Faith in hip-hop

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Figures like Lil Wayne, 50-Cent, and Chingy have become the voices of modern Hip Hop. But Minnesota is home to a more spiritual musical movement that struggles to escape the flashy jewelry, degrading imagery, and violence associated with popular Hip Hop culture. Socially conscious artists in Minnesota who search for purpose in what they see as an increasingly corrupt industry.


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Figures like Lil Wayne, 50-Cent, and Chingy have become the voices of modern Hip Hop. But Minnesota is home to a more spiritual musical movement that struggles to escape the flashy jewelry, degrading imagery, and violence associated with popular Hip Hop culture. Socially conscious artists in Minnesota who search for purpose in what they see as an increasingly corrupt industry.

Mahamad Elmasry was born in St. Paul to Muslim Egyptian parents. Belonging to both an ethnic and religious minority, he experienced the bias associated with growing up hyphenated in Minnesota. He sought to bring his experiences to the forefront of a very tense political climate in America. Elmasry saw power in hip-hop, and used his voice as a mouthpiece for change.

“Hip hop can be used as it has been in the past as a means to motivate people, to do good, to understand, to learn, to gain knowledge,” Elmasry said. “There’s no reason those things are incompatible with music and with Hip Hop.”

Elmasry is MC for the hip hop duo, “The Faculty”. He says he finds their effort to do good and gain knowledge pushes the group to the outskirts of mainstream music.

“So much of it nowadays is dominated by ‘this is how much money I have, this is how many girls I have, this is how many people I have killed or planning to kill,” Elmasry said.

As American as any other St. Paul native, Elmasry nevertheless knows the scrutiny of being Muslim in a country at war with those who wreak terror in the name of Islam. He can’t travel without enduring extensive questioning by the TSA. He doesn’t know when his Egyptian wife will be able to join him in America. And once the FBI appeared unannounced at his door to pepper him with questions about his daily life. He seems to take it all in stride but the experiences can’t help but influence his music.

h2.”We have to be like well, “I’m Iranian… but I’m not an evil terrorist…” Minnesota Hip Hop artists DJ K Salaam


The faculty’s song “Put One Over“ expresses Elmasry’s frustrations with popular commentators who try to capitalize on anti-Muslim sentiment by perpetuating hatred and suspicion.

Elmasry is among a diverse group of talented Minnesota hip-hop artists that have one thing in common: a strong basis in Islam – an identity that often collides with what mainstream Hip Hop has come to represent.

Like the Faculty, DJ K Salaam found himself on the outside of mainstream America. He says his experiences growing up Iranian in Minnesota required him to temper his differences to try to fit in.

“We can’t be ourselves in Minnesota, we have to be someone else,” K Salaam said. “We have to assimilate and become apologetic about who we are. We have to be like well, “I’m Iranian… but I’m not an evil terrorist…”

K Salaam finds himself looking for the meaningful roots of Hip Hop that grew from the harsh realities of growing up poor and black in America, a history he says resonates with the American Muslim experience.

“It started in the United States, obviously, but in a sense it didn’t,” he said. “It started in the Third World of the United States by people who were not let into the United States, into the whole American dream.”

Somali rapper and spoken word poet, A Time the Legend shares K Elmasry’s frustration with Hip Hop’s evolution from an expression of protest to frivolous entertainment.

“I understand what Nas is saying when he says hip-hop is dead,” A Time said. “Hip-hop used to the voice of the community, voice of the oppressed people and now it’s changing into something else. It’s changing into “the superman” and the “two-step” and all sorts of ridiculous things.”

Nevertheless, A Time, who lives in Minneapolis says he continues to find the beat and intrinsic power of hip-hop appealing.

“I’ve always liked hip-hop because it was music of the streets, music of the common people. And I guess coming from the nation of poets; naturally, I started doing hip-hop on my own,” he said.

Reporter question: “What does the nation of poets mean?”

“The nation of poets is a terminology Europeans gave to Somalia… because poetry was held in high esteem,” A Time said. “Leaders were usually poets, poets usually leaders, and just the native tongue is spoke in a poetic format.”

A Time mines his unique experience as a Somali, but also keeps his music grounded in the hopes and frustrations of every young American.

“I also spoke about the situation back home in Somalia and Africa. So I spoke about a lot of political situations, economic situations, social situations going on back home,” he said. “But I can’t lie, I also spoke a lot about things that normal people go through in the U.S. of A – the United Streets of America.

Whether Somali, Iranian or Egyptian, Minnesota’s Muslim hip hop artists share a common experience that shows up in their music: the suspicion and resentment directed at Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001. This collective experience continues to fuel the Muslim hip-hop movement in Minnesota.

The Faculty, K Salaam, A Time and other talented Minnesotans look to Islam for guidance instead of eight-figure record deals and decadent parties. But they also aim to inspire their Muslim audience. They want their music to promote responsible, informed social involvement and challenge the Muslim community to shake the status quo.

It’s not hard to recognize in Muslim Hip Hop the sometimes bitter fruits that grow from incomprehensible no-fly lists and the public scorn for expressing praise for God in Arabic. But for these and other Minnesota artists, music is also an attempt to bridge a wide chasm. Minnesota’s Muslim hip-hop community is a pillar in industry that struggles to stay grounded in its roots.

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