Khalil Ismail, Muslim American 'Good' Rap Artist

Khalil Ismail, Muslim rapper

"A world of smoke and mirrors". The music industry is not a clear-cut or a clean career. For Khalil Ismail, an American Muslim rapper from Baltimore, being a Muslim minority in the music industry is even more challenging. Yet his values as a 'God-fearing man' took his musical talents towards a positive impact.

MUSLIMNESS asks Khalil Ismail where the love for rapping began and how it fits with his Muslim faith.

Why did you begin creating music and what are your goals as a musician?
"I started creating music as a hobby when I was 16 or 17 years old. I was heavily influenced by hip hop and therefore that’s what I would play around with. While I listened to it all, the stuff with the worst of lyrics to the more conscience content, I never felt in my head that I needed to make songs that were derogatory and negative. I think that had to do with how I was bought up and the values instilled in me by my parents.

It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I decided to really focus on my music. My goals currently are simply to realize and maximize my God given potential with the understanding that He will put me where I need to be.

I intend to create albums and projects for both the universal audience as well as the nasheed world. My universal album called “hope” is in the works and the nasheed project will be a series called “Soul Submission”. Because I have so much material, I feel this will be a better way to reach the largest amount of people."

What would you say to opponents who feel ‘music’ is not part of a Muslim’s religious beliefs? How do you create an artistic balance?
"I know there is a difference of opinion for Muslims regarding music. If the Islamic scholars differ then we must state that there is a difference and let the people decide for themselves based on the evidences and what they are able to do in terms of their practice. I respect the opinions of all who have taken the time to figure out what they are supposed to be doing religiously so you probably won’t find me arguing with those who are against music.

I personally do not face a contradiction regarding music itself but I am constantly having to check myself to make sure the ego is where its supposed to be and asking myself the question, what is pleasing to my Lord?"

Khalil Ismail, Muslim rapper
Khalil Ismail receives great love performing at a Muslim event

Who are your musical influenes?
"Life inspires my music. I tend to write about things that touch me and break down scenarios that people often find difficult to deal with. I'm influenced by many artists from Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway to Biggie, Pac, and Nas to John Legend, and Anthony Hamiltion. But if there was one artist whom I had to name, it would be Lauryn Hill."

What has the reaction been like from Muslims and other communities? 
"I get love from all walks of life. I've had an atheist email me and say how he enjoyed my music. I've had Christian preachers invite me to speak at their church and play my music there. And of course many Muslims have really given me great support. My hopes for the future are that maybe in some small way I can dispel myths, help knock down barriers, and help build better understanding across cultures."

MUSLIMNESS has featured social messages from Muslim artists Sami Yusuf, and 'Hamdulillah' by The Narcicyst; how are you different or similar to these representations of the Muslim lifestyle?
"I honestly don’t know that my music represents “Muslim lifestyle” except that it adds to the huge melting pot of Muslims in the arts in general. I think the optimized Muslim is one who is versatile and well rounded in many aspects of life. That’s who I try to be."

What top 3 pieces of advice would you give to others who want to get involved in the music industry?
     1) It’s a world of smoke and mirrors. Stay true to yourself and your beliefs
     2) Like anything else you want to do, it takes long hours and hard work to be good.
     3) It is a genre that makes your soul susceptible to self worship so remember your lord often. If you can do that, it can feel very rewarding to impact people’s lives in a positive way.

Shukran, thank you Khalil for sharing your music with us.

Images: Copyright Khalil Ismail©

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