“I am HIP HOP” is not just the idiom that introduces the leadoff single from The Calm Before the Storm; it is quite possibly your answer to the question: Who is Khalil Ismail? But not that synthetic stuff manufactured in a plant somewhere by mad...
“I am HIP HOP” is not just the idiom that introduces the leadoff single from The Calm Before the Storm; it is quite possibly your answer to the question: Who is Khalil Ismail? But not that synthetic stuff manufactured in a plant somewhere by mad scientists looking to make a quick easy buck at your expense. Rather he’s the good stuff—the fruit for thought. He is “an organic alternative that’s good for your heart.” Khalil was born in Washington, D.C. to Islamic proselytes, but much of his childhood was cultivated in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite the typical experiences that come with being a less-than-middleclass Black man in an American inner city, his music doesn’t glorify a so-called journey of survival “on the mean streets” or paint the all-too-familiar picture of nearly every urban film and song; instead, you get what’s in the soul of an ordinary guy who just so happens to produce, write, and rap really well—quite frankly healthy music that uplifts, encourages, and inspires you all while keeping your head bobbin’. Back in ‘07, Khalil produced an EP dubbed The Truth, similarly motivated by his need to “feed.” The songs garnered some attention from industry folk and attracted calls for performances at venues and events, including the Global Peace and Unity Conference in London, England. Now, more polished and more poised in ‘09, and with an intentional effort to make an impression on the world through music, Khalil serves up The Calm Before the Storm, a fresh 17-track LP with diverse production and poetic lyrics making it pound-for-pound as good to you and as it is for you. “I want to be someone who people can relate to [and] who can entertain you… but has something else on his mind.” Outside of making music, Khalil reinforces his messages by actually going to his audience, particularly the youth, as a potential example and role model, sharing his experiences and showing them that it’s okay to be a decent human being. His goal is to be the change that he wants to see, and to show that Hip Hop has more to offer than just “junk” food.
New Artist Spotlight: Khalil Ismail by Hip Hop Wired Being a minority is challenging. Having to learn how to articulate your perspective in a way that the mainstream understands – balancing that with not caring what anyone thinks – can be draining....
Khalil Ismail: The calm before the storm by La Examiner LA's Hip Hop Examiner caught up with Khalil Ismail an artist out of the DC area.LA Hip Hop Examiner: How did you get into rapping and with your current label The Brown’sTone Recording Company?...
New Artist Spotlight: Khalil Ismail by Hip Hop Wired Being a minority is challenging. Having to learn how to articulate your perspective in a way that the mainstream understands – balancing that with not caring what anyone thinks – can be draining. But for Khalil Ismail, an African-American rapper from Baltimore, born to Islamic proselytes, being all the way outside the box is the only way to survive.
HipHopWired: On “Hip Hop,” one of your lead singles from your new album The Calm Before the Storm, you go in on our beloved genre saying: “It's you who got the power/it's you who got the fame... See now you got the money, so no excuse remains/You say the ‘hood is evil, why don't you help it change?/You say they hurt your mommy, but you defile her name.” What is that about?
Khalil Ismail: Ever since I can remember, I was sitting listening for some Hip-Hop lyrics. Rhyming always piqued my interest, so Hip-Hop always captivated me. The KRS Ones and Commons made want to get the knowledge, Biggies and Pacs made you want your guns cocked... Back then I felt like it was more balance. [The song “Hip Hop”] It's just saying everybody listens to you [Hip-Hop], now you have everybody's ear, we've gone through the stage of glorifying what you've been through, now what you gon' do next?
HipHopWired: So basically taking issue with the mainstream. Do you think the mainstream has the potential to shift focus, or is it by definition a place of materialism and misogyny?
Khalil Ismail: Not only do I think it has the potential to shift focus, I think it has to at some point. In the ‘90s it was Lauryn Hill. She was a mainstream artist that everybody listened to, that for the most part everybody loved. Bob Marley was a mainstream artist. These things tend to go in cycles.
HipHopWired: Both of those artists definitely did not shy from singing about God-related things. Similarly, you reference your faith in Allah on almost every track of The Calm Before the Storm. What is “the storm,” is it something religious?
Khalil Ismail: There's basically a storm moving in all of our lives depending on where we are, and it doesn't matter who we are, we all have that storm coming. If you're a superstar and you already have a lot of money, you know, it could be the recession, it could be you losing all of your money and then what are you going to do? If you are comfortable in your house, then it could be the next natural disaster. The storm could be you dying. And so the message [of the album] is, because we all inevitably face change in our life as we know it right now, have we thought about it, and mentally and spiritually are we prepared for that change?
HipHopWired: Speaking of change, you wrote your race relations song “Wake Up” around the time of President Obama's nomination. Since then, Obama's been in office and you've been on a nationwide tour; do you think we live in a post-racial America?
Khalil Ismail: I definitely don't think it's a post-racial America... In a song like “Wake Up,” what I realize is that – [and] people who have spent anytime around other races and different countries and things – this is not an African American versus White American thing alone, this is light-skinned Puerto Rican versus darker skinned Puerto Rican. This is something obviously inherent in human beings that unless it's pinpointed and fought against, it's going to happen.
HipHopWired: You've done some relationship building of your own. You performed in London at the Global Peace and Unity Conference where you met South African singer Zain Bhikha and the two of you appear in the video for “Freedom Will Come [Palestine]” featuring Abdul Malik and L Debois. Do you think peace can be achieved in the Middle East?
Khalil Ismail: Honestly, I don't know. If there's a fair division in the property, possibly. But I mean, you gotta think about that this is something that's been going on for probably 1000 years now. So really at this point only inspiration from God can bring peace to that area, but in the meantime, when you see an injustice, as a Muslim especially, if someone asks you to help out... [That video] that's just my little way of helping to bring light to the issue.
HipHopWired: Do you feel like your music helps to debunk common perceptions of Hip-Hop and Islam?
Khalil Ismail: Yeah, definitely, I mean, I've had many people tell me before, especially older people, that they really didn't like Hip-Hop and they didn't realize Hip-Hop could sound like that... On the Islam tip, I wouldn't say so much it's debunking perceptions. I will say that I have had a number of actual Christian preachers tell me that they really like my album and I've actually heard one played some of my tracks in his church.
HipHopWired: Diplomatic relations.
Khalil Ismail: Yeah.
HipHopWired: The music industry has for a while now been experiencing a decline in sales, what gives you the courage to not go the mainstream route?
Khalil Ismail: Probably faith in God, one. Whether they tend to be spiritual people or not, I get too much positive feedback. It's harder now for the person that's coming up and trying to get into the industry and they don't have a connect or someone to mold them like a Lil' Wayne and Drake situation. Unless you have that type of connection, I would say it's even harder if you don't stand out in terms of your content. We're now in the industry where your name is less and the way that the industry uses you is such that if you go down, if the next ‘Young Dro' goes down, they'll get the next ‘Young Dre' and really the song won't change. That's the difference between the industry of today and yesterday, like if you took a Tupac song and say, if Snoop or another mainstream artist did it, it wouldn't sound the same.
Hear Khalil Ismail's The Calm Before the Storm free at KhalilMusic.com.
Khalil Ismail: The calm before the storm by La Examiner LA's Hip Hop Examiner caught up with Khalil Ismail an artist out of the DC area.
LA Hip Hop Examiner: How did you get into rapping and with your current label The Brown’sTone Recording Company?
Khalil Ismail: I started rapping as a hobby and even bragging about myself but I noticed that there was not enough music that inspired youth to do things that were good. I’d already recorded my first album when I met Kayona Brown, the founder of the label, at a hip hop social networking event and she was honest from the start and gave good feedback and criticism.
I always had aspirations to have a label that would allow me to keep my integrity and at Brown’sTone I am able to do that because the artists here are not more of the same.
Listen to “Givin’ Up”
LA Hip Hop Examiner: I caught an interview you did on a Muslim program where you discussed researching whether music was haram?
Khalil: "Some" rulings of scholars in Islam are constantly being evaluated. I dont have a problem being a traditionalist where that is consistent with our Holy book but most importantly it is our book (the Quran) that does not prohibit music. A book that we believe comes directly from God, the most calculated being who would not leave out any rulings regarding music if he deemed it detrimental to his creation. Secondly, while there is literature that claims our Prophet looked at the use of musical instruments in a bad light, there is still no concrete evidence that he directly forbade it.
LA Hip Hop Examiner: What about other Muslim rappers, like Mos Def, how do they represent Islam and would you like to work with them?
Khalil: Mos, Lupe and others are not necessarily out there representing Islam. While I like their artistic expression and would like to work with them, the difference between me and them if you look at the roles Mos takes, his religion is more of a personal thing for him, he separates the two. I'd much rather say, my faith tends to influence what I write about and situations I choose to place myself in a little more than those guys.
Listen to “Can’t Change”
LA Hip Hop Examiner: A lot of artist are involved in charitable projects and there is not much talk about it. You work with a women’s shelter how is that going?
Khalil: We started with fundraising and now we have a building with the ability to house women and their children escaping homelessness and abuse. I have written a song about it that no one has heard yet, I may release it as a single later.
LA Hip Hop Examiner: You are out of DC and I know you just finished a national tour. Do you have plans to come out to LA?
Khalil: I worked with Antar Hanif an independent videographer out on Venice Beach recently to film a video for "Make Em Think" and had a great time. I hope to be out again soon to perform.
LA Hip Hop Examiner: I hope you keep me posted on that. What would you like readers to know about you in general?
Khalil: In a general sense, we are trying to do something unique and exciting and no one can say it can’t be done because no one has done it before. We know people are looking for intergrity, quality music that makes you think and stimulates your mind. I hope to leave that impression on people.
Also, Muslims have been put under an unfair light in the media and I’d like to show how Islam has practical solutions to things and has something to contribute to the world, not just Muslims.
For more: Click links, watch video below featuring Khalil and check out The Calm Before the Storm including "Fake Gangstas" and artist's favorite "Freedom
Righteous Words by The Afro July 14, 2009) - Khalil Ismail is certainly not against hip-hop music.
He’s also not a big advocate of censorship. In fact, growing up he was a fan of the 1993 Death Row Records release Doggystyle, the classic debut album by “gangsta rap” artist Snoop Dogg, who fell under scathing media scrutiny for his controversial lyrics that promoted female degradation, drug use and violence.
But as a hip-hop artist himself and a concerned resident of his community, Ismail would soon emerge as a voice on the other end of the musical spectrum.
Careful not to contradict himself, Ismail said he is a proponent of free speech, but he’s also aware irresponsible artistry’s impairing effects.
With his debut album, The Calm Before the Storm Reloaded, he challenges fans and other artists to move music into a positive new direction.
“One of the things that I always wanted to do as an artist is have music for everybody,” said Ismail. “So, basically I was like, OK, [for] somebody driving in their car I want them to be able to play [my music] and their 8-year-old kid be able to listen to it, but it be grown up enough so that a 25, 35 or even a 45-year-old person can also take something from it,” said Ismail.
Growing up in East Baltimore, Ismail viewed his troubled city from a perspective different than many of his peers. He understood that drugs and violence, and the means that perpetuated it all, were clearly burdens in his community---not images to follow.
When he first began to write, Ismail stood out from his peers with uplifting, socially charged lyrics that offered deeper insight of the woes and hardships of inner city living.
Similar to other hip-hop artists like Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco, he incorporated his Islamic faith into his music.
Ismail said he strives to be a good Muslim while also taking responsibility as an artist through the messages he conveys in The Calm Before the Storm Reloaded.
“If anything, [Islam] probably has the most influence on my work because it kind of shaped the way I think. I had a foundation from which to judge things and look at things. When I see things that are going on out there I have something to write about,” said Ismail.
But the decision to share his religious beliefs serves a dual purpose.
Troubled by the world’s increasingly harsh image of Islam and the United State’s tumultuous relationship with the Middle East, Ismail calls for unity and understanding on songs like “Can’t Change” featuring newcomer Ldebois.
The Calm Before the Storm Reloaded is a not necessarily meant to be the solution to the problems of the world. On the contrary, it is a glimpse into the human condition and how it can be improved.
For more on Khalil Ismail, visit www.khalilmusic.com.
Food for Thought by Khalil Ismail may be young, black and from the inner city, but that doesn’t mean his story is one you’ve heard before. Khalil Ismail may be young, black and from the inner city, but that doesn’t mean his story is one you’ve heard before. While some hip hop artists are content to use their experiences on the mean streets as the only fodder for their music, Ismail transcends his own upbringing to bring other social causes to light. Calling himself “ordinary,” the Baltimore rapper delivers galvanized hip hop manifestos that are anything but.
On his debut full-length The Calm Before the Storm, he tackles love, war and everything in between. “Freedom” takes Operation Iraqi Freedom to task. Over keening electric guitars, Ismail unleashes his furor, rapping “Is it so different cause the killings overseas / Should we use the word “collateral” when it’s a human being?” “Hip-hop” is part love song to the genre, part invective against the industry that keeps “feeding the masses with fatty acids as if there isn’t an organic alternative that’s good for your heart and tastes even better than the bad did.” With too many rappers spitting misogynistic and violent lyrics, Ismail has crafted some serious hip hop you can sink your teeth into. Bon appétit.