I first learned of Omar Offendum while populating a politically-charged Weekend Playlist. His song #Jan25 (which also features The Narcicyst, Ayah, Freeway and Amir Sulaiman) went viral in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, which is what the song is about.
When Offendum came to Eugene for an event at the University of Oregon, I got to talk with him and learn his personal history: he was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Washington, D.C., and spent most of his grade school years at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, VA, where his Arabic lessons inherently included the study of poetry. (He later studied architecture in college, and still does some work in that field today.) Transitioning to hip hop came naturally, as growing up in the 90s subjected him to the likes of Run DMC and other rappers of that era, and his verses are full of subtle references to pieces from renowned Arab and American poets alike. Come September 11, 2001, however, some of his audience members would start to question his lyrics and even his patriotism to the U.S. But while he knows that judgmental people will continue to judge, he's optimistic that cultural understanding and appreciation will continue to grow between Arabs and non-Arabs.
Omar Offendum at the University of Oregon
SyrianamericanA begins with “Damascus,” a tribute to the historic capitol of Syria in which Offendum’s mother was born, and continues with “Destiny,” an Arabic-English track boasting bicultural pride (“It’s hard living in the West when I know the East got the best of me...”). “Hustle On” has a rhythm as swaggerific as any American hip hop track, but the added sitar (well, I’m pretty sure it’s a sitar, at least) loops in the background give it a Middle Eastern flair. The upbeat “DC Guide” pays homage to political and cultural diversity of the rapper’s American hometown.
“Father’s Day (featuring Raquel Houghton)” is a serious, steady-rhythmed song in which Offendum unloads his personal sentiments about his father, who is no longer with us but continues to influence Offendum today. “The Arab Speaks of Rivers” gets its roots from the famous Langston Hughes poem of a similar name; Offendum’s track is an Arabic poem, the translation of which can be found here (though I have no way of knowing whether it’s accurate)."Finjan" is a love-forlorn testament to Offendum's knack for storytelling and spittin' rhymes at a jaw-dropping pace.
One of my favorites on the album include “Majnoon Layla,” a song that could be best described as a modern, Middle Eastern Romeo and Juliet story. “Superhero” is another stand-out track, in which Offendum stresses the need to rise up against oppressive forces ("Look up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane / it's an Arab superhero and he came to bring change / unite the divided and free 'em from the chains / of the tyrants who reign in vain and pain"). And “Mother’s Day” is a respectful, compelling track that addresses the pains every parent inevitably undertakes: spoken at the end of the song, Offendum says “one of the saddest ironies of a parent’s life is that they can love their child more than anything in this world, and yet that child is still capable of making their hearts feel the most pain.” If that doesn’t make you want to go call or hug your parent(s), then you must have a heart of stone.
And if you really want to be transported to a whole 'nother world, check out "Straight Street (featuring Meryem Seci)." In this track about the historic, biblical road, Offendum raps about some of the interesting and knowledgeable people one can meet along the way - not just down the street, but metaphorically in life as well. That's something I really love about Offendum: he brings a full-circle perspective to his songs, with the richness of his Arab culture and a drive and determination that anyone - American or otherwise - can appreciate.