The conflict in Libya is currently at the forefront of many people’s minds. There’s one emcee, however, who’s been focused on Libya for all of his life – Khaled M. Khaled M is a Libyan-American emcee who’s a member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, and Enough Gaddafi. He’s been inspired to fight for change since his youth, when his father was tortured in a Libyan jail for protesting Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. In addition to the political groups he’s a part of, Khaled M has taken to the mic to spread his message even further. This week we caught up with Khaled M to find out more about his music, his political work, and what everyone needs to know about Libya. He also discussed his thoughts on YouTube going from promoting his latest video, to pulling it from their site, and who he thinks may have been behind it’s deletion.

Adam Bernard: You are part of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, and Enough Gaddafi. In what ways is hip-hop, and music in general, helping your cause?

Khaled M: It offers a voice to people that wouldn’t normally have a voice through traditional means, and it’s helping us, especially with the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, get the message to a whole new demographic. The National Front for the Salvation of Libya is mostly older people, our fathers’ generation, and we kinda were ingrained, we were brought up under that umbrella. Enough Gaddafi is something we started a couple years ago when Gaddafi first came to the United States and we were trying to raise awareness and we protested against him speaking in front of the UN. That’s a wider umbrella for anybody that’s opposed to Gaddafi and feel like he’s been in power for long enough. With hip-hop we’re definitely spreading the message to a whole new demographic that may not have been aware of the situation otherwise.

AB: There are some limits on the news out there, correct?

KM: Big time. Not only are there limits on the news, but a lot of people that may not even check CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera are now becoming aware of the situation.

AB: Music and the Gaddafi reign have had an interesting relationship. What are your thoughts on all the artists who performed for Gaddafi and his family? Were they simply uninformed, or is this an unforgivable offense?

KM: We’ve been aware of this the whole time. I know it’s really coming out in the media (now), but we’ve been knowing about this. Just personally, for me, I obviously wouldn’t perform for Gaddafi ever unless I felt like there was potential of me meeting him face to face and killing him, to be frank with you, but I don’t have any animosity towards the artists. I would love if they would donate the money that they received to charity, hopefully to a Libyan charity, and give that money back to the people, but I can’t fault the artists because people want to go back and point fingers, but I think the world in general was ignorant to what Gaddafi was doing. It’s been a secret oppression for 42 years now. I can’t single them out and say that hey should have known more than the average person because the average person wasn’t really familiar with Gaddafi’s atrocities and his brutal regime.

AB: We didn’t see protests outside of Libya.

KM: Right. They hadn’t even protested inside of Libya. He’s had a stronghold. This is the first time we’ve seen mass protests like that. In the past when smaller protests have occurred people were executed and arrested and thrown in jail and tortured and disappeared. I don’t have any animosity towards the artists. I hope that this is an opportunity for them to educate themselves about Gaddafi and where his money comes from and who it really belongs to. It would be wonderful if they would donate the money back to the Libyan people. It is their money. Libya is actually a wealthy country. Gaddafi makes more than $135 million a day just off oil, has $96 billion GDP, and the country is only five or six million people. It’s literally about the same population of Kentucky, where I’m from. You’re thinking with that much money and that few people everybody should be well off, but you have two thirds of the population living under two dollars a day, you have more than 30% unemployment. Him and his cronies horde all the wealth, they spend it on parties, on flights, and if you ask Gaddafi he’ll tell you otherwise. He says he has no money, he borrows clothes. He said the same thing about (Hosni) Mubarak before Mubarak was down. He said Mubarak has to borrow clothes from people. Now we find out Gaddafi’s personal wealth, family wealth, is estimated at $130 billion dollars.

AB: With all the things that are happening with Libya should the US be in there right now? Will our presence do any good, or are we really really bad at sorting countries out at this point?

KM: I think the UN resolution was very specific in its language. The US and the UN are allowed to protect by any means necessary short of occupying the country. That’s one thing that the Libyan Transitional Council, which is kind of acting as a current government, has been very specific about, that the Libyan people have been very specific about. Regardless of their backgrounds, all Libyans pretty much agree that they are in favor of the no fly zone. One thing they don’t want to see is boots on the ground. We don’t want this to turn into America trying to fix our problems. Nobody wants to see another occupation. Nobody wants to see troops on the ground. People are afraid that the troops will still be there after Gaddafi leaves. The no fly zone helps because it kind of takes away Gaddafi’s air advantage, because he’s been attacking civilians with airplanes and bombing them and using heavy artillery, so that makes it more of an even fight, as well it prevents him from flying in more mercenaries from other countries. We definitely don’t want Iraq, or Afghanistan, or another similar situation. The Libyan people aren’t stupid. I’ve supported the no fly zone, and seeing Republicans in Congress supporting it threw me off guard. These people really care about the humanitarian crises and the lives of non-Americans overseas? I’m sure they have agendas and I’m sure the countries getting involved are looking at the next government want to get in cahoots. There’s a lot of oil money to be shared. That’s fine. The Libyan people understand that and they’re cool with that. This is an emergency. People have been massacred, so we needed that help and we’re fine to do business with these countries afterwards, but we’re not naive, and we know that all the help that’s coming may or may not be out of the goodness of people’s hearts.

AB: Unfortunately most of it rarely is.

KM: Right, because the CIA, and this is official, a lot of documents in the CIA become declassified after 30 years. The CIA put Gaddafi in power and they’ve supported dictatorships around the world. I’m not from the school of thought that honestly believes we just got Saddam because he’s a dictator and we like freedom and he hates freedom. We understand that there’s more at play than this.

AB: When dealing with such a serious issue is there any way to have a light moment? Does any of your music qualify as escapism?

KM: You know, day to day I’m always in good spirits, and I laugh, but a lot of the things I normally take interest in, I haven’t been able to get up the normal interest. I haven’t been able to get excited about things that I used to (get excited about). This is the first year of my life I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, the first year I didn’t watch the NBA all-star game. I’m a huge Kentucky basketball fan and I didn’t watch them in the SEC tournament, I didn’t watch them up until the Elite 8 game against Ohio State. General day to day, I just haven’t had as much interest in things that seem less important, but as far as escapism, I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a political artist, or a conscious rapper, I feel like I just make music that’s a reflection of me, and whatever’s on my mind at the time. That’s what my music represents. A lot of entertainment is made with the intention of distracting people and helping them escape. I heard Jerry Bruckheimer say once that if he can make a movie and for two hours it makes people forget about all the problems in the world, everything going on in their life, that he considers it a success. I would say my music is the exact opposite. My music is meant to help people face their issues head on everyday and deal with their issues and work through them as opposed to just romanticizing stuff and escaping.

AB: You recently released a collaboration with Iraqi-British rapper Lowkey titled “Can’t Take Our Freedom.” Clearly it isn’t a light moment judging by the song and the video. I think the meaning of the song if pretty obvious, but what does a Libyan emcee and an Iraqi emcee collaborating signify?

KM: It signifies that we stand against oppression and injustice everywhere. The song was intentionally put together with very abstract lyrics. If you notice, I don’t even mention Gaddafi’s name the whole song. The video is more specific, but it’s really a song that anybody that’s going through a struggle, anybody that’s going through injustice, can relate to. It’s very versatile. Lowkey is a brother that I really wanted involved. I avoided making the song for a long time when the protests and the massacres first began in Libya because I didn’t want to be seen as an opportunist, I didn’t want to exploit the situation. It wasn’t until Libyans from around the world were calling on me to make a song, when I got that green light I decided this was something that I wanted to do and I purposely reached out to Lowkey because I know that he really relates to the cause and he has sincerity, he wouldn’t be somebody that would just want to be on the track for publicity. That’s how it came together. YouTube deleted the video. It was real big. It got 50K views the first week and then they just up and deleted the video. It seems really hypocritical because when the video was first released they tweeted it from their official Twitter, so it seems funny that they would endorse it to begin with and then come back and say it’s too graphic, it’s not educational, yadda yadda yadda.

AB: So we can get seven million versions of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but we can’t get your video?

KM: {*laughs*} Right! YouTube said that they don’t allow graphic material if it’s not educational, so my fans have started a petition saying that it is educational and that it’s not some novelty horrorcore video. On top of that, YouTube could easily implement the mature content warning up front for people to sign in. Personally, I feel like Gaddafi’s people were flagging it left and right, cuz according to the people watching the video everybody liked it. There were a thousand “likes” and only five or six “dislikes.”

AB: What are the next moves for you?

KM: We’ll probably put the video up on Vimeo. There are a lot of fan versions going around, some of which have the exact same video, and some of them are by fans that took the song and put together their own images of what they felt the song represented. We’re going to keep pushing “Can’t Take Our Freedom.” After this I have another video I’m releasing that I’ve already wrapped up called “Lights Out.” It’s the promotional video for the project that I’m coming out with late spring / early summer called The Free P. The Free P is a compilation of original music I’ve created. It’s not necessarily an album with a theme, it’s more a collection of songs I’ve recored. We’re putting it out for free mainly because we don’t want any of the fans to be deprived of being able to listen to it. We’ll also have limited edition version of it with extra songs and extra packaging that people can purchase, as well, if they choose to.