To celebrate the artistic, social and political achievements of Black Muslim women, Aisha from Sisters Of Empire links up with sister Alia Sharrief, Emcee and founder of The Hijabi Chronicles.
Salaam Alaikum Alia, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few of my questions! I’m very honoured to share this platform with you and congratulations with all of the success that you have seen so far.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What inspired you to become a HipHop artist and how long have you been an emcee?
Walaikum Asalaam sis! BismiAllah! Peace and blessings! I was born and raised in Sacramento, California and now reside in the Bay Area. I have the pleasure of teaching and counseling young students of all ages, filming and editing music videos and mini documentaries, producing radio shows, and being a good wife. I became a Hiphop artist at the age of 4 years old. I named myself Homie C and my little sister Naiemah, Homie D. I was influenced by Pops who was always playing old school classics that had positive messages and frequencies in them. Around this time I began to view Hiphop as a vehicle for change and a way to use my voice to inspire and reach the masses.
From the very onset, HipHop music and culture has been greatly influenced by Muslim emcees. Rakim, Q-tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) and Lupe Fiasco are just some of the few Muslim HipHop giants that spring to mind. Your music, however, is trailblazing. Not only because of the powerful, lyrically conscious traditions that you preserve, but also because you represent a very niche genre of HipHop music. You literally carry your faith on your sleeve whenever you write, record and perform.
How important is it for you to be a Muslim-HipHop artist, as opposed to, a HipHop artist who happens to be Muslim? Has it been challenging to reconcile these two aspects of your identity into a distinctive art form?
I appreciate that. Yes, Hiphop has been heavily influenced by Islam. Islam is said to be the unofficial “religion of Hiphop.” A lot of the NOI/5 Percent Nation’s contributions to the language within Hiphop were originally inspired by Al Islam and its historical teachings. My husband works with the Universal Zulu Nation, the organization (founded by Afrika Bambaataa) that was most responsible for organizing Hiphop as a cultural movement way back in the early 1970’s and many of their members were, and are, Muslim. The name Allah alone was dropped countless times back in the 80s and 90s, all inspired by the message that came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the year 610. My inspiration this last 3 years has been Dawah (righteous guidance/advise). It’s one thing to know how to rap good. But what are you really talking about? It’s really important for me to make sure my music has meaning and leaves an ever-lasting impression on listeners.
It’s very easy for me to claim my Muslim identity as a Hiphop artist. I mean, I am a Muslim before anything else. However, back when I made my first album “Mental Cycles & Mood Swings” it was a little more challenging. When you’re not on the Deen, you don’t want to necessarily be the Muslim example on such a large platform. That was a very challenging time in my life, hence the title of my last album. All praise is due to Allah that I found my true self and though I was born Muslim, it was like I found Islam again. It was a process but as time progressed I became more and more confident in my Muslim idenity because it’s the truth. Islam in its essence holds no contradictions, despite what the mass media spreads.
In general, the HipHop industry has, and continues to be, very much a male-dominated arena. Do you find the same dynamics in the Muslim HipHop movement, and if so, has it been challenging to widen that gap as one of the few female emcees in the game?
Back in the day, though Hiphop was still male dominated there were more female artist in the mainstream that were bringing strong messages, from Queen Latifah, Lady of Rage, Monie Love, and fast forward to the queen Lauryn Hill. But today, not only is misogyny worse than ever, the women being promoted in the media are still being used to push a certain agenda. A lot of the sounds are about nudity, materialism, putting other women down, hypersexuality, and submissiveness to unmarried men to say the least. The mainstream music industry has a history of not wanting to promote or put out more than one female rapper at a time. This has broken up sisterhood causing disunity, jealousy, slander, envy, and greed. Definitely patriarchy has a presence worldwide so when I see female emcees today showing unity, I’m like let’s get it! For this reason I started The Hijabi Chronicles to create sisterhood. It’s been such a journey and learning process building among women in the community.
Aside from being an emcee, you are also the founder and President of The Hijabi Chronicles. Could you tell us a little bit more about what this platform is and what it aims to do?
The Hijabi Chronicles focuses on empowering Muslimah artists with the aim to raise awareness & serve the people through education and charity. I was inspired by the thought of creating a lane that’s been missing for Muslimahs in this industry.
Black Heros is one of my favourite songs of yours. I love that you deconstruct some of the historical achievements of Black people (both in an Islamic and general historical context), as well as, some of the systematic attempts to devalue those achievements. Being a Black, Muslim woman myself, I often feel like others expect me to separate these aspects of my identity, rather than view them as intersectional and inseparable. Have you ever felt the same way, and what advice would you give to those who both perpetuate and fall victim to these narratives?
Thank you. I received a lot of positive feedback on Black Heros but also a lot of criticism because I chose to highlight Black Heros. Even the spelling alone, I decided to leave the “e” out of Heros to symbolize the fact that Black people build this country, and who is anyone to tell me how to spell Heros lol. I know exactly what you mean when you say you’re expected to separate your Black identity from your Muslim identity and that’s another reason why my video was criticized. A lot of Black Muslims feel this way, so there definitely needs to be a discussion based around this. But like I said in the song, “I’m Black like the first man who called the Ithan”. That man was Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) and Bilal was a Black man who was a close companion to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet was the one who asked Bilal to make the call to prayer, proving Islam embraced Black culture – it’s just people who have things twisted.
Art, poetry and writing have always been an integral part of Islamic culture. Over the years I have seen more and more Muslim women turn to the arts, spoken word and blogging as a way to challenge some of the misconceptions and prejudices that we face. Why do you think it is important for Muslim women (such as yourself) to have these kind of spaces, and how effective do you think they have been in resisting Islamophobia?
It’s great to see Muslim women taking part in arts because it’s our right. It also helps in combating stereotypes and Islamophobia against Muslim women. The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) grand daughter witnessed the entire murder of her family at Karbala and she was the only survivor and she told this story to the people in poetry form. That’s something I hold dear to me because it takes so much to express pain and the fact that she did it by using art is a message to all Muslim women in my opinion.
Finally what new projects are you working on and where do you hope to see yourself in the next few years? Any other comments or final words?
I am working on my new album “B.O.M.D” which stands for “Back on My Deen” It’s most definitely been a work in progress. Stay tuned! Also, I’m working on a new mixtape, music videos, and myself. As far as the future goes, I pray for peace and unity among the Ummah. I see myself in the future doing everything I can to achieve that.