With Ramadan right around the corner, let’s talk about hip hop and Islam. There is so many male Muslim hip hop artist, but we wanted to pass the mic to the ladies first. Here is the Muslim Drip, the New Generation of Black, Female Muslim Emcees bringing a more modest touch to hip hop culture.
Muslim Drip the New Generation
Syrian-American rapper Mona Haydar released her debut single, “Wrap My Hijab”, in 2017. She was celebrated as the “first” female Muslim emcee poet. But she was not the first female Muslim emcees. It all started with a sister named Haydar, Miss Undastood. A New York-based rapper who is the Muslim female equivalent to Eve and Foxy Brown. At the turn of the millennium, Miss Undastood was the only known female Muslim rapper.
Syrian-American rapper Mona Haydar
Two decades in, the First Lady of Islamic hip-hop‘s serves slick lyrics at underground rap battle gatherings, community gatherings, and on Instagram, unleashing a vignette about domestic violence, the struggles of single parenthood, 9/11, her life experiences as a Black woman and quarantining in the age of the coronavirus and more. But when she started rapping, Miss Undastood faced challenges as the first Black female Muslim rapper.
“They used to say things like I was ‘hip-hopping my way to the hellfire.’ Sometimes people would send their kids to the stage to tell me to shut up. Whenever I wanted to talk about political topics or stuff that’s taboo, people were taking things out of context, twisting many of the words and making my intentions look negative. I was just a ‘feminist,’ or a ‘man-hater.’ The fact that I rap makes men feel like I’m not religious enough, that I’m not pious enough. ‘Oh, you’re doing that? You can’t be on your religion. You can’t be on your deen (faith).'”
Female Muslim Emcees
Today there is a new generation of Muslim Drip of Black, Female Muslim Emcees in the US. These Queens face old and new challenges as women in the hip hop music game. They use their Islamic hip-hop poetry to celebrate their womanhood, giving us style inspiration, racial identity, and faith. They are unapologetic about their social and political views, including the Black Lives Matter movement and is music haraam.
From Lauryn Hill to Drake, Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, Pop Smoke, and Mos Def, Islamic references have long been used in hip-hop. As Harry Allen from Public Enemy once remarked,
“If hip-hop has an official religion, it is Islam.” However, the relationship between Islam and hip-hop isn’t as well-known as Dr Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, author of Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip-Hop in the United States explain. “That has a lot to do with how hip-hop is seen as ‘Black music,’ which is configured around pathologies like poverty, criminality, and sexuality. Islam and Muslims get pegged around sexuality and being very strict: There’s no music, and there’s no sex.”
We can also see the rise in many of the communities the makeup today’s Muslim cool. Drill music today is the new trend, and you can find a new artist in cities around the world, but the same issues arrive in the set. Yet, these are making a path for more women who can spit without taking their clothes off as the Queen Lauryn Hill.
Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill,
The lyrics of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill, the first US number-one single by a female hip-hop artist, includes a well-known Islamic phrase referenced 33 times in the Qur’an, which Muslims utter every day while performing their five daily prayers: “Yo, my men and my women / Don’t forget about the deen [faith] / The Siraat Al-Mustaqim [straight path].” For sister Miss Undastood, this unlikely compatibility between hip-hop and spirituality opened the floodgates for her to become the arbitrator of a genre – Islamic hip-hop. A religiously conscious and culturally relevant gene to young Muslims in America and the Muslim youth worldwide.
“Lauryn was modest. She was putting some scriptures here and there and dropping some Islamic words,” Miss Undastood says. “It was hip-hop and spirituality together, which is what I’m doing: infusing hip-hop along with Islamic messages.”
In today’s music world, women are usually scantly dressed. For an artist who chooses to dress more modestly, it might not make you as popular as other female artists. Modesty is a thorny issue, with Sharrief acknowledging the struggle to thrive in an industry that promotes women’s hyper-sexualization and Black women especially.
“I converted to Islam in 2007, but I never felt like I was fully ready to commit to hijab – my hair was a crutch for me,” says burgeoning rap artist Neelam Hakeem. “From a fashion perspective, I didn’t realize that you could be modest and fierce at the same time; that you could walk into a room and command it. Not that I was ever a skin-shower,” she laughs. “I don’t have a Kardashian body.”
The diminutive Hakeem, whose face has the full and regal features of an African queen, is speaking from her home in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, Marquis Henri, their two young children, and her mother. At first glance, the 31-year-old, with her Instagram following of 300 000, may give the impression of being just another modest influencer, posing in brands like Dulce by Safiya, Culture Hijab, and Hayah Collection. Then you play one of her videos, and she starts rapping about everything from political and social injustices to women’s rights.
“There are so many battles to represent yourself as a Muslim woman in the limelight of hip-hop. Not only do you get judged by fellow Muslims because everyone’s talking about how a female emcee is a haram, and you’re not supposed to be doing this. To top it off, you’re in a hijab, and you’re dealing with BBL’s and stylish hairstyles.”
In a matter of months, her lyrics, rapped to songs by Jaden Smith and Kanye West, have made impressive rounds on social media. Diddy, Will Smith, The Shade Room, and Erykah Badu have all regrammed her songs. Their combined followings have broadcast Hakeem’s lines and modest style to some 47.7 million followers.
New Jersey-based emcee, model, and writer Boshia Rae-Jean converted to Islam in 2015. Her debut song, “Qnowledge,” begins with “Bismillah hirahman nirahim,” a nod to Mos Def’s opening to his 1999 debut album Black on Both Sides. Though Jean features no other explicit Islamic references, the song references the tradition of female scholarship with the chorus line, “Where you gonna get that knowledge?”
“My music is about Muslim women seeking a scholarship, defending their rights, and not being afraid to say that’s not right,” she states. “We grow up in families that say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t speak too loud or ‘You’re a woman, you should do this.’ But hip-hop says no. Hip-hop says fight for your rights. Don’t sit there and be meek. Islam teaches us that as well; to fight for justice. Don’t sit there and let it continue because then you’re oppressing yourself, your community. That’s the foundation of hip-hop. Islam is literally in hip-hop.”
For identical twins and hip-hop duo Aint Afraid, who go by the stage names Straingth and Wizdumb, their music is rooted in the remembrance of God. With more than 137 000 followers on Instagram, the twins addressed the “Muslim baes” of Instagram, defining God’s names in a “99 names of Allah challenge,” and creating Islamic renditions of nursery rhymes such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” which they reprised as “Ra, Ra, Ramadan.”
They first began thinking of rapping about Islam and their faith a year after they left high school and noticed that all the scholars and artists they looked to for inspiration on juggling their American and Muslim identities were men. “We didn’t really know about women artists,” says Wizdumb.
“We realized young Muslims – especially sisters – needed to see that you can live a dope life and value your religion. That it is possible. Many young sisters ask us, ‘How are you guys so cool and still so Muslim?’ For us, that was our life. Our mother brought us up on that.”
Hip-hop remains the musical landscape of choice for Muslim Drip the New Generation of Black, Female Muslim Emcees. Female Muslim emcees are building their audience online and in real-life communities with their music. They are a new generation for hip hop culture by including their voices and opinions to spread their message of spiritually and modest style, changing the game.
Critics may or may not agree, but their voices have the very essence of what hip-hop requires today, in the same way, the Muslim faith does. “What these Muslim women are doing when they think about socially conscious hip-hop music, they’re not just picking up on the civil rights movement or the radical Black Power movement,” says Dr Abdul Khabeer. “They’re picking up on generations of people who were doing this.
It is breathtaking to see women doing their thing poetically for the culture, showing a different side of hip hop, and bringing back conscious rap. It is a much need genre, and women require female empowerment in an unsexualized way.