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Of all the rap videos I used to watch as a teenager back in the 1980s, one of the most distinct was “Move the Crowd” by Eric B. & Rakim. In it, Rakim appears in three different roles: as a politician speaking to voters, as a war general speaking to soldiers and as an Islamic speaker addressing the community.

The serious tone of the visuals stood in stark contrast to the partying, dancing and fun that characterized many other rap videos at the time. It was also one of the most notable videos from the golden era of hip-hop that helped usher in a genre of rap known as “conscious rap.”

And, as Su'ad Abdul Khabeer, an associate professor of American culture at the University of Michigan, points out, the song contained a key phrase that is now seen as a pillar of hip-hop: “knowledge of self.”

Abdul Khabeer expounds on the deep and rich roots of that phrase in a piece in which she traces its origin not only to the Black Islamic experience in America nearly a century ago but also to a nearly 1,000-year-old Islamic text.

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Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Education Editor

The popular phrase ‘knowledge of self’ – invoked by numerous rappers who adhere to Islam – is nearly a millennium old. Paul Hawthorne for Getty Images

‘Knowledge of self’: How a key phrase from Islam became a pillar of hip-hop

Su'ad Abdul Khabeer, University of Michigan

A scholar explains how a concept that appeared in Nation of Islam literature nearly a century ago essentially defines hip-hop’s consciousness today.


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