Singing the Experiences of a Community
An interview with Muslim hip hop group Native Deen
What is the make-up of your fan base?
Abdul-Malik – It’s a very wide audience. It’s a lot of young people, but we just got a text from a guy who is 60 years old telling us how much he likes the songs. People as young as 2 year olds like it, a mom told us once. We have people who are African Americans, Immigrants, Arabs, Pakistanis, all different walks of life. What we try to do in making our music, is we try to write for our community, but we do try to keep it generic so that a song can go beyond one age or one ethnic group or one religion even.
What brought you guys to that place where you knew you wanted to make music that was Islamic but could also reach out to each other? Did you start out with that being your focus?
Joshua – That was grown into. When we started out we were just youth expressing ourselves. People do art based upon their experiences and what they have in their minds, very seldom do you have artists who say “I draw art that appeals to the upper middle class.” You just do your art and then people who are interested in it tend to move towards you. When we made the songs we were just expressing ourselves and I think only after it started filling a void in the community for Muslim English music did we feel a certain amount of pressure. We started to feel a sense of obligation that we have to write towards certain things. Now it’s a little bit of balance, there are some that really come from within us, and some that are written because of a simple obligation to address a challenge the community is facing.
Do you feel like there are any unique challenges to being a Muslim rap group?
Abdul-Malik - Sometimes we get invited to interfaith events, like one on the mall where they brought in a bunch of artists of different faiths. However, usually our main audience is Muslims, and Muslims in the United States are very spread out. A lot of times we have a concert and even though we may have a lot of fans in that area, just networking and letting them know we are coming into town is sometimes an issue. In other Western countries, like the UK, Muslims are very close together. Like you go to a certain town and they are all Muslims, and they have certain areas in the UK that is totally Muslims. So word spreads to everybody. Here it’s a little more spread out, so we find it’s difficult to gather everyone and do a strong tour. We’re working on it and I think over the years it will develop better.