The Semiotics of Malcolm X from Harlem to Tahrir


  • Anders Ackfeldt


With no ambition to provide a complete inventory, this article introduces the reader to the ways in which Malcolm X and his legacy have been used within US hip-hop music. The central argument is that US hip-hop artists, since the birth of hip-hop, have been participating in the processes of reinventing Malcolm X and his legacy by not only casting him as a symbol of local African American resistance against racial inequalities, but also by fashioning him as a global Sunni Muslim revolutionary by creatively name-, image-, or sound-dropping him in different sound and visual settings. More extensive usages mainly involve key quotes of Malcolm X or lengthy sound bites of classic speeches. The usage of certain iconic photos is comparable to key quotes as these are clearly meant to trigger established associations. It is important to stress that the legacy of Malcolm X and his political theology within hip-hop culture goes beyond national borders, religious beliefs, and political goals.