Khaled M: Less Politics, More Lyrics //
Libya isn’t exactly famous for hip-hop. And it’s not often that Libyans become rappers, but Khaled Muammer isn’t one to stick with the mold. Born in Tucson, Arizona and raised in Kentucky, he got his start in high school, battling it out with peers in the lunchroom. “I was such a bad kid,” confesses the 25-year-old reformed troublemaker, adding that he was just lashing out for not fitting in, for being poor, for growing up without a father.
“My father died when I was 9-years-old,” Khaled says. “He was involved in the opposition movement in Libya, he was imprisoned…and of course that impacted my life in a big way.” After his father’s death, Khaled’s mother of Egyptian and Libyan heritage struggled to raise four boys on her own in a country that was still foreign to her. “I grew up with a big community of Libyans that all knew my family before we moved to America, so it wasn’t like I didn’t have fatherly figures,” he says. “I had a lot of love growing up, but at the same time I had to worry about who to trust, who was really a friend and who wasn’t.” Adding that his father’s death was always a reminder of the harsh reality of politics.
While Khaled, who’s represented by Urchin Studios, may not rap about Libyan politics (he only has one track that deals specifically with Libya) his family’s struggle keeps his music sincere. In fact, it is remarkable that Khaled is not more outspoken about Libya, but he says his cynicism makes him reserved.
I don’t like politics,” he confesses. “I’m much more concerned with making music, and making lyrics important again. I’m settling for making sure I live my life the right way.”
To him that means adhering to the teachings of Islam, though he stresses his music is not Islamic. In a verse in the track “Beautiful Feeling” the rapper talks about his reluctance to sign with big labels that produce mechanical music: “I believe in Allah so I follow The Prophet, you believe in dollas, so u follow a profit.’”
LISTEN: “Beautiful Feeling”
“I don’t make straight up Islamic music, though there’s a lot in my music that deals with Islam,” he says. “I don’t ever wanna come off as preachy, it’s just this is who I am. I’m not gonna be like Justin Bieber and use the word ‘shorty’ in my songs if I don’t say ‘shorty’ in real life,” he laughs. “I just want to stay true to my convictions and make music that’s sincere.”
In college, Khaled majored in journalism but couldn’t see himself working for someone else. “I got to learning about freedom of speech, and what the media is in America, a conglomerate of companies that control what you write, and I didn’t want to be a part of that,” he says.
With music, I can speak honestly and sincerely and reach more people.”
During college Khaled began ghostwriting for several hip-hop artists which led to a chance encounter with Bone Thugs N Harmony manager Steve Lopell. Lopell invited Khaled on tour with the group in 2003, which also featured hip-hop artists Tech Nine and Insane Clown Posse. He says the experience taught him to build a core audience the grassroots way; by creating loyal, dedicated fans who will follow you around the country and search your music because they genuinely love it, not because it’s commercially available.
Khaled plans on releasing some new tracks and videos from an album that’s set to be released next month. Fans can check Urchin Studios for updates. He is performing as part of the “Taking it to the Streets” Festival in Chicago on June 19, which features an impressive line-up of Muslim artists, including Outlandish, Mos Def and Brother Ali.
About the Author: Yusra Tekbali, 25, is a Libyan-American freelance journalist and blogger based in the U.S. Her work has appeared in The Tripoli Post, Al Jazeera English, CNN and The Washington Diplomat. She blogs about the representation of Arab and Muslim women in the media at http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org