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God's Son: An interview with New Jersey emcee Hasan Salaam

By Ahmad Majidfeatures
Oct 9, 2008 - 9:41 PM

As names go, New Jersey hip-hop artist and community activist Hasan Salaam has an excellent one. His first name means "handsome," "manly," and/or "good"; his last name means "peace." When he isn't recording or touring, he spends time in a classroom and recording studio as an instructor for a creative writing, music, and chess program whose curriculum he helped develop for students in New Jersey school PS #41.

As an artist, Salaam’s music is introspective, reflective, and spiritual--refreshing in a time when most commercial hip-hop is, like Mos Def said in his song "Fake Bonanza" from the album True Magic, "flossy and raw ... self-absorbed." Multi-talented and seemingly always multi-tasking (almost every time we spoke, he was either on his way to a class, typing some other press, or otherwise engaged in some task or side conversation with a passerby), it wasn't that surprising to learn that he even produced three tracks from his new album Children of God, including the title track, a snippet entitled "How to Make A Nigga," and "The Downrock," which he co-produced with fellow 5th Column Records emcee Rugged N Raw.

Listen to "15 Minutes"

Salaam is a Muslim by faith and was fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when we spoke and exchanged messages via email for this interview. (Ramadan is the month of fasting and abstention from worldly affairs in which the Qur'an--the book of scripture of Muslims--was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Peace be upon him.)

"As salamu alaikum, akhi" (Peace be upon you, brother), he says to me when we first speak over the phone.

"Wa alaikum as salaam, wa rahmatullah wa barakatu" (And peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of God), I reply.

We are both Muslim, which immediately puts us at ease with one another. We chat a little about how our fasts are going and finally begin to talk about his new album, Children of God, which was released on the first day of Ramadan, Tuesday, September 2nd.

Ahmad Majid: How did you decide on your album title, Children of God?

Hasan Salaam: I was tired of hearing my students and our people in general refer to themselves as niggers and bitches—everything except what we truly are. In the book of Psalms [a book of the Holy Bible], it says "... we are all gods, children of the most high God." I believe Allah (Arabic term for God) exists in all things, [and that] there is no place you will not find the touch and breath of the Most High, so despite our faults, mistakes, and self-hatred, there is Allah in us. If we ever want to free [ourselves] from these chains of oppression, whether systematically forced or self-imposed, we have to recognize the god in us and our people.

AM: What inspired you to develop the music, creative writing, and chess curriculum at PS #41? Do you still participate in that program or check in with the students?

HS: It was developed because I think it's important for our children to learn the strategies of chess so they can apply them to their everyday lives. As for the creative writing part, I love the honesty and joy kids bring to the artistic arena. Watching a child when he or she understands a new concept or idea is amazing—just being a part of that process is the highest reward.

AM: How can chess strategies be used in everyday life?

HS: Through chess, you learn patience and [not only how to] look at what's happening around you but how to plan and react to it as well. I think the strategies in chess are very easily interpreted into real life situations, even if just as a metaphor for life and how to live.

AM: How important has music been in your creative and personal life?

HS: Music keeps me sane. It’s the most consistent thing in my life and always has been.

AM: What is/was your goal with this album?

HS: To let people know that no matter what good or bad we do, Allah (God) is in us and we can get to a better place in life. We are all children of God, not niggers and bitches. We are so much more than that. We all have a purpose and true freedom is possible.

AM: Do you think artists have a responsibility to their listeners and supporters?

HS: I think I do. I can’t speak for anyone else because our views might be different. I have a responsibility to be honest with the listener because my word is my bond, [it's the] same as the responsibility to be honest with myself. I want to treat everyone with respect—supporters and haters alike. Insh’Allah (God willing), they will all know who we are one day, you dig?

Near the end of our interview, Hasan had a question for me.

HS: Where are you from?

AM: East Palo Alto; it's near Redwood City, about 45 minutes from San Francisco. When I lived there, it was the murder capitol. But I split time now between the Bay Area and Northern California.

HS: Oh, I love the Bay Area, especially Oakland ... If I didn't live in Jersey, I would live in Oakland.

Keep an eye and ear out for Hasan Salaam, Bay Area. He plans to visit as well as tour and perform in the Bay Area again soon. For more info, visit www.hasansalaammusic.com


Ahmad Majid works part-time as an intellectual property and international business paralegal. He was recently appointed as the Stockton, Calif. chapter chairperson and Northern California regional director of the Hip Hop Congress. He enjoys visual art, photography, horseback riding, and community activism.

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