So only recently did I find out that T-Pain is a Muslim. I guess I didn’t know this before because I would turn off the radio when I heard a T-Pain song. I guess I just can’t stand autotune. I guess I also am not a fan of the new rap music that has emerged over the past few years. Besides a few exceptions, I guess you can say I’m stuck in the 90’s, with my extensive catalogue, and repeated listening sessions of Wu-tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Boot Camp Clik, among other notable 90’s solo acts and cliques.
T-Pain’s openness about his religious persuasion did get me thinking about which rappers are and are not Muslims. Not that it matters what religion my favourite rappers might be, but it’s just a point of interest, especially when I read on various sites about how Islam has contributed nothing to Western culture, or when people claim every rapper and his mother is Muslim. So I decided to write something that combines the two topics.
As long as I’ve been aware of rap music, I’ve been aware of the influence of Islam on the genre. From the wearing of kufi’s, to the usage of peace for salutations, to the usage of Nation of Islam terminology in the lyrics. It’s always been there, and pretty evident. Take a look at the inside cover of I Am… by Nas, with his quotation of Surah al-Nas on the inside of the booklet; a full acknowledgment of the double-meaning of his name; both a short form for his first name, Nasir, as well as the meaning of the Surah, which means “Mankind”. Nas makes no qualms about his rap to be a medium for people around the world to relate to, and though he’s not a Muslim, he has a sympathetic lyrics and style towards Islam.
Curse the day of they birth confused/who's to be praised?/The mighty dollar -- or almighty Allah' – Nas - Ghetto Prisoners (I Am...)
Put it on her ring finger cocked the glock/ and started prayin/ to Muhammad and Allah, the most beneficial... – Nas – Undying Love (I Am...)
Listen to the introductory track on Diddy aka P. Diddy aka Puff Daddy’s only good album, No Way Out, where he says a prayer over the recitation of the Azhan in the background. Clearly an acknowledgement and reflection of Islam on the culture of rappers who inhabit the hip hop genre.
There’s plenty examples within the lyrics of rappers themselves, much of the time, the rappers themselves aren’t even Muslim, but clearly show an affinity for Islamic teachings and principles. A few examples of lyrics that relate to Islam, or acknowledge Islamic scripture include:
Aiyo, I'll die for the prophets and I'll die for the Lord
On the battlefield, wounded badly, holding a sword
With no questions asked, I already know, it's all for the cause
Just laying me facing the East, when I'm under the floor – Ghostface Killah – I’ll Die For You (The Big Doe Rehab)
The voice of racism preaching the gospel is devilish
A fake church called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist
Forgetting God is not a religion, but a spiritual bond
And Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the Qu'ran – Immortal Technique – The 4th Branch (Revolutionary Vol. 2)
Passin judgment, you niggaz second-guessin Beans
Cause you don't eat swine don't make you Amin
Dog you know a couple suras, out the Qur'an
I guess you all on your din and I ain't on mine – Beanie Sigel - This Can't Be Life (The Dynasty: Roc La Familia)
So, clearly there is openness about Islam in rap music, whether picked up by the general masses or not, there are plenty of popular rappers of past and present who are openly practicing Muslims. I’ve compiled a list of the 10 Most Successful Muslim rappers, using their records sold as the sole criteria. I’ve also provided some quotes from the rappers’ themselves, in regards to their view on Islam, and how it affects them and their careers.
Blue Collar (2006)
Total Albums Sold
~ 0.02 million
Rhymefest, probably best known for his ghostwriting for Kanye West, including the hit single, Jesus Walks, was first introduced to Islam through member of the Vice Lords gang. The gangmember took him to the mosque where he was told to listen to the Imam speak, "I heard the imam speak, and it made me cry," the rapper says. "He was speaking of community and brotherhood and love, and I saw men all around me who had their boys with them. I saw these men in this holy place, with their shoes off, prostrated before God. I said, 'That's the kind of father I want to be.' "
Now he shares a house in Indianapolis with his mother, who has been clean (from crack-cocaine) for years; a teenage sister; and his young son from a brief marriage, Solomon. Rhymefest worked countless jobs to support them, eventually becoming a teacher and youth counselor. He could have easily written an entire album about his close proximity to the gang life where he grew up.
"Discovering God was my way out," he says. "You know why some rappers glorify drug dealing? They don't tell the whole story. They don't talk about the lives destroyed by it. The children left at home who eat paint chips off the wall, that go to school hungry. They aren't telling the whole story, and I hate that."
Rhymefest has also spoken out about rappers who hide behind God to help them sell records. On his blog on SOHH.com, he says, “Even rappers are jumping in on the "use God as a shield" act. Or is it really an act? It doesn't seem as though rappers are concerned with appealing to that religious audience yet one of DMX's last singles was "Lord Give Me A Sign." Yes, this thing reaches further than any specific denomination, when even Lupe Fiasco proudly proclaims his Muslim faith as part of the reason for his unique outlook on music and culture. Don't get it twisted, in no way am I dissing any artist who announces their faith in their music and lifestyle. For even I use my co-authoring of "Jesus Walks" as part of the advertisement for Rhymefest as an artist. And like Lupe, I have publicly embraced my Islamic faith. Although, I personally have a difficult time calling myself a Muslim (one who submits his will to God) because I'm still striving to totally submit myself to God. So let's make this clear, sum it up and ask the questions”
“(I’m) not talking about partial submission to God or using God's name as a marketing tool. (I’m) talking about totally submitting our lives to the idea of a power greater than record sales, saving face in lieu of criticism or even our own physical lives.”
El Che (2009)
State Property Soundtrack (2002)
The Chain Gang Vol. 2 (2003)
Philadelphia Freeway (2003)
Free at Last (2007)
Total Albums Sold
Freeway has always been very open about his belief in Islam. He’s even been to Mecca and Medina for Umrah. “For a month. I stayed in Medina for two weeks and I went to Mecca for two weeks. I went there with some brothers from the masjid that I go to in Philadelphia. I did the Umrah.”
Freeway almost gave up rapping during his Umrah, “When I went over there, I fell in with a lot of the scholars and students of Islam. The whole time I was trying to be a rapper I didn’t know it was against the religion. ‘Cause all the time you’re rapping and writing, you can be studying and the fans listening to the music could be studying. When I put the album out some of ‘em was really hard on me and told me to leave it alone. Some other brothers were a little more lenient with me saying I could ease my way out.”
About reconciling the idea that he can’t be a rapper and be a good Muslim, Freeway explains, “God gave us a will. Mankind, we’ve got a will. We’ve got a choice to either do something or not do something. There’s a lot of things people do that are not right. I was selling drugs and I still was praying, doing what I was supposed to do. At least I’m doing something where I’m not killing nobody. I’m making an honest living and I don’t gotta worry about the cops on my back or nothin’ like that. Eventually, I want to get myself together and live like a Muslim is supposed to live. But right now I’m doing what I’ve gotta do. When I pray, I ask God for forgiveness.”
And finally, about being a good Muslim, he says, “I don’t know man. I just try to be good and do as much as I can. I pray five times a day. These are things I used to not do. In the beginning, I was Muslim, but I was smoking and running around like crazy. I’ve cut a lot of stuff out and there’s still a lot of work to do. But I feel like I’m on the right path. I eventually wanna raise my family and do the right thing. But [hip-hop] is my passion. There’s a lot of people doing things they’re not supposed to do. Like a Muslim working in a supermarket and selling pork. I might take a drink here or there, but I’m trying to get that down. I used to smoke [weed] every five minutes and I clipped it. I just got up like, ‘I can’t die like this because if I’m high and not doing the right thing, I know I’m going straight to hell.'”
Wasalu Muhammad Jaco
Food & Liquor (2006)
The Cool (2007)
Total Albums Sold
Lupe broke out on the scene back in 2005, with his 1st & 15th Mixtape Series. He converted the success from his mixtapes into albums, with the critically acclaimed albums, Food & Liquor, and The Cool. The first album won him a grammy nomination, while the second cemented him as one of the best lyrical and conceptual rappers of today.
About how Islam has influenced his first album’s title, Food & Liquor, he says, “…To me, it’s good and bad. I don’t drink alcohol ‘cause of the Muslim side of me, so I never drank alcohol before and I never smoked weed. So, alcohol was always a bad thing to me. I always seen what it did to people. All my friends who’d be alcoholics, I always seen what it did to people, and it was always ****ed up! Niggas would get drunk, crash their car into a wall. Niggas would get drunk, start a fight. Niggas would get drunk, have a shootout. All types of wild shit. There was always a bad connotation with alcohol to me. Yet, food is good, you know? You eat food, you grow, you live. So what I started seeing in the ‘hood, niggas would get their money and they would go get alcohol or a fifth before they would get some food. You got niggas who get drunk before they would even eat, and then it’s to the point they get so drunk that they can’t eat, they’re throwing up. So there was always that balance between the good and the bad, and I think it made up me. Because I’m not a hundred percent straight Muslim-conscious-nigga, you know? I did my thing, running around or whatever. So, I always thought that was a part of me: I have some food in me, and I’m also capable of having some liquor in me. It gets explained on the album so that people can really digest it and understand it.”
Lupe Fiasco has never shied away from his Islamic beliefs, so when asked about criticism he might receive for being an openly Muslim rapper, he had this to say, “…as a Muslim you just supposed to advise. You not posed to criticize. You speak your peace and you keep it moving. Like, mostly I catch Muslims who come up to me who can’t relate to their father or can’t relate to a different struggle and be like yo I’m glad-thank you, thank you Aki for doing Muhammad Walks, which is a song I did on my first mixtape, you know, to Jesus Walks and flipped it and made it a lil bit more universal and talked about Islam. And like, people-Muslims, young Muslim kids and stuff like that-was walking up like "yo thank you for doing that record yo”.
Dante Terrell Smith
Black Star (1998)
Black on Both Sides (1999)
The New Danger (2004)
Tru3 Magic (2006)
Total Albums Sold
Raised by his mother in Brooklyn, across the river from his father's home in New Jersey, Mos didn't receive a formal introduction to Islam until adolescence. "I got my first exposure to Islam when I was 13," says Mos. "My dad taught me how to make wudhu."
It wasn't for another six years, when he was 19, that he took his shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. He'd gotten there by reading and personal reflection and after getting to know other Muslim rappers, like Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip of the group A Tribe Called Quest.
Since then, Islam has been the cornerstone of Mos' life and of his socially and spiritually themed music. "You're not gonna get through life without being worshipful or devoted to something," says Mos. "You're either devoted to your job, or to your desires. So the best way to spend your life is to try to be devoted to prayer, to Allah."
He also has two younger brothers, Abdul Rahman (a.k.a. "Gold Medal Man", who is Mos' full-time DJ) and Anwar Superstar, and a younger sister, Ces (Casey) Smith, who are also converts to Islam.
Tackling a broad swath of issues that include water rights, African American self-esteem, and the destiny of humankind, Mos enlightens the listener as well as entertains. Taking on such issues, he says, is an Islamic mandate. "If Islam's sole interest is the welfare of mankind, then Islam is the strongest advocate of human rights anywhere on Earth," says Mos.
"Islam has taught me to bless words directed to the public," says Mos Def. "That gives them spiritual wings. And Insha' Allah, God will accept my efforts."
The Ecstatic (2009)
State Property Soundtrack (2002)
The Chain Gang Vol. 2 (2003)
The Truth (2000)
The Reason (2001)
The B. Coming (2005)
The Solution (2007)
Total Albums Sold
A number of Beanie Sigel's songs deal with his Sunni Muslim faith, and the conflict between the conduct expected of a Muslim and the maintenance of a gangsta lifestyle. His on-record relationship to religion has been complex. Sometimes he berates those who would lecture him for not being observant enough, as on "This Can't Be Life"; at others he expresses anxiety and looks to God for mercy, such as on "Judgment Day" from The Solution and several songs on The B. Coming, such as "Lord Have Mercy" and "I Can't Go On This Way". On the latter he says, I pray Allah, forgive me for my actions / 'Cause I spit gangsta, think Muslim and act kafir.
The song "Mom Praying" from The Reason, a collaboration with Scarface, finds each man talking about faith and filial loyalty in his own way, with Beanie acknowledging that his mother and grandmother are kuffar (unbelievers), but proclaiming his undying love for them regardless.
Some of his other songs maintain the downbeat, ruminative tone of his religious songs, without necessarily touching on religious angst, namely "Feel It In The Air", the first single from The B. Coming and one of his most acclaimed songs.
Mutah Wassin Shabazz Beale
Still I Rise (with Tupac Shakur) (1999)
Ride Wit Us or Collide Wit Us (2000)
Neva Surrenda (2002)
Outlaw 4 Life: 2005 A.P. (2005)
Can't Sell Dope Forever (with Dead Prez) (2006)
We Want In (2008)
Bangin' on the System (with Dead Prez) (2008)
Napoleon Presents Tha Bonaparz (Unreleased) (2001)
Have Mercy (Unreleased) (2005)
Napoleon Presents The Loyalty Fam (2005)
Total Albums Sold
Mutah Wassin Shabazz Beale -- better known to the music industry as Napoleon from The Outlawz -- has left the rap game, along with the lifestyle it can promote, and is now a practicing Muslim, glorifying only God.
At the tender age of 3 Mutah witnessed his parents' murder, later saw one of his brothers commit suicide, and has seen numerous other friends killed to street violence, including 2Pac and fellow Outlaw member Kadafi.
While his parents were Muslim converts, after their death Mutah was raised by his Christian grandmother. Like many young people today who see music as one of the few way out of the streets, Mutah chose rap as a career path, and moved to California with childhood friend Kadafi. Together they formed part of The Outlawz. He got what he aspired for -- fame, money, houses, celebrities and parties. But Napoleon was still unsatisfied with life. It was only when he took some time out to study religion and found contentment within Islam and its beliefs that he realized what had been missing.
Today, Napolean is a devout Muslim who gives speeches as a motivational speaker for the youth.
About his converting, in an interview from a few years back, he says, “He started inviting me to the masjid [mosque] and giving me literature and that's how I started to come closer to Islam.”
“It wasn't until I became a Muslim and learnt more about the religion and know who my Lord is -- that's when I started feeling tranquility and that feeling of no contentment slowly but surely went away.”
About why he left the music industry, he says “I think as far as Islamically, it cannot be a good thing. The reason why is that musical instruments is what's not permissible in Islam. So to try and spread Islam with musical instruments would be innovating, it'd be starting something new in the religion. There's a reason why the Prophet Muhammad told us to stay away from instruments -- even non-Muslims. I was reading the other day, there were some doctors and psychologists who did a research on music, and they said they don't listen to music and they don't allow their kids to listen to music. They agreed that music had an effect on them, both mentally and physically, sometimes without you knowing. Even to the point that certain musical sounds can make your heart skip a beat, some can raise your blood pressure, and some can even lead to a heart attack. Then you got the people who might argue that some musical sounds can make you calm and this and that, but in Islam, nothing should have an effect over us more than the word of God, which is the Quran. So, I try to stay away from that.”
Kamaal Ibn John Fareed
A Tribe Called Quest
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
The Low End Theory (1991)
Revised Quest for the Seasoned Traveller (1992)
Midnight Marauders (1993)
Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996)
The Love Movement (1998)
Kamaal the Abstract (2002)
The Renaissance (2008)
Total Albums Sold
Q-Tip became interested in Islam after enlisting the Nation of Islam and Afrikaa Bambaataa for protection after a physical altercation with Wreckx-n-Effect, another rap group, over a line spit by fellow A Tribe Called Quest member, Phife. He then converted to Islam in the mid-1990s and changed his name to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed.
In a September 27, 2001 interview with Le Monde, Q-tip had this to say about how Islam and Hip Hop complement each other spiritually, "Hip-hop deals with words and wordplay. And when you deal with something that is eloquent, you tend to get swept away by it. Hip-hop deals with the lowest form of the part of the ego, the lowest part of the psyche. It deals with more of the animalistic environment of the human being, in the sense that it allows [animalistic actions] to continue. Whereas in al-Islam, it deals with how to suppress it. Islam is about curbing your animalistic way and things of that nature." And then criticizing the Five Percenters, he adds: "With the Five Percent, it may speak about it, but it writes everything off. That you can do anything you want 'cause you're a God..."
Trevor George Smith, Jr.
Leaders of the New School
A Future Without A Past (1991)
T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind’s Eye) (1993)
The Imperial (1998)
The Coming (1996)
When Disaster Strikes (1997)
E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front (1998)
It Ain't Safe No More (2002)
The Big Bang (2006)
Total Albums Sold
Busta Rhymes has dabbled in 5%er and the Nation of Islam, but recently clips on the internet have emerged in which he has publicized his belief in Orthodox Islam.
As a Muslim, Busta Rhymes has stated that Islam grounds him, and keep him “in tune with his spirit, and in tuine with your reality, as far as life is concerned…and definitely being in tune with your family.”
Enter the Wu (36 Chambers) (1993)
Wu-tang Forever (1997)
Iron Flag (2000)
The W (2001)
8 Diagrams (2007)
Supreme Clientele (2000)
Bulletproof Wallets (2001)
The Pretty Toney Album (2004)
Put It On The Line (with Trife Da God) (2005)
More Fish (2006)
The Big Doe Rehab (2007)
Total Albums Sold
An original member of the Wu-tang Clan, Ghostface Killah has often used language in his lyrics that would make you believe his beliefs fell in line with the Five Percent Nation, like his Clan-mates. In recent years, however, Ghostface Killah has decided to publicize his affiliation with Sunni Islam. In an interview with AllHipHop.com, Ghostface had this to say about his perceived affiliation with the 5%ers, “…I study Islam. I’m not a part of the Five Percent Nation. I always respected what the brothers spoke about, but I was never apart of it. I respect the lessons and all that. I agreed with a lot of their ideology.”
When asked about whether what he practices in his personal life carries over into his videos, which have more often than not, contained scantily clad women, Ghostface had the following to say,
‘Well, Islam for me means Peace and Submission, so I submit to the will of Allah. At the same time, I know we are in a time where things have changed. I ain’t gonna front, I’ve had babies by ladies that weren’t Muslim, but in my household they had to follow a certain amount of laws about being very clean and no pork in my house and knowing how to raise my kids. When you do videos, that’s just TV. That’s an illusion at the end of the day. So, I’m not saying that every girl gotta be Muslim. In these days and times, a lot of people are not even dealing with that unless I stay in the mosque all day and catch a woman with her face covered up. Not to say, I don’t want a women like that - somebody that has respect for herself, that’s one of the best [qualities] you can ever have in a woman. The videos and all that stuff are just like make up.”
Ghostdeini the Great (2009)
N.W.A. and the Posse (1987)
Straight Outta Compton (1988)
100 Miles and Runnin' (1990)
Bow Down (1996)
Terrorist Threats (2003)
Amerikka’s Most Wanted (1990)
Kill At Will EP (1990)
Death Certificate (1991)
The Predator (1992)
Lethal Injection (1993)
War & Peace Vol. 1: The War Disc (1998)
War & Peace Vol. 2: The Peace Disc (2000)
Laugh Now, Cry Later (2006)
Raw Footage (2008)
Total Albums Sold
You might know Ice Cube from his days as one of the main members of N.W.A., the group that sprung gangster rap on the masses with their street, yet politically charged lyrics. Ice Cube continued the tone of the gangster rapper with a social conscience throughout his career, and has even had that persona transpire into a successful movie career.
In an interview that touched on the confusion of whether he was an Orthodox Muslim or an involved member of the Nation of Islam, as he first projected on his 1992 album, The Predator, he responded with the following, "Ah, when you say involved with the Nation, it's tricky. I never was in the Nation of Islam... I mean, what I call myself is a natural Muslim, 'cause it's just me and God. You know, going to the mosque, the ritual and the tradition, it's just not in me to do. So I don't do it."
On how religion impacts his moral outlook and conscience, however, he said, “It’s all helped to shape me; half of my life Christian and the other half of my life Muslim. I realized in looking at both of them that ultimately when you know right from wrong you don’t need either of them to know how to live right. A lot of people really need a lot of religion in their life. I’m not knocking them for that at all because you gotta do what’s right for you. I’m not a person who needs a lot of that to stay on the right path, know how to respect people, and respect, believe and fear in God. So I don’t put a lot into religion”