Slma Shelbayah is a Broadcast Journalist and Communications Consultant. She is a Producer/Assignment Editor for CNN and also a Writer for CNN.com. Her career includes breaking news coverage with CNN International, spanning the regions of the Middle East, Asia and Africa and varying across national and international topics including stories covering Arab and Muslim Diasporas. [Taken from slmashelbayah.com]
Photo Credit: Tamara Abdul Hadi (www.tamarabdulhadi.com)
Yassin Alsalman, better known by his stage name The Narcicyst (or Narcy), is an Iraqi-Canadian journalist and Hip Hop MC.
MH: Tell us about how you got into rapping? What inspired you? How’d it start?
It really all started with a Wu-tang Tape. That eventually became an obsession with Hip-Hop culture and its ability to mix and match independent experiences into one ‘brand’ or movement. My life has been a jumbled traveller experience, so I went from there and started just documenting the culture. Back in the 256K modem days, I would go online and download images and create folders of my favorite artists with their lyrics, album covers, just anything I could find. Eventually I started recording in my room flipping segments of instrumentals I would find online and looping them. I would record to that on a two-tape Sony stereo with my boys. Writing took over for years. I moved back to Canada in 2000, hit the studio with my brothers-from-another-mother SandhiLL and started recording. The rest, as they say, is mystory.
MH: What topics or issues guide inspire your music?
At first, I was very influenced by politics. I would spend hours digging the past and how it has affected the present, then write songs. After 9/11, we really started defending our origins, religion and distancing ourselves from senseless acts of violence and speaking out against the unjust invasions of the early 2000s. As of late, I’ve been digging into my personal past, and taking from day to day experiences in Canada and building narratives that are relatable. We are an international population, that of the Diaspora. I believe that this shapes my new music more than anything; the people I meet at shows and around the world on my travels, that belong nowhere and everywhere at once. The limitless immigrants.
MH: Your music style is unique—what influences the sound of your music? Your cultural background? Your faith? Your life experiences?
I am heavily influenced by classical music, layering different genres and sounds. I can record a sound from the streets and use it in my music. I think definetely the ‘ethos’ behind my music comes from my religion, but it isn’t the main body of influence to my work. Like I said, I am an amalgamation of so many cultural by-products, and so is my music. I get bored easily, so I like my music to be rich and push my own boundaries, as well as those that the public expect of a “hip-hop artist”. It’s all about jumping through boxes. and back out of them.
MH: Are there any artists who inspired you or influence your style of music?
So many……I also consider writers and ‘intellectuals’ artists. They have a way of presenting thoughts that make you want to learn more. That is an art in itself. My influence grows daily, so there isn’t one specific person. The world is the best place to find inspiration.
MH: What role does hip hop or music play in educating listeners about topics and issues not usually spoken about?
I think hip-hop is one of the most versatile artforms and cultures. That is both a gift and a curse. A gift because it can directly transport someone to another experience, another world, another reality. It serves as a document of the juxtapositions you can experience in modern society and its pitfalls/achievements. It’s a curse because it can be a self-destructive form of music as well, which can be blamed on an industry, or the individual. At the end of the day, Human nature, as a practice, is both self-involved, destructive and beautiful and community driven. Hip-Hop has no inhibitions, it is a place where you can be yourself, or be someone else.
MH: What has the response been to your more critical lyrics about political and social issues?
I never worry about peoples reactions. You are always going to have the good and the bad. But what I did notice about being uber-political at all times, is it invites that destructive and divisive energy into your home. We, as Hyphenated-Arab artists, are learning to channel those emotions and experiences to share them as growing experiences, as opposed to defensive stances. I think, once we learn that art, we will thrive internationally. It’s still early but I think we will get there in the next couple of years.
MH: How do you balance your Western identity with your Iraqi identity?
Like a Juggler! I’m split in half, I really don’t think about it anymore! I love it!
MH: Do you feel there’s more of an appreciation for hip hop with meaning and positive messages or is there still a long way to go for artists like yourself to get your message out to more mainstream listeners?
I think there is a balance. I am not a preacher, nor am I a politician, nor am I perfect. I think being self-aware, critical and at the same time funloving, is the best way to approach creativity. That way you grow, the viewer grows. It’s a beautiful transformation.
MH: There are some people who say that hip hop has a negative influence on the youth and encourages the wrong values and lifestyle for the youth and overall is a bad influence on the youth. What are your thoughts?
I say those people have a one track mind. Music in general has the ability to sway people in two directions. It all depends on the people taking it in, and their circumstances. I think we should blame violence on our societal values and how its reflected in our media and arts. TV is the most violent medium on the mind, so I would look at CSI and stuff like that before I would look at music. Violence is perverse, people are attracted to it. It’s hard to blame one genre for it. I also believe that justifies the outside worlds actions against people of ‘ethnic’ origin. It’s a way of demeaning the power of the displaced. Because we are truly free, devoid of the boundaries of the programmed world.
MH: If there were a mainstream artist you’d like to do a collaboration with who would it be with and why?
I don’t really believe in mainstream vs. underground. Success is deemed by your actions and how far you can take it. I would love to collaborated musically with Kanye, lyrically with Kendrick Lamar, Lupe, Sade, Erykah Badu. There are so many, the sky is the limit. I’ve been blessed to have met and hung out with some of my favorite artists, and I would rather share a meal with someone and talk, then to only work with them.
MH: What’s your favorite song you’ve produced and why?
I would say, my favorite song would be something coming up on my next album. The best feeling is finishing a song and saying “wow, where did that come from”. The new stuff is alot different to my old work. I love and hate everything I make. haha!
MH: What advice would you give to individuals who want to pursue a career in hip hop or music like yourself?
Be Yourself. Realise you are not the best, but strive to be the best you can be. Don’t compete with anyone but yourself. Don’t follow trends, set your own standard. And always think about the repercussions of your words. How will you feel about this music ten years from now? Short term solutions can lead to long term problems.
MH: How can we keep up-to-date with your music and support your work?
Follow me at @TheNarcicyst on twitter, look up ‘The Narcicyst’ on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Narcicyst/90624925723) and join my page. Soundcloud me. All that! Follow my crew @WeAreTheMedium on twitter and facebook as well. We have some really really really fun stuff coming up this year! LOVE!
Malika Bilal is the digital producer and co-host of The Stream. She joined the Al Jazeera DC team by way of Doha, where she worked as an editor and writer for the Al Jazeera English website.
Sarah Jawaid is an urban planner and artist residing in Washington, DC. She works as a Policy Associate at the National Housing Conference, advocating for affordable housing issues. In addition, she helps to organize events with DC Green Muslims, a group of eco-conscious Muslims working to understand the connections between the environment, faith and holistic living. Sarah also paints and exhibits her artwork in galleries around the DC area.
Sarah is originally from Southern California where she received a B.S. from the University of Southern California in Public Policy and an MA in Urban Planning from the University of California, Irvine.
Maria Ebrahimji is responsible for guest coverage and story planning for CNN’s special events and breaking news programming. She is a member of the Asian American Journalists Association, and serves on the boards of the Atlanta Press Club and Tau Chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Brenau Women’s College and a master’s in International Affairs from Georgia State University. While born in Westminster, MD as the eldest daughter of East African immigrants, Maria was raised in Northeast Georgia and proudly embraces southern hospitality. Her spare time is spent travelling the world, hiking, running, and being an idealist. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA.
We are a professional networking group for journalists. Our goal is to encourage Muslim Americans to enter the ranks of journalism and improve standards of journalistic coverage of Muslims.
The purpose of MAJA is to provide a forum for Muslim journalists to network and share ideas, experiences and advice. It will serve as a resource and mouthpiece for Muslim American journalists as we struggle to develop our unique professional identities.
MAJA is a nonpartisan organization that is open to individuals of any race or ethnic background with a strong interest in promoting fair and accurate coverage of Muslims in the media, and those involved in fields of communications, including journalism, freelance writing, television, radio, newspapers, newsletters, public relations, advertising, marketing, IT communications, public affairs, poetry, fiction writing and non-fiction writing.
elanthemag.com is a daily, online publication on global Muslim youth culture. Formerly known in print form as elan Magazine, elan offers witty, engaging, thought-provoking and sometimes sarcastic takes on the issues that matter to our fellow young, hip Muslims. In addition to daily commentary from our bloggers on topics ranging from entertainment to politics, elan includes feature articles from prominent voices within our community, roundtable discussions by young Muslim leaders on hot topics, photo-essays, videos, profiles, special sections like “WTFatwa” and “Policy Shift,” and much more.
Asma T. Uddin is the founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com. She is also an international law attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining The Becket Fund, she practiced commercial litigation at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia and corporate real estate at Greenberg Traurig in Miami.
Her editing experience includes, among other things, Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah’s A Muslim in Victorian America, which was published in 2007 by Oxford University Press. As associate editor and legal columnist for Islamica Magazine, Uddin focused her writings on how American Muslims can rethink their social position within the American legal framework.
Uddin’s writing has appeared in Muslim Girl Magazine, altmuslim, beliefnet, and in the Guardian’s Comment is Free. She is also an expert panelist for the Washington Post/Newsweek blog On Faith, and a contributor to Huffington Post Religion, CNN’s Belief Blog, and Common Ground News. Her more scholarly work has been published in the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion and The Review of Faith & International Affairs, and she has an article forthcoming in the St. Thomas University Law Journal.
Uddin has traveled throughout Europe and to various Muslim countries to meet with Muslim and other minority groups as well as politicians, journalists, and anti-discrimination organizations. She is a 2005 graduate of The University of Chicago Law School, where she was a member the University of Chicago Law Review.