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Hip-Hop and Islam: Intersections and Parallels

Seandra Sims contributed to this report. Rappers Loon (r) and Freeway (l) during their pilgrimage to the Muslim Holy Land (Nov. 2009). “Deep like the mind of Farrakhan” - Notorious B.I.G.“Make your wife get on the horn call Minister Farrakhan / so he could persuade me to squash it (beef)” - Canibus “I’m headstrong / at peace with myself like Islam.” - Prodigy of Mobb DeepThere are a number of profound parallels between Hip-Hop and Islam. Both are in the ‘hoods as well as the suburbs. Both are in jails as well as the free world. Both are in the community. Both are in rap music. Both offer a colorful display of personality, hues, and cultural varieties. Both are ways of life embraced by millions the world over.? Hip-Hop and Islam intersected early on in rap’s history when the young poets began to embrace the teachings of Malcolm X (also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz). Rakim was the first and most widely recognized rapper to outwardly profess the teachings of Islam, and at one time, he even rapped under the moniker Rakim Allah (or “Sun God”). Public Enemy name-checked Minister Louis Farrakhan on songs such as “Don’t Believe the Hype”: “A follower of Farrakhan / don’t tell me that you understand / until you hear the man.” And, KRS-One emulated a famous “guarding the house” photo of Malcolm X on the cover of Boogie Down Productions’ “By All Means Necessary” in 1988.During this progressive period in Hip-Hop history, rappers weren’t just talking the Muslim talk – they were living it.“All of Islam has had a very positive and progressive impact on Hip-Hop. Islam’s principles of love, unity, and do for self is the predominate theme, thus the renaissance in the early 90s until now,” said Brother Sean of Medinah Entertainment, a full service company that has produced for Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Justin Beiber, and more. “Hip-Hop itself was birthed by the same principle. Look at Russell Simmons and Def Jam, J Prince and Rap A Lot [Records], Diddy and Bad Boy, Master P and No Limit and so on,” he adds.While most acts didn’t subscribe fully to the Islamic dogma, in the 80’s and 90’s, many embraced Islam teachings, as well as various sects of the religion, such as the Nation of Islam, the 5 Percent Nation, and even Orthodox Islam. Rappers such as popular 90s group Brand Nubian were praying to the East, reading daily “scrolls,” and striving to live righteously. It was an empowering period in rap, and one early artist from the period, King Sun, described it as “righteous but ruthless.” Activists like Conrad “The Hip-Hop Minister” Muhammad courted the Hip-Hop Generation, encouraging them to be more socially and politically involved. The appeal was very simple says Minister Sharieff Muhammad, who heads up The Nation of Islam defense and security force The Fruit of Islam. “We don’t use your past against you,” he says candidly. “The inspiration of telling you that we are all children of God. And God don’t drink, God don’t sell dope, God don’t disrespect women. Now you get their attention and now you can teach them. But most don’t go to church, they are all in a negative environment. And we appreciate them and there are positive things that you can do in the community.” Lupe Fiasco’s “Muhammad Walks,” a response to Kanye West’s hit “Jesus Walks.”

Islam’s marketability in Hip-Hop waned commercially as so-called “conscious” rap gave way to gangster rap (also known as “reality rap”). Nevertheless, the game has not changed for Hip-Hop influenced members of the Nation of Islam. Brother Jesse Muhammad, a media expert and member of the Nation of Islam, says Hip-Hop hasn’t gotten apolitical as gangster music suggests. People are merely tired of what he calls “poli-tricks.”“Let’s be honest. Whenever a young person hears the word ‘politics,’ they immediately think of deceit, corruption, and White men in power ties,” Brother Jesse tells AllHipHop.com from Houston. “But if we took the time to define words for ourselves, we would see that it means the use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc. So politicking is a part of our daily lives. However, the actions of U.S. government, exposed by many artists in their songs, has made youth turn a deaf ear to politics because we’re sick of this old order of things. Yet, we have to see that we have the power to usher in a new paradigm in everything from politics to education.”? Brother Jesse maintains that the Hip-Hop generations’ overwhelming support of President Barack Obama proves that the genre and its followers aren’t as apathetic and pessimistic as some of its music suggests.“It is evident by the election of President Barack Obama that Hip-Hop still has great power to move the masses for any strong cause but the biggest difference I see from the early days and now is the lack of unity and a clear agenda,” Brother Jesse expounds. “Some of our Black organizations barely have a youth department and rarely seek out the help of music artists because they are too busy condemning them for certain lyrics. We have to find the common denominator and unify the two again.”? The future for Islam and Hip-Hop is promising, even though the mass popularity of far less cerebral rap music suggests otherwise. Jay Electronica (aka Je’Ri Allah) and Lupe Fiasco (born Muslim under the name Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) are some of the most prominent and widely respected rappers who overtly embrace Islam in their life and times. But there are more subtle followers, like Q-Tip, Rakim, Talib Kweli, Freeway, Mos Def, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Beanie Sigel, NYOIL, Immortal Technique, Akon, Killer Mike, and many others.Jay Electronica told Scheme Mag, “Yes [I am a practicing Muslim]. Islam is a word and it means ‘longing, striving and submitting to the will of Allah.’ Allah is just a term for ‘God’ or ‘Supreme Deity,’ so in the true definition of what the word is, yes, I’m practicing it; in the true definition of Judaism, I practice it. You understand what I’m saying? I’m not necessarily a subscriber to ritual and organized ideology that is not rooted in the principles of what the thing really is.”Snoop Dogg Speaks At The 2009 Saviour’s Day?

Minister Louis Farrakhan, national representative of the Nation of Islam, has told AllHipHop.com in previous interviews that rappers are budding seeds pushing out of the soil of leadership.”Yes, they are leaders by default because they’re the generational divide. And there’s a gap between the ‘leaders’ and the mass poor of the nation. With the spoken word called rap, in the beginning the word was with God and word got force and power,” Farrakhan said previously. “So these young men and women standing up in the gap now are talking to young people who don’t listen to their families, who don’t want to go school, who won’t listen to no preachers, don’t care nothing about politics – so, gimme 50 Cent. Give me the rapper. Now that’s the leader of today and tomorrow and what I’m trying to get our brothers and sisters in Hip-Hop to see is you have the ear of young people all over the world.”Farrakhan says rappers still represent the grios who once passed the word in Africa, and their connection to people of color is unparalleled.? “The Black people are not listening to their preachers. They’re not listening to their politicians, they’re listening to their rappers,” says Farrakhan.?Influence at that level has power – so, what will artists who subscribe to Islam preach into young ears in years to come? There’s no doubt that the 5 Percent Nation and teachings of Black radicals impacted rap’s golden political years, but will Muslim-inspired rap ever return to its pre-1995 substance??Interestingly enough, the monotheism religion known as Islam still beams through lyrics today – just in a different form. As singer Erykah Badu opened up her record of Hip-Hop to the culture by chanting ‘Alhamdulillah’ (‘all praises be to Allah’) on “The Healer,” slick Arabic terms may pass the average English listener by. Busta Rhymes speaks on Islam.

Some of the most prominent Hip-Hop acts today embrace the teachings and discipline of Islam in their everyday. As an example, Lupe Fiasco explained how his music career interferes with the ethics of Islam in a previous AllHipHop.com interview.“With Islam being in the front of many peoples’ mind, though, it does get interesting. It is more the extra curricula activities of being in the music industry where Islam comes into play, with regards to the drinking, the smoking, and the women,” he said. Bad Boy rapper Loon and Cash Money’s Freeway both took the holy pilgrimage to Mecca (the Islamic Holy land in Saudi Arabia) and have several videos broadcasting their experiences. The appeal of Islam may be confounding to decidedly Christian America, but Brother Sean says, it isn’t so difficult to comprehend with a deeper look.”Islam embraces Christianity and Judaism. Islam is accepted among the rappers because of the hard line stance of attaining Islam’s core principles of freedom, justice and equality,” he says. “Islam teaches self determination and love of yourself and kind first, then others which is what the Black community needs. Thus why rappers who are of these communities have embraced Islam.”From the constant references to Malcolm X and self recognition as ‘gods and earths,’ to spitting “Bismillah ir Rhman ir Raheem (‘in the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful’) before the opening of a track, Islam has always been a prideful and passionate reflection of religion within the Hip-Hop culture. Perhaps, the two cultures will again be parallel rather than simply intersect at various places in Hip-Hop.

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