A New Day in Hip Hop:
Mujahideen Team and the rise of Muslim Emcees
©

Foreword and Interview by Yahsmin Mayaan Binti BoBo
Edited by Nikkol “Nickel Bag” Binti BoBo

In today’s commercial world of music and marketing, the urban art form of Hip Hop has been included in the overall demise of artistic expression. The artistic expression we once knew is being dominated by capitalism and consumerism and consequently, we are witnessing generic icons perpetrating as artists. Hence, we have seen the unsightly integration of pop culture and Hip Hop. It is not a new phenomenon, but nevertheless still disappointing. Unfortunately, our legacy has been tainted and many unknowing fans cannot make a clear distinction for themselves. Indeed, in today’s world the youth buy into the generic trends rather than seeking the musically gifted artists that are often "underground". The youth believe in pop culture more than they believe in art and therefore, an Emcee of today is thought to be like an instant food product of which the corporate execs prepare by simply adding water. Realistically, it takes more that just adding water to produce a noteworthy Emcee; it takes ingredients from many life experiences, ideologies, musical influences, and talents.

Thankfully, due to the rise of Muslim Emcees and conscious Emcees in general, those ingredients are being restored and all hope isn’t lost after all. Islam and Hip Hop have deeper roots than most fans are aware of. Hip Hop is seen as a surviving Africanism, an oratorical legacy, and if we aren’t educated on the many aspects of African culture throughout the Diaspora, then we aren’t in full recognition of this significant relationship. Likewise, throughout the Diaspora, Islam is manifested in a spiritual, cultural, and societal form. The blending of these two cultural traits is a magnificent combination as some (but certainly not enough)Hip Hop fans are finding.

As M-team fans patiently await the release of their newest albums, entitled Wretched of the Earth and Clash of Civilizations, people want to know just how dynamic these albums, produced by the infamous BeLikeMuhammad, will be. Among those fans is a diverse and rare following- Hip Hop junkies, Muslims, Latinos, activists, and intellectuals. Why such a diverse fan base? Mujahideen Team represents a unique combination of all these cultural and revolutionary ingredients, these two (biological) brothers are of Puerto Rican ancestry who reverted to Islam in young adulthood. The lyrical representation is nothing short of brilliant and encompasses various socio-economic and political issues that we face here in the States and elsewhere in the world. Not only do these spiritual warriors represent for The Cause, they courageously stand for the entire Ummah (global Muslim Community). In essence, it is ingredients like this that make Emcees truly remarkable. They are teachers as well as leaders, artists in addition to activists, and most importantly Zhivago and Ensahbanor are Believers who take hold of the mic and use it as an instrument of power, influence, creativity and enlightenment.

Any dedicated Muslim who was raised in this Hip Hop generation has been waiting for a duo like this, one of the spiritual and political magnitude that is necessary to convey Da’wah (propagation of Islam) and ‘Ilm (knowledge). Formerly represented by Cold World Industries, the brothers made a daring yet rewarding decision to join the Remarkable Current crew. Not only are they benefiting from the potent production of BeLikeMuhammad (Anas Canon), they are now aligning themselves professionally with rising artists like ElevenFiftyNine, Kumasi, Sidi Yassir and many others. The talent is seemingly contagious within this coalition of artists.

Ensahbanor of M-Team gave me the honor of an informal interview, which you can read following this piece. God willing, their album (Clash of Civilizations) is dropping as I write, in addition to another performance in the Bay area on the eve of the New Year. Indeed, it will be a new day in Hip Hop…


Q: How would you characterize your music personally? Describe your flava to the listeners and potential fans.
A: It's like Malcolm mixed with The Young Lords…lyrically revolutionary.

Q: The name Mujahideen Team is very sophisticated yet controversial, could you explain what led the two of you to represent like this?
A: A Mujahid is someone who struggles in the path (of Allah). That’s what it is for us, it's a struggle to help revive the hearts of our people, kick Deen and raw lyrics that non-Muslims feel too. It's also a struggle spiritually because of all the diseases that grabbing a mic can bring like showing off, arrogance, conceit and so on.

Q: Being that fans were so hyped about ‘Report from Iron Mountain’, what can we anticipate from the newest joints, ‘Wretched of the Earth’ and 'Clash of Civilizations'? And what is the significance in the title of this new joint?
A: These new albums are going to be the best-produced albums, Insha’Allah. They are going to have way more tracks and collaborations with other artists like Kumasi, Ishaaq and Tyson of ElevenFiftyNine, Mikial and many more. Crazy concepts and revolutionary messages.
The new title 'Wretched of the Earth' comes from a book with the same title. We name our albums after books, so the listeners can check out certain books. Many revolutionaries like Malcolm X, the Panthers, and the Young Lords read the book, Wretched of the Earth.

Q: How has your transition been from Cold World Industries to joining the Remarkable Current Crew? And what has it been like working with them so far, and specifically BeLikeMuhammad?
A: Cold World is a company that belongs to one of our friends. It's like a group of heads that we used to make music with before coming to the Deen. We’re still cool with them; they are about to put out an album with some new songs with us on them.
We really like working with Remarkable Current, BeLikeMuhammad is a hard worker and a musical genius. For Muslim producers, he is in the frontline along with the other producers that worked on this album, like Fanatik and Jihad.

Q: Who are some of the artistic influences (Emcees) in your lives and work, and how would you say they inspired you to reach this level professionally?
A: The MC's that influence me are almost all dead and your average Hip Hop head probably doesn't even know who they are. They are Hector Lavoe, Ishmael Rivera, Ruben Blades and Raphy Levitt. But a lot of MC's have taken things from them like Big Pun, KRS One, Scott De La Roche and many more.

Q: Are there any other Latino/Caribbean Emcees that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
A: I would love to do a collabo with Ruben Blades, but most of my Latino favorites are dead.

Q: What has been your experience thus far, in the industry, as Muslim artists, and not only that, but as socio-political revolutionaries?
A: Our experience so far has been real good. A lot of non-Muslims enjoy our Music. A web site from France labeled our song “Burning Bush” number one, and Hip Hop radio stations in Massachusetts have been requesting our music as well. The Muslims have been showing a lot of love but once in a while, you have some ignorant individuals hatin’ on our music while they’re Pakistani and Arab sons are listening to garbage. We’re trying to provide raw Hip Hop with the Message of Islam to try to bring their lost kids back.

Q: Who are your influences as spiritual warriors and political activists?
A: My influences are the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon Him), his Family and companions, the Shehu Uthman don Fodio and His family, El Hajj Malik Shabazz, Che Guevara, the Black Liberation Army, and the Young Lords.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the Ummah (global Muslim community)?
A: I think the current state of the Ummah is fulfilling the Prophecy of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)- the Prophecy of the signs of the end of time. The times of the evil scholars and when the Muslims will follow the Jews and Christians. Many Imams are putting the Ummah to sleep instead of reviving their hearts…watering the Deen down. These Imams are new age Uncle Tom's, except now they are Muslim Uncle Tom's. Collaborating, flag-waving, boot-licking Imams with no knowledge or (they are) withholding knowledge. Even a lot of supposedly “big” Imam's have failed us. There are many Muslims who are sick of it, and are turning to Muslim leaders who are not like them. I pray that Allah will change their hearts, unite us, and if not, may He replace them with leaders who will lead us to be better slaves, and who will help us continue to hold the flag instead of being ashamed of it.

Q: Do you feel there is a way, lyrically, to connect the struggles of the Ummah and that of Latin America/Caribbean? For instance, do you see a commonality between the legacy of martyrs like el Hajj Malik el Shabazz and Ernesto “Che” Guevara?
A: My Shaykh told me that Latinos love two characters: Jesus and Che. When you mix those two qualities-spiritual and revolutionary-you get the character of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).


Q: On a few tracks from ‘Report from Iron Mountain’, the two of you referenced guerilla warfare. Would you say this sentiment stems from the freedom fighters of Latin America and/or the global Islamic resurgence and our fight for liberation?
A: We have been blessed to have a connection with both branches, guerilla warfare from people like Umar Muhktar, and people like Che. So being Spanish and Muslim combines these two wonderful cultures.

Q: How would you explain Jihad an Nafs (struggle of the ego), and do you feel that you have lyrically illustrated this concept in your music?
A: The Jihad of the Nafs is a big thing in Hip Hop. You have to purify yourself from the diseases of the heart that hip hop brings…jealousy, envy, arrogance, showing off, etc. So, that is always a battle that we deal with.
There is the Jihad of making Hijra, establishing a community, and an actual armed struggle to liberate oppressed people. A lot of people say this Deen is all about peace; they need to stop lying or be clearer. Malcolm said it in a perfect way "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, but if some one puts their hands on you send them to the cemetery." To me, I have come to realize that the greatest Jihad is the one against the self. If you die loosing in the battlefield Insha’Allah, you'll get Paradise, but if you die losing the struggle with your self, the end can be in the hellfire.

Q: Outside of Hip Hop, can you tell the fans about your involvement and activism in the community/organization in which you are committed?
A: We are part of The Jumaat Of The Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio. We are striving to learn traditional knowledge of Islam and we take Martial Arts classes. We have both been working with the youth for over 14 years each. I have been working with gangs and drug dealers for the last 7 years teaching them life skills and Islam as well. We go to go to areas where there are a lot of homeless people and heroin addicts and we serve them breakfast as well. I'm currently working in one of Pittsburgh's biggest gang areas (The Crips) with the most killings in Western Pennsylvania.

Q: And finally, what is your message to both the youth of Islam, and the youngstas coming up in the barrio?
A: My Message is this oppression is at an all time high, we're either being killed, locked up, or living check-to-check trying to get by. The government doesn’t give a crap about us, so don’t kiss their a** and the situation is just going to get worse. To all my Muslim immigrant brothers, stop bending over to our enemies out of fear of losing your status in this Dunya (temporary life). Stop collaborating and sleeping with the snake. You’re only supposed to be in The Bilad of Kufar for certain reasons when you make that backwards hijra that’s when you lose your children and they start to change their names from Bilal to “Billy” and Muhammad to "Mo".
All my Latino and Blacks in the Streets: Organize yourselves and wake up!!! There is no time to be doing time...drugs are just a false form of happiness This world is only temporary one day we will all have to be in the grave We might as well die fighting for something that’s right and worth it then we can get together and celebrate with the wines of Paradise.


Buy their CD now!

M-Team, 2005