Islam and hip hop in the United States

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A number of hip hop artists in the United Stats are followers of Islam.

1980s[edit]

For prominent Muslim hip hop artists like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, the teachings of the Five Percent Nation[1] were extremely influential. Founded in Harlem in the 1960s, the Five-Percent Nation was created by Clarence13X, a former member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) who is referred to as Allah the Father by 5-Percenters, as a group of individuals comprising the five percent of the population aware of the truth and committed to enlightening the public. The movement recognized blacks as the original inhabitants of this Earth and emphasized that they should reclaim their dominance and recognize their superiority as a race. Adherents emphasize this constantly, referring to their fellow black men as Gods and black women as Earths — hence establishing the organization's other name as the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). Despite drawing heavily from Islam, the Five-Percent Nation is not classified as a religion. This is evident in its belief that God, rather than being separate from man as is traditionally thought in Islam, is a human, specifically a black man. Instead, the Five-Percent Nation is considered a way of life. Tenets are outlined in the Supreme Mathematics and the Supreme Alphabet, a set of principles established by Allah the Father. These guides state that 5-Percenters can interpret numbers and letters as spiritual messages from Allah. Fiver Percenter teachings lent many frequently used expressions to hip hop and hip hop culture like "dropping science," "What up God," and "word is bond."

Rakim[edit]

Rakim, considered to be one of the greatest lyricists of all time, was one of the earliest hip hop artists to incorporate references to Islam into their work. Formerly a member of the NOI, Rakim later became a 5-Percenter, adopting the name Rakim Allah.

In his song “My Melody,” with Eric B., Rakim references the Supreme Mathematics and the Supreme Alphabet.

“I drop science like a scientist/My melodies in code”

In this verse, he references how Gods and Earths will often refer to themselves as scientists in their quest for knowledge and proof. He then describes how 5-Percenters view numbers and letters as code for spiritual messages from Allah.

Big Daddy Kane[edit]

Big Daddy Kane was also a 5-Percenter,[2] having been introduced to the movement in high school. In his song “Just Rhymin’ with Biz,” he states that the ‘Kane’ in his name stands for King Asiatic, Nobody's Equal, an allusion to the Five Percent Nation's belief that the Original Man was an Asiatic black man. His other works are also rife with references to Islam and other Five Percent Nation teachings. For example, the final verse of Big Daddy Kane's 1988 hit “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” explicitly conveys his connection to Islam.

“Hold up the peace sign, as salaam alaikum!”

This Arabic phrase, meaning “peace be upon you,” is commonly used among Muslims as a salutation. Moreover, it is used frequently in the Nation of Islam and by 5-Percenters.

Later, his 1989 song “Mortal Combat,” a diss track aimed at Kool Moe Dee, referenced the Supreme Mathematics. Also, in his song 1989 song "Young, Gifted, and Black" Big Daddy Kane samples a Louis Farrakhan speech.

“Beginning to end, from Knowledge to Born”

According to the Supreme Mathematics, Knowledge corresponds to the number one, and Born is represented by the number nine. This then indicates that Big Daddy Kane was cleverly repeating the beginning phrase, “beginning to end,” using 5-Percenter terminology.

Lakim Shabazz[edit]

Lakim Shabazz was an MC during the 1980s who derived his name from the Tribe of Shabazz. Lakim Shabazz was significantly influenced by Islam, specifically the teachings of the Nation of Islam and the Five Percent Nation. His raps also reflect these beliefs, perhaps most obviously in the song “Black is Back.” A pro-black anthem, the song encourages African-Americans to recognize their greatness and fight for societal dominance. Shabazz encourages turning to the teachings of the Nation of Islam for empowerment in guidance, as is emphasized in the following verses:

“This rhyme was designed for The Final Call”

Here, Lakim Shabazz references the Nation of Islam's official newspaper, The Final Call. Created in 1979 by Minister Louis Farrakhan, The Final Call aims to share unbiased information with all people, not just followers of the Nation of Islam. By stating that this rhyme was created for The Final Call, Shabazz is stating that his words are the truth, as described by the teachings of the Nation of Islam.

Afrika Islam[edit]

Afrika Islam was a prominent hip hop producer during the 1980s. He trained extensively under Afrika Bambaataa, known as the Godfather of Hip Hop, for numerous years before embarking on his individual career. Like his mentor, Afrika Islam worked heavily with the Zulu Nation,[3] an organization originally developed to use hip hop to stop violence and spread peace. As time passed, the Zulu Nation drew increasingly heavily from the Nation of Islam's teachings, sharing the organization's principles with its members.[citation needed]

The 1990s[edit]

In the early 1990s much of hip hop music became politically charged, afrocentric, and militant in nature. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was praised by artists like Public Enemy while albums by Wu Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes referenced 5 Percent Nation. References to Islam in Hip-Hop music became explicit in the 1990s, and they were almost always characterized by a pairing with a quest for political and social justice.[4]

Busta Rhymes[edit]

One of the most influential 90's rappers was Busta Rhymes who in 1990 formed the group Leaders of the New School before later starting his own solo career with the hit single Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check. He was a New York Jamaican, born in Brooklyn and raised in Long Island where he formed his group and signed a deal with Elektra Records at age 17.[5]

Leaders of the New School officially started in 1991 with their debut album A Future Without a Past...; however, they only were able to release one more album T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye), before breaking up in 1994.[5]

In 2007, Busta decided to release his religious beliefs to the press, stating, “I try to really understand every aspect of the most high. For me, the most high is Allah. All praises due to Allah, the Lord of all worlds, the greatest, the beneficent, the merciful… I live my life by Islam.” [5]

His song Arab Money, released in 2009, got a lot of negative push-back from the Muslim community for its lyrics about making money in off of oil in Arab countries. He later remixed the song to include lyrics from the Qur'an, which only further offended Muslims who did not believe that verses from the Qur'an should appear in song lyrics, however this decision certainly allowed his music to gain more attention among Muslims.[5]

Ice Cube[edit]

Ice Cube was born in Los Angeles where he started a group called C.I.A with a friend and eventually started collaborating with Dr. Dre, with whom he later joined Eazy-E’s Compton-based group called Niggaz With Attitude (N.W.A), for which his most noteworthy role was lyricist, starting with his writing the song "Straight Outta Compton" in 1988.[6]

He later started his solo debut as AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted where he started to tackle social issues like poverty, racism, and drug addiction, along with general critiques to American society. He started acting in 1991 and has appeared in many films since then.

In the early 1990s, Ice Cube converted to Islam, and when asked about his faith he stated, “I mean, what I call myself is a natural Muslim, because it’s just me and God.”[6] On his 1991 album Death Certificate, Ice Cube samples excerpts of a speech made by Khalid Muhammad.

Mos Def[edit]

Dante Smith was born in Brooklyn, and formed a group with his siblings called Urban Thermo Dynamics and then ventured on his own, becoming part of a hip hop collective with the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest called “Native Tongues”. Later he began to work alongside Talib Kweli as Blackstar, and his music took a sociopolitical turn.[7]

Sociopolitical hip hop gained a lot of attention in the late 1990s, and in 1999 Mos Def came out with his solo debut album Black on Both Sides. The first words spoken on this album, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem" translate to "In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful.”

His father who was a member of Nation of Islam, and he became a part of the community of Imam Warithdeen Muhammad, son of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of Nation of Islam. "I got my first exposure to Islam when I was 13," he said. "My dad taught me how to make wudhu [the ritual ablution Muslims perform before prayer]."[7]

At 19 he took the Muslim declaration of faith, shahada, and Islam became the cornerstone of his life.[7]

Q-Tip[edit]

Jonathan Davis was born in Harlem in 1970, and at age 20 in 1990 he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed. Before converting he had been agnostic.[citation needed]

He grew up in Queens where he went to school with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi White with whom he formed the group A Tribe Called Quest, and their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was released in 1990. Kamaal released his debut solo album in 1999.[8] At the end of a Tribe Called Quest's song "Phony Rappers" there is a sample of a speech made by Iman Siraj Wajjah, a Sunni Muslim man from Brooklyn, NY.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad[edit]

Ali Shaheed Muhammad started his career along with Q-Tip in A Tribe Called Quest, later expanding into becoming a DJ and producer and later started his solo career in 2004 with his debut LP Shaheedulah and Stereotypes.[9]

“With regards to Islam, it definitely — I mean, I walk a different walk than probably a lot of different people in the industry. I'm not saying it like I'm better. I'm in no way any better or a saint, but there's — people can depend on me. They have. They do. And they call me the voice of reason. And I suppose that my faith has something to do with that.” [10]

“It can rip an artist apart, because then you're under the ridicule of, "Aren't you Muslim? Don't you believe in this? What you're doing goes against" — and it's just like, "Yeah, I already know everything you're saying to me." I don't know if anyone else gets that sort of scrutiny so I do understand why people keep it to themselves.”[10]

The 2000s[edit]

Freeway converted to Islam when he was 14 years old. He says, “[Islam], it’s my core, it’s my soul, it’s my everything. He recognizes the conflicting values within the Muslim community, especially those whom believe that making music is haram. Nevertheless, he concedes that this is how he chooses to express himself and acknowledges the various paths of Muslim identity.[11]

Beanie Sigel converted to Islam early in his life and came to the faith through his knowledge of the Five Percent Nation. He often references and alludes to his faith within his lyrics, but recognizes conflicting values within their communities.[citation needed]

Akon grew up in Senegal and was raised as a Muslim.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Five Percent Nation: A Brief History Lesson". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  2. ^ "8 Rap Lyrics That Use Five-Percent Nation Language". Vibe. 2014-04-22. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  3. ^ "'Rebel Music': When Hip-Hop Met Islam". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  4. ^ "Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: Overview of 1990's Hip-Hop". Amoeblog. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  5. ^ a b c d "Busta Rhymes' Religion and Political Views". hollowverse.com. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  6. ^ a b "Ice Cube - Biography - Amoeba Music". www.amoeba.com. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  7. ^ a b c "You're Gonna Serve Somebody". www.beliefnet.com. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  8. ^ "Q-Tip". Biography.com. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  9. ^ "Ali Shaheed". Ali Shaheed. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  10. ^ a b "Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Part 1: 'I Walk A Different Walk'". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  11. ^ http://hiphopdx.com, HipHopDX -. "Freeway Explains How He Balances Music and Islam". HipHopDX. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  12. ^ "Biography of Akon bio, history, career, evolution, music, Rap Hip Hop". akonweb.yaia.com. Retrieved 2017-12-04.