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Is the Muslim Market the new Hip hop?

Jonathan A. J. Wilson | May 31, 2011 | 2 Comments
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Hip hop and Islamic Youth Culture go together like cookies and cool milk.

Some of the words that exemplify both are:

subculture, renegades, underdogs, slang, conspiracy theories, ethnocentrism, collective individualism, self-expressionism, avatars, social networks, fashion, and politics.

"And ya dont stop hot" Photo taken in Dubai of painting in a clothing store by Wilson JAJ

However, in this post I’d like to shift the debate slightly and look at things from a different angle. Furthermore, the following points don’t just apply to the Muslim youth sector – but instead to the phenomenon of marketing to Muslim consumers as a whole.

Firstly, if we look at Hip hop, from its roots to the shoots, many would argue that it has exceeded all expectations. Its raison d’être can be best summarised by the phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. With origins in the most socially deprived neighbourhoods: subway carriages and brick walls became canvasses, newspapers and museums; record turntables became instruments; and track suits, jeans, sneakers and plain t-shirts were affordable and easily customised unisex uniforms. Now of course the landscape has changed –

Hip hop:

  • graffiti appears in art galleries, with artists like Banksy capturing the imagination of many
  • was once more frequently challenged, concerning the legality of sampling of songs. Now artists trip over themselves to encourage such practices; in the hope that it may breathe life into flagging sales
  • fashion is far from cheap!
  • now has become socially stratified
  • slang crosses over into mainstream language
  • is worldwide – crossing ethnic and class boundaries
  • typifies modern day conspicuous consumption and the way in which people derive meaning and communicate through brands.

I argue that Hip hop’s rise signaled attempts by corporations to homogenise Afro-American and Hispanic communities, and subsequently market a host of concepts and products – such as: entertainment, food, clothing and cosmetics. In doing so, ethnocentric and targeted marketing to these communities, began its journey away from being niche. The key contributions of Hip hop in this process as a business tool hinge on:

  • Melodies, rhythm and RAP (Rhyme And Poetry) as powerful psychological conditioning tools
  • Words being used to remove ambiguity, whilst preserving an esoteric element
  • Customisation and reinterpretation of clothing
  • The use of similes, metaphors and testimonials
  • The artist invariably portraying themselves as a rags to riches icon, which inductively encourages curiosity, empathy and engagement
  • Explicitly mentioning brands, as a language to relay what ‘they’ have and what they want
  • The desire to innovate and challenge the status quo

So now, if we consider the Muslim market: I would like you to read over some of the points that I made above, again – but this time where Hip hop is mentioned, think instead about replacing it with Islam. My thinking is simple: is Muslim Consumerism ‘another Hip hop’? Now for some, headscarves with Swarovski crystals, spiritual tourism package deals and ‘Islamic’ celebrities, amongst other things, are a welcome arrival. The purpose of my discussions is not to beat such views down, nor to champion other positions; but to reflect instead upon how the market may develop and what the future holds.

So what if Muslim Consumerism isn’t the new Hip hop? Maybe Muslim Consumers don’t enjoy being labelled and targeted primarily by their faith. Perhaps Islam being linked and fused with consumerism can’t endure such associations over the long term.

Alternatively, should we look forward to a halcyon age of consumerism, where:

  • Mainstream sports manufacturers will start producing Dri-FIT or Coolmax headscarves and clothes for Hajj
  • More high-class restaurants in non-Muslim countries will stock Halal food, rather than just franchised fast food joints
  • Covering up and dressing modestly, is paradoxically an opportunity to display wealth through wearing more layers of branded clothes
  • Ramadan could be spent spiritually and physically detoxing at a health farm – with purpose built mosque facilities, spiritual motivational personal trainers, relaxing spas, and a carefully selected diet.

Further reading:

Wilson, J.A.J. (2011), “New-School Brand Creation and Creativity – lessons from Hip-Hop and the Global Branded Generation”, Journal of Brand Management [advance online publication 8 April 2011; doi: 10.1057/bm.2011.7].


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Comments (2)

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  1. Fulana says:

    How about, when Hip Hop is the voice of the oppressed? I suggest you listen to the Nomads’s song..Moot..or the Narcysisits Fatwa
    Hip Hop can be a great way for Muslim youth to express their views of the world, in countries where they dont quite feel welcome even though they carry a red passport. The case of pro-palestinian rap can also sentisize the Muslim youth who was not bombarded by the palestinian conflict through their parents were.

  2. Jonathan A. J. Wilson Jonathan A. J. Wilson says:


    You are so right! There are also articles and documentaries about how Hip hop has been hijacked, commercialised and in many quarters lost its teeth. Whether that’s a reflection of natural success, or part of a subversive plot, stimulates interesting debates.

    What will be interesting is whether the same happens with Muslim/Islamic Hip hop – which in some ways in terms of ethos, style, beats etc is quite ‘Old Skool’. So in the future will we see a greater progression towards less politics and more about phat rides to the masjid, Swarovski prayer beads and mats, halal whiskey, high-end designer fusion kandoras. Or instead could it be the renaissance which preserves the heart and soul of the 4 elements.

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