A lot of people speak of helping others but only a few follow through. Hasan Salaam is one of the few that follows through. Salaam’s latest release, Music Is My Weapon is an EP that does more than entertain and educate. 100% of the profits from the sale of Music Is My Weapon will go to benefit the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau.
All proceeds from the purchase of Music Is My Weapon go directly to the It Takes A Village project which will facilitate the creation of a school, a clean water well, and a medical clinic in Guinea-Bissau.
I spoke with Hasan Salaam about his decision to help the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, the Islamic influence on his lyrics, and his new EP Music Is My Weapon.
SS: Explain the title of the EP, Music Is My Weapon.
Hasan Salaam: This album is called Music Is My Weapon because it’s showing that music in the hands of someone with a purpose and a cause is actually going to go toward the right thing. It’s not just about making corporate music to live out some fantasy dream world sh*t. It’s about trying to build and use music for a positive change in the world. If you put a gun in the hands of somebody who has no knowledge of self they’re going to turn it on themselves, their family or their own people. You put a gun in the hands of somebody with knowledge of self they’re going to use it to protect their family or to work for freedom.
SS: Why did you choose Guinea-Bissau as the country to benefit from the proceeds of this album?
Hasan Salaam: I was in Guinea-Bissau last November. I was the first American Hip-Hop artist to ever perform there. When I was there it just moved me. The people are just in a bad situation right now, so we wanted to do something to help. There is a sister named Devon that traced her lineage back to Guinea-Bissau. She works with one of the orphanages over there and she wanted to do something bigger. She did a Google search and my name came up and she hit up my manager to do a fund raiser. We were thinking a show but we decided to make the whole project benefit Guinea-Bissau.
SS: On the first song on the album you reference V-Nasty’s use of the N-word and people that co-sign it. Explain why you chose to speak on that.
Hasan Salaam: I’ve spoken on the word n*gger on other songs. One day on Twitter I saw people going in on the whole situation. It was bothersome to me that so many black folks are co-signing somebody who is imitating our culture and at the same time completely disrespecting us. I have nothing against Caucasians rocking with Hip-Hop back to the Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass—they had a certain respect for our culture. You don’t see people going around singing Latin music and referring to them as sp*cs. It’s totally disrespectful. I had to speak on it because it shows the depths of our self-hate that we’re at a point where we accept people making our music and referring to us as n*ggers in that music. I felt that it was something that had to be spoken on because nobody else was speaking on it.
SS: What role does Islam play in your music?
Hasan Salaam: I’ve been studying Islam since I was about 13-years old. I grew up with it so it’s a part of me as much as music is a part of me. It’s in my every day life. My music is just an honest self expression of who I am. If there was no knowledge that I’ve gotten from the Qur’an or 120 [Lessons] or anywhere else for that matter it wouldn’t be me. I try to live by those 5 pillars to the best of my ability. It goes back to saying music is my weapon. We’re supposed to give zakat(charity). Zakat is mentioned in the Qur’an alongside salat (prayer). It’s not just enough to pray, you gotta put it into action.
SS: What drew you to Islam? Were you born Christian?
Hasan Salaam: I was born Episcopalian. I was always interested in faith and history. When I was going through confirmation I was reading the Bible and everything that they were teaching didn’t really add up. Down to the basic things like Jesus don’t really seem like he was a white dude. It says he had hair like wool and feet like bronze. Solomon was described as having locks in the Bible. I was asking a lot of questions and they basically told me to shut up. At the same time I was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and any time I reached out to Muslims with questions, strangers with open arms were explaining things to me that people I’ve known for years were trying to keep me in the dark about. I feel like the worst sin a person can commit is keeping knowledge a secret. It’s horrible, that’s why so many people now are living in the condition we live in. I had written a letter to the Saudi Arabian consulate in New York because I was doing a project on Mecca and the Ka’ba. They sent me a Qur’an, a poster of the city of Mecca that took up my bedroom wall, postcards and Hadith’s. From that point I wanted to know more about Islam.
SS: I interviewed Sean Price earlier this year and he said the he feels conflicted about doing music because it’s haram. Do you ever feel that you’re not following the deen properly by making music?
Hasan Salaam: Sometimes some of the things that I speak on maybe because I know people that are very religious may take offense to it. When I think of music itself and my intentions I don’t feel that way. Prophet Muhammad was a poet. If you read the Qur’an it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of literature that you’ll ever read. Around the time of the Prophet in that part of the world being a poet was one of the most respected things you could be. The drums go all the way back to Africa. I believe that Islam started with Adam and it has no birth record. The original man has always had drums and music as part of our expression. Emcees are like modern day griots. That part hasn’t bothered me. There are things that I do that are far from perfect and not on the deen. I admit those things and I speak on those things.
SS: Have you been following the story about these companies boycotting the All American Muslim TV show?
Hasan Salaam: I’m new to it because I don’t have cable but I was at a friend’s house and they were making fun of it on the Daily Show and that’s how I learned about it. It’s Loews and somebody else, right?
SS: Yep. They’ve pulled their advertisements from the show and I think their stance is the show is propaganda trying to make Muslims seem normal.
Hasan Salaam: [Laughs] It’s ridiculous, man. On the Daily Show it was funny because they were saying, “This show doesn’t support my stereotype of other people.” It’s retarded. I come from a mixed family. My father’s family is Caucasian, my mother’s family is African-American. I have friends that I grew up with that have never been in a white person’s home. I had a friend back in the day who said, “I used to think white people didn’t go to the bathroom because when I watched them on TV they never went to the bathroom.” I told him they do and they got just as many f*cked up problems in their families as we do. It’s the same kind of thing when I think about it. So many people have never been around Muslims to know that we range just as much as Christian do. In America you have Orthodox Jews, Reformed Jews, and people who are sometimes Jewish. Same thing with Christians, you have Christians who are only Christian on Christmas. You have psychotic evangelical Christians that’ll try to blow up the Oklahoma Federal Building. To put Muslims as one particular monolithic thing is just retarded. It’s sad that these companies have no backbone or intelligent leadership. We’re seeing what most of these companies are doing with their CEO’s so expecting them to be intelligent is not too surprising. From what I hear the show is like every other reality show. I mean, Muslims are the big bad wolf. No one wants to hear that the big bad wolf has babies and sh*t and a family. Think about how they used to paint Communism back in the day. You would think that Russian people were the most evil people in the world.
SS: Or the Japanese.
Hasan Salaam: Yeah, they had to make you think that it was legitimate to turn them into internment camps in World War II. I study Daoism and I’m fascinated with samurai’s. Me and you got beef, but just because we have beef it doesn’t make you evil. In order to get people riled up in America someone has to be demonized. As bad as Saddam Hussein was he had nothing do with 9/11. They never made the connection but they had to get people riled up. Saddam Hussein was only Sunni to get people on his side. It’s like its some secret Muslim conglomerate that we’ve got to stop.
SS: What inspired the song Miss America?
Hasan Salaam: I was in a conversation with a friend and we were joking around saying if America was a real person I wouldn’t want to f*ck with her, yo. She probably be burning people or something [laughs]. If she was a woman she would be beautiful but she would be dirty. She’d be like Pamela Anderson—she’d have hepatitis or something.
Hasan Salaam: I think for anybody who is a person of color or one of Miss America’s step-children it’s a love/hate relationship. There are certain opportunities that you’re going to get here that you aren’t going to get anywhere else. On that hand it’s good to be here, but on the other hand you’re with a woman that burns you. Police are going to get you for DWB or you’re going to get denied a bank loan—you’re not treated like everyone else.
SS: Didn’t Chris Rock tell the joke that being black in America is like having an uncle that sent you to college but he molested you?
Hasan Salaam: [LAUGHS] Yeah! That sh*t is real, yo. People get mad and say I’m talking all this stuff about America and I should go somewhere else. First of all there is no where else you can go where America’s influence isn’t felt. If you go to some country that doesn’t have electricity 9 times out of 10 America is exploiting them for cheap labor or stealing their natural resources. You’re not going to escape it unless I move to Russia or some sh*t and they hate my black ass just as much. It don’t make no difference. Also it’s like no, I don’t want to leave here. I can trace on my mothers side all the way back to the plantation that we started at here. We built this country. I’m not going no where. It’s patriotic to question the ruler-ship of the nation in which you live. Especially if you’re going to go by the Bill of Rights that they’re trying to switch up on us right now.
SS: What’s your opinion of the Occupy Wall Street protests?
Hasan Salaam: I support people that are standing up and speaking their voice. I hope and pray that people find a way to make that movement work for people who can’t be out there. We have a lot of people that are the most affected by it who can’t afford to miss a day of work. They got kids to feed, rent due, mortgage due, or gotta make sure that they got the money for their halfway house or something. There are so many people who can’t be out there that can look at the people that are out there like they just got money to burn. I just hope that there is going to be a way that people can find some kind of ground where the average citizen doesn’t have to lose their life in order to do that. People aren’t going to choose that over feeding their children. I definitely have a lot of respect for it. I was able to get out to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London. It’s a moving experience to see what people are building out there from the ground up like libraries, medical facilities, and law offices. It’s just how are we going to make this practical and still make a statement politically? At the same time the people that they’re protesting are sitting in their towers like, “So”. They’re still getting their money at the end of the day.
SS: Why do you think there aren’t more socially conscious emcees in Hip-Hop right now?
Hasan Salaam: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. One, people don’t think it sells records and a lot of people get into music to make money. Two, a lot of people don’t feel the obligation to speak out or speak up. Three, a lot of people just aren’t politically educated. I don’t consider myself a conscious rapper. This is just who I am. This is how I was raised. My mother marched with Dr. King. My grandmother and my mother are both teachers. All the women in my family were at some point the real life version of that movie The Help. I’m from a mixed background so this is just how I express who I am. I’ve always been interested in politics and doing things positive in the community. A friend hit me today and said I had street spirituals. I like that better than being called conscious because everybody is conscious. Everybody is awake. Certain artists that people don’t consider conscious rappers still say things that mean something to me. When I first started rhyming I was doing an interview and somebody asked me the dumbest question I ever heard in my life. They asked me, “If you were in an elevator with 50 Cent what would you tell him?” First of all I don’t know 50 Cent so I’d probably be like, “Peace.” That would be the end of the conversation but they wanted me to say something bad about 50 Cent. I got mad 50 Cent on my iPod–50’s dope to me. People find so many ways to try to box people in. My greatest influences musically are John Coltrane, Billie Holliday, and Curtis Mayfield. All of them made music that was across the spectrum. I make complete life music. There are joints that you can throw on to do anything out of the music that I made. That’s the most important thing to me. I don’t want people coming off like I’m beating them in the head.
SS: Why should fans cop Music Is My Weapon?
Hasan Salaam: On the straight up musical aspect of things the flows, the production, and the lyrics. There is not a word that I use in my lyrics that’s a throwaway. I scrutinize it all from the patterns to exactly what I’m trying to get across. You can probably find double and triple meanings in every verse. I put my time into it, it’s not just some bullsh*t. It sounds good, some of it will put a smile on your face, and some of it will make you want to bitch slap a police officer. Its real life music, it’s not about living the dream it’s actually living in the here and now. At the end of the day it’s going to a real cause. It’s not going to put rims on my car or anything like that. It’s going to a country that our cousins are from. Guinea-Bissau is a country that our cousins are from on the western coast of Africa. That’s where most of our ancestors were stolen from. The Portuguese were the originators of the European slave trade and that was where they started in Guinea-Bissau. It’s going to a real cause and it’s a real music. Also if people don’t get it I’m going to show up at their house and put my feet up on their momma couch whether the plastic is on it or not.
Purchase: Hasan Salaam – Music Is My Weapon