Perhaps Chicago-based, Kentucky-raised rapper Khaled M. should've made a hip-hop anthem for his home state's Wildcats as they made a run for the Final Four. Like Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow" for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a "Blue and White" remix could have caught fire. Ashley Judd might have Tweeted the track, giving Khaled's rap career a considerable boost. In the process, he could have distinguished himself from every other hip-hop artist wanting to be the next big thing.
But he didn't.
Instead, Khaled M. decided to be the hip-hop voice of war-torn Libya, where his father narrowly escaped execution and a torture filled five-year prison stay for being part of an opposition movement. In the process, Khaled M. has distinguished himself from every other rapper in America by focusing on foreign policy of all things.
Khaled M. decided to speak up for the citizens of a country who were being slaughtered for taking a stand against its ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, who is at the center of an international investigation for "crimes against humanity" in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Khaled's video for his first political track, "Can't Take Our Freedom," received more than 70,000 views in its first days, but YouTube, who the rapper says initially Tweeted the video to its more than 2.2 million followers, took the video down for disturbing and shocking images, according to Khaled.
"I want to know what changed within two weeks from endorsing the video to saying it was unacceptable to the YouTube community," Khaled told Rocks Off.
Indeed the images - some taken from existing and still up YouTube footage - could be interpreted as shocking to the eyes of the image-censored American news watcher, but Khaled maintains, of the 70,000 views, there were only six "dislikes."
"We got an immensely positive reaction," he says.
Rocks Off was able to find a viewer-uploaded version of the video. Let's see how long it stays up.
But Khaled M. doesn't necessarily need YouTube to be his megaphone. He's fielding two to three media interviews a day (six on a good day) from national and local news outlets including ABC World News, BBC, NPR and others, which are giving the Libyan-American rapper a platform for his political message.
As passionate that Khaled comes across, this wasn't what he envisioned for himself.
"This is my first overtly political song," admits Khaled who was cautious about making a song for Libya, because he didn't want to come across as an opportunist. "Most of my fans would say that I've been conscious before. I don't consciously make political music. It's just a reflection of me."
Regardless, Khaled recognizes the two worlds he's brought together.
"What hip-hop has done is offered me a voice," says Khaled. "Those of us who aren't journalists or politicians, we get our message out through hip-hop. Hip-hop has enabled me to mesh two different worlds that normally wouldn't be together. I'm able to offer news to fans of hip-hop, who don't go to news sites. And people who do check news sites are being exposed to hip-hop through news."
Khaled isn't shy about calling his newfound popularity a double-edged sword. In hip-hop, people want to categorize rappers as having a certain sound or look.
"You're boxed into a specific role that doesn't reflect who you are," says Khaled. "At the same time you have quality fans around your words and they stand by you. I don't really want to obsess about what people think about my career. I don't know what direction my career's going to go. I'm still learning about myself as an artist."
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