The world now knows him as the hip-hop jihadist who allegedly helped behead an American journalist. But L. Jinny is a man of peace, looking for love. That is, if you believe his lyrics.
In the video of the murder of James Foley, his executioner could be heard speaking with a London accent, distinctively twanged. According to several published reports, that same voice can be heard rapping lyrics like “my belly hurts” as L. Jinny, an artist who can best be described as the evil Ali G.
In its quest to identify Foley’s killer, the British intelligence community reportedly has zeroed in on three suspects who might be “Jihadi John,” including a 23-year-old, British-Egyptian named Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary. Before Abdel Bary reportedly became radicalized by Islam and fled to Syria in 2013 to join the jihad, he released music as L. Jinny and sold himself as a “lyricist.” His publicly available work suggests he was in the midst of an existential crisis that saw his thoughts shift from disenchanted to introspective, and he crafted rhymes that make Riff Raff look like Tupac.
Abdel Bary’s digital trail indicates that the music he produced as L. Jinny was made as part of a group known as “The Black Triangle.” One blog supporting the act claims its music was streamed on BBC Radio One. (Other details are hard to find.)
In June 2013, a video called ”Overdose" was uploaded to the YouTube channel “LJinnyVEVO.” The only video on the channel, it has been viewed more than 150,000 times. In the clip, which you can have the pleasure of watching only after being subjected to an advertisement for Airheads, L. Jinny (he pronounces it Jin-NAY) appears on a roof in a black hoodie—hood up—and black pants. As L. Jinny grabs the edges of the unzipped hoodie to reveal a T-shirt that says “YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS,” he helpfully reiterates the point by telling listeners, “You know what it is.”
L. Jinny does not wear all of his lyrics on his clothing—which is unfortunate, because he enunciates about as well as Bruce Springsteen, in an accent described by one of The Daily Beast’s Brits as “multi-racial, South London-tough-boy-English.”
What I could understand of his lyrics, however, indicates he was generally disappointed with the darkness of society.
After informing that we know “what it is” (quite an assumption!) L. Jinny says something about Drake and something about Rick Ross. Then he offers: “I’m still the same Jinny. I’m still the same Jinny.” He describes himself as “lonelier, but wiser, with a bit of rage in me.” A bit. “I’m kind of glad I ain’t made it yet, ’cause all the hunger makes me grateful when I gain success.”
L. Jinny makes a plea apparently so important that he says it twice: “Just let a brother live his life in peace. Just let a brother live his life in peace,” before providing a bit of insight into his struggle. “I walk through my hometown looking for love. He tapped me on my shoulder and told me that there wouldn’t be much, because we’re surrounded by nothing but black hearts.” L. Jinny explains that “the love is all drowned in [inaudible].”
This continues for another two minutes, during which time Jin-NAY employs typical tough-guy language like “all the stress and this pressure is pressing my buttons.” But he guesses “this is all just part of the plan, couldn’t play the game without a card in my hand” and makes yet another plea, this time for an intellectually fulfilling life: “I need something with a deeper meaning. Food for thought, and that will keep me eating. Unfortunately, by belly hurts ’cause it’s empty. Yeah, I love feeling like the world is against me.”
Then L. Jinny gets deep: “How can you judge what you do not know? How can you love what you do not trust?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
One of the last phrases I can understand is, perhaps appropriately, “I’m lucky I’m not sitting in jail.”
On other tracks, he is less whimsical. On “The Beginning,” he raps over The xx’s (perfect) “intro” about “the recession” and his childhood: “Gimme that nine and I’ll cock it for my partners; Gimme the pride and I’ll honor it like my father. I swear the day they came and took my dad I could’ve killed a couple, too, and I wouldn’t have looked back. Imagine back then I was only 6. Just picture what I’ll do now with a loaded stick.” As he performs, he can be seen flailing around on the street in front of a setting sun. Interestingly, this video was uploaded only Sunday by a user called “rachel hutter,” whose only other upload is a 17-second clip called “gitmo guard explains all.”
The “dad” Abdel Bary is referring to is Adel Abdel Bary, an alleged international Islamic terrorist who was said to have been involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2012, he was extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States, and charged with conspiring to commit the attacks. The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey, who knew the elder Abdel Bary in the late 1990s, provides more insight here. (Dickey, it should be noted, expresses skepticism that anyone truly believes Abdel Bary is Foley’s killer.)
Other Abdel Bary videos show a less produced L. Jinny. On a “warm up session,” he can be seen donning a checkered shirt and baseball hat atop his bushy ponytail. He shouts out to the “people’s army” before rapping at the camera: “I’m reaching out to you, lord. I know you hear me; I hope you’re near me. I could feel the lack of love. I’m stuck behind this cross of swords; I’m trying to grab a dove. And I could see the light, but can’t reach it. I’ve had enough.”
As late as December 1, 2013, music featuring L. Jinny was still being released. On iTunes, I found an album by Logic & Last Resort called More True Talk which includes a song, “My Words,” featuring the hip-hop jihadist. It was released by Overstand Music, a label that advertises itself as “the home of quality UK hip hop” and promises to be “conscious.”
Jihadist rap is not new, of course. Asadaullah Alshishani, who according to Wired is “the pseudonymous contributor to a number of English-language jihadi forums,” once recorded a song in support of Osama bin Laden (a lot of help that did!) where he spit hot fire like “Amir of the Ansaar, how beautiful you are. Your sword gleams in the sun like a shining star.”
And Omar Hammami, an American spokesman for Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabab, tried to convince people he had not died by releasing a terrible rap informing listeners “there’s nothing as sweet as the taste of a tank shell,” a performance derided by Wired as sounding like “Somalia’s Vanilla Ice.” The track didn’t help Hammami—he was later shot by al-Shabab.