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.
Joshua – Sometimes it is how strong the promotion is. I think the Muslim community is in need of really good promoters who know how to promote an event.
What are each of your musical influences?
Joshua – A lot of Motown, the Jackson Five, the Supremes, and the classics from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Of course I was listening to a lot of hip hop in my youth but I wasn’t that into it. So, the music was, I guess, in my blood, it affected me as I was writing and coming up with melodies. The real influence for me though was Motown.
Abdul-Malik – I guess for me it’s very hard to put my finger on one music. I grew up in a more conservative household where my parents would say “You want to listen to music? Well here’s some classical music!” But all around me there was hip hop and pop music that you hear on regular basis. That’s definitely influential, especially for a young person. As I was growing up, guys like Run DMC were what everybody was listening to. They definitely had an influence on what I was listening to.
Joshua: Naeem (the third member) has his own set of influences, he’s all music. He loves the Beatles, old-school rap, Motown. He’s probably got the most diverse musical background of all of us.
Who are you all enjoying in currently popular music?
Abdul-Malik – One of the people inspiring me is K’naan, the Somali rapper. His lyrics are very deep, it’s not like some of the stuff that is coming out. There are other artists who I feel have positive messages and they go a level deeper than the normal pop artists. Lupe Fiasco is another rapper. For me, I just try to hear what’s out there but I also try to leave creative space for myself to try to develop my own ideas. I don’t listen to too much music because then I start imitating other artists. I find personally that I need the creative space.
Where do you feel like this group fits in to the current stage of rap and hip hop?
Abdul-Malik – Well, I think honestly we are worlds apart from the stuff that’s coming out. I think that rap lately has been derogatory towards women and talking about sexuality, but I’ve noticed that there are trends in music. I’m hoping that we would be maybe pioneers, along with other groups, in bringing rap back to what it used to be. It used to be about cultural change, it used to be a lot more positive. It’s always had that revolutionary, almost angry feel to it, but it was once about social change. I’m hoping that it will return back to that.