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Lowkey performing in Bristol, 21 September 2009
23 May 1986|
SO Empire Recordings
Kareem Dennis (born 23 May 1986), better known by his stage name Lowkey, is a British-Iraqi rapper and activist based in London, England. He first became known through a series of mixtapes he released before he was 18, before taking a hiatus from the music business. He would return in 2008 with wider music coverage, featured on BBC Radio and appearing at various festivals and concerts including the BBC Electric Proms,Glastonbury, T In The Park and Oxegen in the buildup to his first solo album Dear Listener, as well as collaborating with other British musicians to form the supergroup Mongrel. He released his second solo album Soundtrack to the Struggle independently on 16 October 2011.
From the age of twelve he began to rap, initially imitating American rappers but soon began using his own accent. He began attending the open mic sessions which took place at the Deal Real record shop on Carnaby Street, Central London. The first time he went he introduced himself as Lowkey and was told there was already a regular there by that name; the two had a rap battle to decide who would continue to use the alias, Kareem emerged victorious and continued to use the name thereafter.
The first part of his mixtape series Key to the Game, was released independently in 2003. Within a year and a half he had released a second and third volume, all of which gained critical acclaim from UK hip hop circles. Though the first volume largely used music from other artists, the second was mostly original work in conjunction with numerous artists and producers while the third, which had no skits or short songs like a traditional mixtape would, was mostly his own work.
While Lowkey the man was busying himself with European tours in support of Immortal Technique, Canibus, and Dead Prez, he began to make musical contacts and set about recording his official debut album. Though stalled by other artistic endeavours, Dear Listener was eventually released in January 2009. He bookended the year with another release, Uncensored, with highlights from the entire Key To The Game series and Dear Listener. This was released digitally in December through iTunes.
After touring with Immortal Technique the two made a single, "Voices of the Voiceless" which was released in September 2009.
The second single, "Long Live Palestine" (also known as "Tears to Laughter") was digitally released on 9 March 2009. In December 2009, Lowkey revealed he would release a second part to "Long Live Palestine" featuring international artists including Palestinian rap group DAM, Anglo-Palestinian soloist Shadia Mansour, Narcy from Iraq, Iranian artists Hich Kas and Reveal, Syrian-Lebanese performer Eslam Jawaad and African-American Muslim Hasan Salaam. "Long Live Palestine" was packaged in an EP with Part 1 and the instrumental. The single received statements of support from Tony Benn and Benjamin Zephiniah.
Soundtrack to the Struggle was released on 16 October 2011. The album entered the UK Albums Chart on 23 October at number 57 - becoming Lowkey's first entry on the national charts. In the UK Download Chart, Soundtrack to the Struggle peaked higher than its UK Albums Chart position - at number 14. And in the UK R&B Chart, the album received its highest OCC position, number 6. In the UK Indie Chart, the album peaked at number 9.
On 17 April 2012, Lowkey officially put his musical career on hiatus, announcing the news on Facebook. He said that after months of contemplation, he has decided to "step away from music and concentrate on my studies". With this, he announced that he would deactivate his Facebook page, which had over 180,000 followers.
On 26 July 2016, various sources shared an image on social media relating to Lowkey's return to the music scene with new single "Ahmed". On 29 July 2016, Lowkey released a video for the single, the subject matter of which revolves around the refugee crisis and Europe's response. In addition, a seven-day tour across the UK in September 2016 was announced. On 3 September, his next single "Children of Diaspora" was released. The track addresses issues of racism and xenophobia, and mentions victims of police brutality in the UK and US.
Lowkey joined a hip-hop group called Poisonous Poets with which was formed by rapper Reveal and released one self-titled mixtape in 2005. Poisonous Poets (sometimes known as Double P) the group also consisted of Doc Brown whom Lowkey met at Real Deal records, Reveal, Stylah, Tony D and Therapist.
Lowkey's manager passed on the first two parts of Key to the Game to Jon McClure, frontman of Reverend and The Makers who is also an outspoken political activist. Wanting to mix popular music with politics, and mix indie rock with hip-hop, the two set about making a supergroup, Mongrel, composed of other noted musicians. Also in the band is Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders and ex-bassist Andy Nicholson alongside bassist of Babyshambles Drew McConnell and a revolving set of other musicians. They have had trouble coordinating their busy careers to perform live dates and their debut album has already been pushed back from October to 2009 along with a February tour. The album, Better Than Heavy, was released for free with The Independent on 7 March. The band were asked to perform live in Venezuela on the invitation of President Hugo Chavez. Lowkey visited Caracas during the first summit of CELAC and described Venezuela as "far closer to democracy than what we have in England", championing Chavez as "a leader who is striving to build an independent alternative to the neo-liberal capitalism which has disenfranchised his people for decades."
In February 2009, he travelled to Palestinian refugee camps around the West Bank area to perform fundraising shows to help rebuild the Gaza Strip but was detained by the Israel Police for nine hours at Ben Gurion International Airport and interrogated, while having his passport confiscated. Later in 2009, he travelled with M-1 of Dead Prez to carry out a humanitarian aid mission and bring medical aid to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip; this led to a collaboration between the two on Soundtrack to the Struggle. He was detained for a second time in July 2010, en route to a number of concerts and musical workshops in refugee camps in the West Bank. After detaining him for twelve hours and an online petition was started, he was released.
Lowkey has been a prominent member of the Stop The War Coalition and has spoken against the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, he has been a sharp critic of United States and British foreign policy, claiming that the two powers are only interested in supporting leaders who are under their influence or are willing to assist them. He also claims American media overlooks those within the country who do not believe in American military supremacy.
In May 2017, Lowkey endorsed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 UK general election. He said: "We have a choice between policies which foster empathy and policies which foster greed, resentment, estrangement and alienation."
Lowkey witnessed the Grenfell Tower fire disaster on 14 June 2017 which resulted in the death of more than 80 people. He criticised the British government, Queen Elizabeth II, corporations and the mainstream media in the wake of the disaster; and opined that the tragic event was a result of the injustice and criminality at the heart of Britain's current political system. He subsequently made a tribute song titled Ghosts of Grenfell in honor of the victims. He was later hailed in Parliament as "poet laureate" for Grenfell Tower by MP Emma Dent Coad, comparing him and others to Ben Jonson and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
In January 2011, Marcus Dysch writing for the Jewish Chronicle about the involvement of Lowkey in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign claimed "One expert studying anti-Israel activity described the increasing influence of performers such as Lowkey as a "potential nightmare," and compared the impact of his backing for the campaign to the effect of artists such as Annie Lennox and Elvis Costello "attacking the Jewish state."Fox News host Glenn Beck mocked Lowkey on his radio show, poking fun at the lyrics of his song "Terrorist?", and recorded himself dancing to the song and showing gang signs in an effort to ridicule the content.
In June 2010, Lowkey and Chipmunk, who was signed to Sony at the time, argued on Twitter. The two tied in tenth place on MTV Base's poll of Best Of The Best: UK MCs 2010 with Tinie Tempah in the top position. Despite garnering over half of all public votes with over 3000, the panel ranked him lower when taking a wider context into consideration.
In July 2008, the Theatre Royal, Bath put on a production of 'Max and Beth', a contemporary adaptation of Macbeth by William Shakespeare written entirely in rhyme. Lowkey also helped publicise the NSPCC's Don't Hide It campaign, also contributing a free song to it, in which his lyrics are delivered from the perspective of a female victim of sexual abuse. He also formed a non-profit organisation, People's Army with fellow rapper Logic, who he has also made an unreleased album with (New World Order), and met up with then-Liberal Democrats leader Menzies Campbell as a representative of his local community. He has written articles for The Guardian and left-wing website Ceasefire Magazine and regularly appeared on RT to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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