In his hometown of New Jersey, Hasan Salaam runs a food and clothes drive every third Sunday of the month. He’s a rapper and a community builder. And his work doesn’t stop at his doorstep, with his last album “Music Is My Weapon”, he put all of the money raised towards building a well, school, and medical clinic in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.
I caught up with Hasan Salaam backstage at Meltdown Festival. It’s the 20th anniversary year of Meltdown (curated by Yoko Ono this year), and Hasan joined Immortal Technique for the show at the Royal Festival Hall. I spoke to him
about his drive to build up communities, his spirituality and ethics.
How has the UK tour with Immortal Technique been?
Amazing so far. We started off in Cork, it was my first time in Cork, and it’s a very beautiful city. It was the perfect place to start the tour. Artists don’t go there that often I guess, but the venue was beautiful and everybody was just so hyped, and Technique has such a loyal fanbase and they loved that he was there. Also it was crazy cause’ there were people there who had heard of me before.
I also really liked Bristol because I went to the boxing gym there and met Chris Sanigar, they call him the ‘Bristol Braveheart’. He’s trained some champions over in America.
Which city has been your favourite?
I don’t like to pick favourites. Each city has shown me love so I got to show them all love too.
What’s next for you?
We go to Denmark and Norway. Then back to the United States where I’ll go back to recording. My next album’s called ‘Life in Black and White’; it’s going to be out on Viper records so that’s my next move.
Moving on to religion. Did you always believe in God?
Yes in some shape or form or fashion.
What attracted you to Islam?
When I was younger I was raised a Christian. In my church, I was getting confirmed and I had a lot of questions. I read the Bible front to back, I was 13, and I had questions because Jesus didn’t seem like a white dude. It said that he had
hair like wool, and Solomon was described as having locks. Why was this going on? They pretty much told me “don’t ask no questions”.
I started studying Islam because the movie Malcolm X. I wanted to see the movie but my mother said I can’t see the movie until I read the book. My mother met Malcolm X; she used to work in a theatre at Howard University when she was in school, so she met a lot of amazing people. Yeah so she said I had to read the book, the movie is never as good as the book, right? From there, I was doing a project so I wrote to the Saudi embassy, and they sent me pictures…this was before the internet…they sent me a Quran and Hadith. These were strangers who were willing to answer my questions, and people who knew me didn’t want me asking questions.
Do you find it hard being a Muslim with all the negative perceptions of Islam fuelled by the media?
No. I don’t like to call myself Sunni or Shia. I’ve learnt from a lot of people. I don’t like to chop it up. People are interested in different things but we need to keep to our core of the five pillars.
If America were at its revolution with Britain now, Britain would be calling Americans terrorists. We should make sure we stand up for who we are and speak out instead of being quiet. There are a lot of situations where people are fighting against military invasions; that’s defending your home not terrorism, and it’s important that people say that.
Your faith plays a big part in your music, doesn’t it?
Absolutely, and vice versa, my music plays a big part in my faith.
Who do you hope to reach through your music?
Hip hop is very male dominated, do you ever see this changing?
I think hip hop is a microcosm of society as a whole, and unfortunately in society, it’s very male dominated. In hip hop there’s always been open arms for great female musicians like Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill but at the same time, I think society pushes women to be sexual objects and to not stand up and speak for themselves.
I was talking to a brother the other day, and we were saying – a woman’s virtue is not in the clothes she wears, it’s who she is as a person. If a woman wants to wear a skirt, let her wear a skirt, that’s her business. You shouldn’t treat her any different to someone who completely covers up. I think that’s the problem with society, that men think that they can tell women what to do. They think they have the right to tell them what to do, and that’s not the case.
A lot of change takes time. Ultimately, the same way we speak of revolution whether it be political ideals or religious ideals, I think women should have the same platform. I was raised by a woman. Today’s Fathers Day and I called my mother. I’m an only child raised by a woman. I know a woman can do anything a man could do. In the Quran it says God made men and women like night and day. The day doesn’t strip the night, and the night doesn’t strip the day. They’re supposed to be balanced. They’re supposed to work together.
You do a lot of community work. Why do you think that a lot of people don’t get involved and instead strive towards individualistic goals?
I think most people grow up with that mentality. They strive for individualistic accomplishments in American society, and don’t realise that the best thing you can do, is for your fellow man or woman.
The best way to change that is to know that in order for me to rise, we all have to rise. In order for you to rise, we all have to rise. You have to start with the children and show them that, and collectively people have to start training themselves, in the same way you train yourself in a martial art to be able to block or punch or whatever. We are trained to be selfish so we have to train ourselves to work in the opposite direction from what society is telling us to do.
Finally, what do you think your purpose in life is?
I’d like to think my purpose is to open people’s minds. People might not always like what I say but they will respect it. I much rather they respect me than like it. I’m always going to say what’s on my mind. They’d have to take me off the earth before they take my voice away.
Take a look at Hasan Salaam’s website at www.hasansalaammusic.com