HHCF EXCLUSIVE with Def Poetry Jam's Amir Sulaiman!!!
Amir Sulaiman is one of America’s most courageous and skillful poets to emerge in the last 20 years. He burst nationally onto the scene through Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. He is physically intimidating. But he is so nice, you can easily forget that you are in the presence of a giant.
His latest album, Like A Thief in the Night is a must have album for music lovers of every genre. Amir Sulaiman is also a lover of the chess. He gave a few MC’s some scrapes and scars at the Chess Kings Invitational in 2007. In this interview we talk about Hip-Hop, poetry, the spirituality of Bob Marley and the power of love.
Amir Sulaiman ripping the set on Def Poetry Jam
HHCF: Tell me about Like A Thief in the Night.
AS: It’s a genre defining album. Its taking the growth and development of spoken word poetry and Hip-Hop, and R&B into a single project. Its creating something real fresh, real new- because the people need that right now.
HHCF: This is my favorite spoken word album in the modern era. I grew up on Nikki Giovanni and The Last Poets, The Watts Prophets. I’ve always felt that a majority of the guys today spend a lot of time mimicking that style of delivery and cadence. You have a very fresh style. What is the source of that freshness?
AS: I think that is was because I did not grow up on Nikki Giovanni and the others. I came fresh outta Hip-Hop. So my lyrical inspiration comes from Nas, Wise Intelligent, Black Thought from The Roots, So, I approached it from the vein of them, Chuck D and others.
HHCF: I know Bob Marley is a hero of yours. Talk to me about that affects you as a human being and an artist.
AS: The big thing to me about Bob Marley to me is…He is loved all over Africa, all over Asia, all over Europe. He did not create this effect by submitting to the will of the market. Jay- Z has a song where he talks about “dumbing down his lyrics to double my dollars”. Many times people go pop by dumbing down what they do.
Marleys ideas were very sophisticated, very spiritual and controversial. Very few people are Rastafari. Its not like he was like “I wanna be popular, so let me talk about the religion of these other people”. His songs were almost missionary in nature. He was about Selassie- Jah all day!!
Yet, because he spoke with such sincerity and such a human element within itself that he was able to transcended peoples prejudices and bigotry. Humans in general consider him to be one of the worlds best artists.
HHCF: So how does that affect your music in general?
AS: I’m Muslim. I’m not one of those guys who you might hear “Yo, I heard so-and-so is Muslim”- its obvious what I’m on. I mention Allah (God) and His Messenger in my music all the time. But it is not exclusive in appeal to Muslims.
Its not like Gospel music. Like “This is for these people and those who believe in this thing”. If you don’t believe in that thing, its not welcoming.
I got invited to do these poems at the Congressional Debates in Atlanta in 2004, in classrooms, prisons and all kinds of places. The people know that they are not excluded from what I do. They say “OK, this is what he is on [the Islamic faith] but that does not exclude me.
Amir Sulaian video Spit
HHCF: Another thing about you is your physical frame. You are over 6 feet, over 200 pounds. Did you grow up as poet? ‘Cause I can imagine you in high school being this huge dude writing poetry.
AS: In America we have a very fragmented standard of manhood. If you look at the great men of the past you were a poet and a warrior and a scholar. It was just like that. It was nothing for you to literally take a mans head off. It was also nothing for you to be a scholar, or a farmer. None of those things contradicted each other.
So, I’m a big dude. I played football and wrote rhymes and I battled dudes. All of that. Its all a part of my personality.
HHCF: As an artist of your caliber, who do you listen to right now?
AS: I’ not listening to too much rap right now. I’m waiting for Andre 3000 to stop playing around and put out an album. I listen to a lot of Radiohead. I’m always listening to Portishead. Kanye and Commons stuff is nice.
RZA, Joslyn Rose of BET, Amir Sulaiman, Adisa Banjoko and DJ Kevvy Kev at the Chess Kings Invitaitonal
HHCF: One of the songs How Beautiful Are You deals with rape. It deals with that it takes for a woman to heal through that trauma. As a man, what gave you the courage and vision to write that?
AS: This is one of the benefits of the poetry culture. In poetry this kinds of subjects are not as taboo as they are in Hip-Hop. Rap requires a certain bravado, or what they call swagger.
It amazes me how much people talk about swagger. Its as if they confuse swagger and honor. Swagger and honor are not the same thing. Swagger is something to be seen. It is pretense- it is a show. Honor is something that is rooted and its real. Swagger is often rooted in fantasy. Now honor, can lead to swagger. But swagger cannot lead to honor.
So me opening up in this way on such a sensitive issue…Women will come up and be like “How can you know this stuff and speak on it as a man?” Obviously it comes from Allah (God) because I have not ever experienced anything like that.
Its just something that occurred to me when I was in college. Specifically as it related to one sister I knew and the relationship she had with other men and herself.
People just need to know that someone cares about them. That they matter.
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