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Arabic rapper Ahmad Abu Baker looks out at Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock


Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

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Walking Jerusalem to the Beat of Rap

For Ahmad Abu Baker, walking the cobbled streets in between the narrow corners of the Old City of Jerusalem is an experience of the senses. “Only those who were born here will see, smell, and feel the spirit and soul that is Jerusalem.” As for the sound that accompanies his walks, that is the magic of hip-hop.

Ahmad Abu Baker, who goes by the artist’s name “Abu Baker,” almost discovered rap by coincidence. As he was heading to play basketball in 1999 at De La Salle (Frères High School at the New Gate of Jerusalem), he picked up his brother’s CD Walkman player. Once he played the music, he was immediately captivated.

It was the voice of rap.

“I hardly spoke English at the time, and I was generally disinterested in school, but I started going to my English teacher and asking about the meaning of some verses. I was studying the words of those songs like it was my own homework. . . . I used to go to my computer, search for the lyrics, print them, and learn them. I would decipher their codes like it was actual research.”

Palestinian rapper Ahmad Abu Baker talks about hip-hop themes in Jerusalem life.

Ahmad Abu Baker in Jerusalem, December 12, 2021


Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Soon enough, Abu Baker started developing his own music. He was almost 15 when he started rapping, and he had continued improving his skills ever since. His aim was to achieve a career as a singer and songwriter, but the lack of funding and absence of producers made his dream far-fetched. Still, his songs have received thousands of viewers online. He now has a small studio at home as his creative space, and he releases songs at his pace whenever possible.

“I was recently being interviewed in East Jerusalem, and our shooting kept getting interrupted by people calling out ‘Abu Baker!’ It makes me so happy to see that many people recognize who I am and appreciate my message . . . Don’t get me wrong, I get negative feedback every so often, but I receive so many heartwarming reactions to my songs. It fills me with joy to know that my music resonates with people here.”

“It fills me with joy to know that my music resonates with people here.”

Ahmad Abu Baker

Mostly in Arabic, his songs are composed of different elements including rap, R&B, and reggae. He is inspired by old-school rap as well as by more recent artists. The list includes NWA, Snoop Dogg, Naz, Eazy-E, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. “Drake is particularly inspiring because of his story. See, not a lot of people know about his personal story . . .”

Abu Baker’s love for hip-hop is not just about the beat. It is about one’s knowledge that all the odds may be against a person, and yet that person can still work to make something good happen.

In Palestine, he points out, “the rise-to-fame story that people know is the one of Mohammed Assaf. That may have been the only moment in our history where the entire Arab world was in total agreement, and it was beautiful.” Mohammed Assaf is the Palestinian singer from the Gaza Strip who made nearly the impossible trek from Gaza to Egypt in 2014 to audition for Arab Idol, the Arab world’s famous song contest. Not only did he manage to exit the blockade on Gaza and the notoriously impassable borders to audition for the competition, but he actually won first place.

“I will never forget the day Assaf won Arab Idol,” Abu Baker recalls. “We were out in the streets celebrating this win, and everyone was so overjoyed . . . so united in the collective euphoria. It was as if Palestine itself got liberated that day! That moment had tremendous impact.”

“I will never forget the day Assaf won Arab Idol.”

Abu Baker

Clearly, the story of the underdog resonates strongly with Abu Baker, who lives in a city where the struggle is real. Not only is Jerusalem rife with religious and political conflict, but it is also highly expensive. The environment is generally negative, demotivating, and Palestinians in Jerusalem, as he puts it, “almost have no value at all.”

In his music, Abu Baker touches on the frustrations of everyday life, such as being in debt and witnessing street violence. However, his message also steers away from difficulties and provides hope and wisdom coming from experience. “When we were kids,” he notes, “we did not receive the advice that we so needed.” His words are in some ways targeted for the youth of today who may need guidance and inspiration.

Abu Baker, now 34, is a loving husband and father of two children. Regardless of the challenges of Jerusalem, he has deep admiration for his African Palestinian roots, his family, and for the soul of Jerusalem that “only those who were born here can really sense.” He appreciates diversity, as personified in his own background of having a father originally from Chad and a mother from Egypt.

“I find that people here often fear what is different,” he indicates. “But it is the difference that stands out among the rest. We do not have to follow the same daily patterns as they are assigned to us. If we each search within ourselves, we will find the distinctive mark placed upon us, which makes us extraordinary. Each one of us as has a jewel within ourselves. Every one of us is creative.”

“If we each search within ourselves, we will find the distinctive mark placed upon us.”

Ahmad Abu Baker

A popular song by Ahmad Abu Baker, Rajji‘ni” [Take Me Back]


Ahmad Abu Baker

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