TMF meets Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Pioneers of true old-school hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest have in some way or another, influenced almost everyone involved in the scene worldwide.
Despite producing some of the most relaxing, chilled out music known to the hip-hop community, the messages they put across are always intense and thought-provoking. Speaking to Ali Shaheed Muhammad, one third of the Tribe, was an eye-opening experience. It is clear that he is hugely influenced by his religion, and his honesty was refreshing.
How about a little background before we get started?
Does this mean your readers are not given that journalistic introduction on what is about to go down? I sort of kid with that! My name is Ali, some people call by my middle name, Shaheed. I hail from Brooklyn, USA. I've been know to fiddle with circular revolving phonographs, mechanical rhythmic percussive instruments and things with strings attached.
My personal character is quiet but when I take all those stringy things with the percussive stuff added with a vocal contribution here and there and blend them on my circular revolving toy, I tend to make a lot of noise.
When ATCQ re-united after breaking up in 1998, was it difficult or did it feel natural?
The reunion felt natural. It's true the group split in 1998, but I keep in touch with Q-Tip and Phife so for me it was as if there wasn't a time gap.
You'd spent your adolescence and young adulthood in A Tribe Called Quest. Was it a big challenge when the group split?
No, it wasn't a challenge. When we got to the point of splitting, things had been exhausting for us.
The constant battles with the label and not feeling completely supported after we diligently recorded and promoted five albums just took the wind out of our sails, so the transition was easy. Might I add Lucy Pearl was formed not too long after ATCQ split so I didn't have time to feel the void.
How has your religion influenced or inspired your music?
Islam is a faith which places emphasizes on balance. If there are any challenges that I have experienced, they come from everyday life factors. Striving to find the balance in oneself or the balance from external experiences and conflicts is key. Islam empowers us by giving us the resources to find balance, to be responsible, to be accountable, to be aware of our actions and how they affect others around you. My music is a reflection of me in a sense therefore I strive to be aware of my content and the purpose when I make a song.
It is more of a challenge to have that same Islamic influence when I produce music for other artist. In those cases I try to work with artist whose expression doesn't make me feel compromised as a Muslim.
What do you think of the state of hip-hop today? What about the pop influence?
I think when the focus is solely on the mainstream artist it is easy to get the sense that the quality of hip-hop on a whole is losing quality; however when we factor in the hip-hop artists that are not on the mainstream level into the equation, we can see that there are many artist whose songs are rich in positive content that is uplifting, innovative, and authentic to the culture.
You are in the UK for a show with Jurassic 5's Nu-Mark. How did that come about?
That came about from a simple conversation between Spin Doctor and my agent from Daily Operation Agency. I'm a fan of Nu-Mark. He is very creative and I have no idea what I am going to bring to the table. I love the people in the UK and I hope that whatever Nu-Mark and I do the people will let loose and have a great time with us.
Finally, what else do you have planned for the future?
That is a hugely hilarious question, as if I have a say in my future! Men and women plan but The Creator is Al Badee'u, meaning "The Deviser". I hope in terms of music and life I will make some uplifting music and help a person in need. Thank you for the forum and your time. Peace...
Follow Ali Shaheed Muhammad on Twitter.