MH Exclusive: Native Deen

Native Deen

Native Deen is an Islamic musical group from the Washington, D.C. area.

MH: How and when did Native Deen start?

The 3 of us started performing together in 2000. Although we did not actually come up with a name until about 2002. However, the seeds were planted through the project called MYNA Raps which started in 1992. I was on the first MYNA raps with other artists. Naeem and Abdul-Malik were on MYNA raps 2-4 with other artists. And all three of us were the only artists on MYNA raps 5. We performed songs from MYNA raps 5 for 5 years until we came out with our own album in 2005 titled Deen You Know.

 MH: What topics or themes influence your music, lyrics and content?

We all have different backgrounds. And our upbringing finds its way into out music. We have home school backgrounds, Islamic School backgrounds, public school backgrounds, military backgrounds, university backgrounds, marriage, children, etc. We all have different music that we prefer and those different styles of music finds its way into our style as well.

MH: What role does music have in educating and inspiring individuals to change themselves and their communities?

Its huge. Music is a language that speaks to people on top of their regular language. A song can do a lot more than a speech for the emotional well being of a person sometimes. Music is another tool used to communicate thoughts and messages to people.

MH: Some argue that music can be dawah and can educate people of other faiths about Islam and Muslims. Should Muslim artists create music geared only towards Muslims or make music that is relatable to people of other faith too?

Both. Every artist does not have to do both. However, I think the Muslim community needs artists that do both.

 MH: Native Deen is one of the pioneers when it comes to Muslim hip hop music. Have you seen an evolution and an increase in appearance of Muslim rappers and musicians?

Oh yes. Its good to see many more artists coming on the scene. Alhamdu-lilah we were able to push the envelope a little and open some doors for the artists coming now.

MH: Many of your songs focus on Muslim American identity. How important is it to create messages for Muslim youth to be proud of their Muslim identity?

It’s very important. Muslim identity is a growing concern for many American Muslim communities.

MH: Native Deen’s traveled internationally and nationally and your music has been universally accepted and been a crucial part of the development of some Muslim youth’s identity. Have you seen common challenges for Muslim youth in the US and internationally?

Gender relations is a common problem. Youth do not feel empowered to have proper relationships with the opposite gender. Identity is another common challenge. Muslim Youth are not aware of their history and sometimes they do not think of themselves highly. And may consider the West as the advanced society because of today’s reality.

 MH: Many people complain about the negative connotations associated with hip hop and rap and the messages promoted in the genre of rap and hip hop. How would you respond to individuals who say hip hop and rap shouldn’t be listened to (no matter who the artist is) due to the negative influence it has on the youth?

That is a very general statement. A person can make it even broader and put ALL music into that category. The fact is that music is a tool and hip hop is a style. The lyrics are a different thing. And there are many hip hop songs that are extremely positive. It would be better to teach youth to stay away from bad lyrics no matter what the style of music instead of keeping them away from hip hop alone.

 MH: Many Muslim artists like Lupe Fiasco have been critical of current trends in hip hop and amongst rappers and tries to promote positive messages in his music. How important is it for messages in music to be meaningful and positive?

Its very important. But I think its more important for it NOT to be negative. Meaning, a person can write a song about watching water on the beach. Or some experience they had. Another person may not find the song meaningful or positive. But they can recognize that its not negative.

MH: Is it possible for Muslim musicians and artists to go “mainstream” and still maintain the positive messages in their music?

Of course. I think the next generation will produce many more of these types of artists.

 MH: Have you seen an expansion of Muslim artists into different genres of music apart from rap?

I’m seeing Muslims artists coming up into every style of music there is. Reggae, Country, Rock, etc.

MH: Who are some of your favorite Muslim musicians or artists?

Since I can’t name them all, I wont name any. Because I know these artists. And I would not want to offend anyone by forgetting.

MH: If you could collaborate with any artists or groups, Muslim or non-Muslim artist who would you like to work with?

I would like to do a project with Lupe personally. I think Naeem would love to do a project with Yasin Bey (Mos Def).

MH: What advice would you give to aspiring Muslim artists and musicians?

Have a partner. Don’t do it alone. Even if its just a manager who is close to you. But have a partner.

MH: Where can we learn more about your work and follow you work?

Facebook and http://www.nativedeen.com

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MH Exclusive: The Narcicyst

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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!