the most beneficent the most merciful” have to do with you being able to buy whatever you want? That right there really really really really really pissed me and a lot of fellow Arab MCs Off. ”

Some of those Arab MCs also include huge Busta Rhymes fans like Omar Offendum of The NOMADS, Ragtop from The Philistines (both pictured below with Narcy) and Moroccan hip-hop heads Cilvaringz and Salah Edin.

Galaxy even put out an apology – almost disavowing the DJ that was voted winner of the 2002 and 2006 MOBO (Music of Black Origin) awards for “Best UK DJ.”

While I could personally care less about some over-the-hill DJ from the UK, Busta, you also managed to offend a fair amount of Muslim’s – both fans and non-fans – for your use of Surah.

And damn if the blogosphere isn’t chock full of comments variously dissing and praising the song.

One woman who goes by the name of Shani writes about on the website

“It’s a dumb song, what more can I say. The average Arab only makes 3-7K a year. And even if you don’t like Arabs you sound like a dummy if you pronounce it “AA Rab” these fools got the knowledge level of Popeye.”

Another user calling himself H-bomb writes on

“Yes, the ‘Arab Money’ is about partying and having fun. So, you mean to tell me that devout Muslims who regularly recite the Bismillah + Surah Al-Fatiha do not party at all? Man, Arab-Muslim society must be super-chaste and saintly, then! (go Wahabbis!)

Such adherence to Quranic tradition sounds a lot like how old, traditional U.S. Christians used to condemn the devilish black churches for singing Biblical hymns with harmonizing choirs and dancing.”

Now Busta. I gotta be honest too – a lot of supporters got your back on this one.

Iraqi MC, The Narcicyst talks to VladTV(dot)com about the Busta Rhymes remix of 'Arab Money.' © VladTV(dot)com

A user calling himself HipHop1524 writes on the website InsideDesi, “The arguments about the song are dumb! It’s freedom of speech, even if what he’s sayin’ is wrong or blasphemous, he’s allowed to say whatever the hell he wants!! Keep goin Busta!”

There’s a whole grip load of folks who defend your right to say whatever it is you want to say even if they’re offended.

Take one supporter called Lexxcom. He says, “I’m a big fan of Busta and I will continue to be a fan. Busta has made a big mistake but it was not purposely done to disrespect Arabs or Muslims.”

He adds, “Keepin’ it 100% though, this is Hip Hop and it’s not always politically correct music. Arabs nor Muslims get a pass. I have heard songs talking about women, children, black people, white people, Chicanos, Asians, Native Americans etc. I have even heard Dj Khaled an Arab American (who appears in the video), scream Nigga!, but this is only a small part of the music I love, just like this is only a small part of Busta’s legacy in hip hop music.”

Busta your legacy is large!

Like your most vocal critic, the Narcicyst says, “I want to say this to make it clear, Busta Rhymes is a lyrical idol of mine. I have always had mad love for his lyrical ability, his style and his grace as an artist.

“His albums are opuses and his delivery is absolute bananas. He was actually one of the first MCs I saw on stage and I was blown away. I will most probably buy B.O.M.B. (the album in question). I’m not making this (the release of the song and remix) stop me from listening to Busta anymore. Busta is dope dude!”

The Narcicyst response to "Arab Money" with his own version called "Real Arab Money" © The Narcicyst

As Narcy says, Busta had Stevie (Wonder) on his last album (The Big Bang 2006). Busta did “Woo-hah,” (first break out song in his solo career, 1996), and he was on “Scenario,” (legendary group/showcase track from 1990 featuring some of the biggest MCs to emerge from hip-hop’s late 80’s-early 90’s massive). These are all milestones in hip-hop history.

I know what makes it even more complicated is the fact that you, Busta, are a convert to Islam. Something I knew and something that made the use of the Surah that much more surprising.

So apparently are some of the other’s on the “Arab Money” remix, which prompted one online comment from M. Burmy who said, “If ‘Arab Money’ was making fun of Arabs and offensive to them, then neither Swizz Beatz nor T-Pain nor Akon would be on the remix (all three are Muslims).”

Now Busta, you haven’t exactly been able to avoid the controversy. That’s for sure.

In response to the firing of UK Radio DJ “Smooth” Sutherland, you said, “I really only respect the Arab culture. I ain’t really trying to pay no attention to, ya know, these little people in political positions and executive positions that ain’t Arab culture oriented people because a lot of the times, what are you really showing all of this concern for?”

And I hear you called the Narcicyst (below) and had a 30-minute dialog clearing up any misunderstanding created by the song. Apparently you told him that the whole intent of the song had been overtaken by the controversy and that the masses take things they way the want to.

I agree that it would’ve been hard to put out some essay explaining the content of the song and why you put it out. Still, it’s out there and you know how it is with saying something and trying to take it back – people only tend to remember the first thing you tell them, not the follow-up.

But you seem to have won over at least one important supporter. “It was a thorough explanation and he was a very respectful man,” the Narcicyst told about the phone call you made. “He explained to me his experience as an African-American man in the States and [it] seemed to me as an experience that I can correlate as an Arab being in the Middle East and having been displaced from my nation (Iraq) and seeing my country being bombarded in the media, being misrepresented.”

To his credit, Busta Rhymes did pull the song from the radio, and he changed the word "Ay-rab" on the song to Arab...on the original. But Narcy and most of his fans were actually reacting to the remix and not the original.

I guess in the end what you did Busta was foster an equal amount of ire and understanding about Arabs and the image of Arabs in the media. That’s a good thing.

Like hip-hop as a movement, controversies are part of the game. But I like what Narcy said:

“I’m a strong believer in truth and breaking stereotypes down and not allowing people to box you in. And this whole experience has been a huge eye opener for me. This is what Hip-Hop is about. Two brothers from another mother can come to a peaceful and just conclusion for all sides.”

Salam to that.