Rapper helps Muslims to create pop culture

Associated Press/November 13, 2004
By Anna Johnson

Chicago -- When David Kelly, aka Capital D, raps, he doesn't follow the mainstream hip-hop mantra: women, cars and jewelry.

Instead, the Chicago rapper's rhymes praise Allah, criticize the war in Iraq and blast corporate America.

Kelly is among a group of Muslim hip-hop artists gaining popularity among Muslim-Americans looking for music that reflects their mainstream music tastes and religious beliefs.

"Muslims in the United States are not going away. They're part of the culture, but they're not creating their own culture," Kelly said. "I try to show them that you can be creative, artistic, happy and still be Muslim."

Islam is not new to hip-hop. Nation of Islam and other nontraditional sects have influenced hip-hop through lyrics and images since the late 1970s -- with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan repeatedly mentioned and his voice featured in raps.

The new wave of Muslim-influenced rap conveys messages and images more in line with orthodox Islam.

"The music says I'm still an American, and I still want my culture. But I want to refine it so I can incorporate Islam into it, too," said Mike Shapiro, 23, who created the Web site www.muslimhiphop.com earlier this year. "Muslims in America and Muslim youths ... don't have anyone to relate to, so when they hear this music, it's soothing."

Kelly recently performed before a crowd of about 80 on Chicago's South Side as part of a monthly event organized by the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

Audience members sipped tea and smoothies as Kelly performed several songs from his latest album, Insomnia. For religious reasons, Kelly performs only in venues that don't serve alcohol when he is on stage.

"His stuff is really powerful and moving," Sabah Khan, 22, said after Kelly's performance. "I think it's important to support music that's positive."

That kind of message-driven music also is at the heart of Remarkable Current, an Oakland-based record label that features several hip-hop artists.

"I try to push an art out there that is loving and positive and a reflection of our spirituality," said founder Anas Canon.

Yet Canon said he's had difficulty gaining acceptance from some in the Muslim community because of hip-hop's negative image and the debate in the Muslim world over whether music is haram -- forbidden -- under Islamic law.

Theologians have been addressing the issue of Islam and music for centuries, said Abraham Marcus, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

"The most conservative view is music is essentially an evil force. It excites passions and incites lust. But the mainstream view is more tolerant. Mainstream authorities say music is admissible as long as it serves a good purpose."

Kelly said he knows it will take orthodox American Muslims a while to carve their own path in the hip-hop world, but he's optimistic.

"Muslims are starting to take the culture they listen to and creating their own culture in a very American way," Kelly said. " ... Islam hip-hop is very young in the process, and we'll have to bump heads for a while, but we'll make it."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.