Gaza rapper Abdulrahman Al-Shanti may only be 11 years old but his rhymes on war and hardship in the Palestinian enclave have reached thousands of people, conveying in English what he calls “a message of peace and humanity”.
A video of Al-Shanti rapping outside of his school in Gaza City, surrounded by classmates wearing matching uniforms, has garnered hundreds of thousands of views on social media and was even shared by the popular British rapper Lowkey.
Though Arabic is his first language, Al-Shanti raps in fluent, unaccented English – a skill he says he honed by listening to American rappers including Eminem, Tupac and DJ Khaled.
“I want to be like Eminem – not to copy his style, I have my own style. But he is my favourite rapper,” he told Reuters as he wrote lyrics and composed rap beats through an app on his mobile phone.
“I am here to tell you our lives are hard. We got broken streets and bombs in the yard,” go the lyrics of his song “Gaza messenger”, alluding to Israel’s three devastating wars launched against the besieged enclave.
In another one of his songs, “Peace”, Al-Shanti evokes moments from Israel’s war on Gaza in 2008-2009, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead“.
“I was born in Gaza City, and the first thing I heard was a gunshot. In my first breath, I tasted gunpowder,” the lyrics say.
Al-Shanti hopes to shine a light on the challenges wrought on Gaza by the crippling Israeli blockade imposed on the territory since 2007.