By Shahroz (Twitter: @TheRealShahroz)
As the beat pumps through the speaker, the pen moves swiftly on paper using new ideas as fuel to drive imagination.
I’m in my own world, zoned out, with my hand and mind intertwined.
Emotions that I cannot express except by using the ink of a pen as a paintbrush flow on the canvas, a construction of words with matching syllables to depict an image, that finally came into fruition.
Welcome to Earth! The birth of a verse from thoughts that could only be tamed by letters.
I fell in love with hip-hop at a young age because I felt it was something I could really relate to. Growing up in New Jersey, there were huge hip-hop influences from both New York and Philadelphia that overtook the music scene. I always enjoyed writing along with an instrumental to get my thoughts out on paper, and the challenge of restricting it to a rhyme scheme made it all the more enjoyable.
It wasn’t until senior year of high school that I started to record music with a few friends. I wasn’t very good at first, but I used to practice for countless hours, until I eventually started excelling at my craft. My manager discovered me through a friend. He decided to put me into a professional recording studio because he saw talent and potential. Working under the mentorship of veteran artists and producers, I went from being a shy teenager to a confident man with a robust persona on the microphone.
After doing shows and putting some records out, I was getting noticed within the music community. It eventually led to me working on a debut mixtape that would include collaboration with a member of Dipset, and my biggest record with fellow New Jersey rapper Joe Budden (signed to Eminem’s “Shady Records”). With the release of my single, I started to see myself on iTunes, Spotify, and even gained recognition by NY’s most famous DJ, Funkmaster Flex. With the little bit of success I was having, I truly believed I could achieve my dream. My dream was to become a popular role model in the music industry that the youth looked up to. A positive alternative in a negative outlet filled with vulgarity, misogyny, drugs, and other explicit content. However, I did find myself conforming a little when I felt pressured to make hit records to truly get my name out there. It felt uncomfortable when the music became more of a business than an art.
It was a struggle to maintain a balance while I was studying in college, with dwindling aspirations of going to medical school, as my music career began to take off. I thought of myself as someone who was strong-willed, and that even though there were temptations within the music industry, I would be able to avoid them. I never had an issue with the temptations of drugs or alcohol, although they were readily accessible in the studio. And because I was strong enough to bypass those temptations, I believed it was my destiny to walk past all temptation just to show the youth that your will could help you accomplish anything.
I was also quite shocked with the amount of Muslims I met in the music industry, which was a blessing in a way because they actually looked after me in an industry filled with deceivers. It really is funny because there is such a misconception about the amount of wealth most rappers have. There is only a small percent that are actually wealthy, the rest are playing a facade with rented cars, homes, and cash provided by their record label. Most artists I met were making just enough to pay their bills and maintain a decent lifestyle. Even with everything I was seeing, I still pushed myself to work harder with hopes that I would be able to reach a plethora of fans, especially within the Muslim community.
As time went on, I came across a documentary by Mustafa Davis called “Deen Tight,” which interviewed Muslim hip-hop artists. It included an interview with Mutah Beale, also known as Napoleon, from Tupac’s rap group “The Outlawz.” He described how he never truly felt happiness with all the material goods and money that his rap career provided. It was not until he converted to Islam that he truly found peace in his heart. I decided to reach out to Mutah Beale via Twitter, and he surprisingly got back to me. He was kind enough to listen to my situation and provide insight as to why he no longer makes music. For him, regardless of the content or intent of the music, it was merely a matter of the actual instruments.
I don’t want to discuss the fiqh of music or what different opinions there are, but rather to illustrate this point: I started to wonder if the end truly justified the means. For arguments sake, let’s say music is a gray area. Is it perhaps better to just avoid it and not put yourself in that position of being unsure? Trust me, this was not something that happened overnight, it was a long process. I would have Muslim brothers try to advise me to quit making music in public, which only resulted in driving me away from the idea. There were also some compassionate people who explained and discussed rationally with me the dangers of music, and that stuck in my head.
Through my own spiritual reflection, this past Ramadan I decided that if there is a chance that music is something sinful, then I would rather not be responsible for the sins of others. It is one thing to listen to music personally, but another to create and spread it. I also reflected on a show that I had performed for a charity event where the sound system stopped working, and I decided to perform my raps as poems – acapella style. The performance was powerful and the reaction from the crowd was truly flattering. I realized that I didn’t have to completely give up what I loved. I could still rap and focus on my message, just without the music to accompany it. It actually seemed more effective in having people understand the depth and complexity of my words when they flowed solo.
Looking back at my journey, I can’t say Allah did not guide me to a better place. I used to pray every night for Allah to show me a different path if he didn’t find music to be an acceptable means of making the world better. Alhamdullilah, I learned so many things not only about the world, but also about myself. I realized that part of being a rapper included living up to a persona that changes your actual personality to a degree. I managed to work with artists that I only dreamed of ever being able to meet, and they went from being my idols to my competition. The truth is, we put popular people on a pedestal, but they are no different than you or I.
Now I get to work on a craft that I do enjoy, which is poetry. I’ve managed to integrate my rap style into my poetry and add more excitement to the spoken word genre. You may not know who I am, but I wanted to share my story because Allah does look out for you if you seek his help. I was able to avoid dealing with this later in my life when my career could have become a permanent fixture, and it would have been harder to walk away. Alhamdullilah! Alhamdullilah! God truly is the greatest and may he bless you all.
To see my poetry videos please visit www.youtube.com/halfhavoc.