After giving an amazing performance at this year's Muslim Youth Summerfest, Tyson took some time out to sit down with Mike from MuslimHipHop.com to tell us about his new solo project "Ghetto Messiah".
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: How did you get started with Remarkable Current?
TYSON: Well, with Remarkable Current, roughly about four years ago in the bay area we started doing this thing called Calligraphy of Thought...where Muslim artists were able to come together to share spoken word, music, different things like that. And the brotha Annas Canon, he was part of organizing that event. So alot of the Muslim talent that came through...he had a an idea, a vision, to try to shape this thing called Remarkable Current and really take the Muslim art form to the next level. And that was basically the humble beginning of what has become Remarkable Current.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: What was your inspiration to become an MC?
TYSON: Well, you know like just growing up in the early 80's, hip-hop was around, it was live. In the city areas, especially where I was at in San Jose, you know, breakin', rhymin', on the streets, freestylin', things like that. That's what I was exposed to at a very early age, and so my thing was I started out breakin'. But then, I wasn't that great as a breaker (laughs), so I had to come up with a new hustle. I really liked rhymin', I always loved to rhyme and play with words, so that just became the next thing. It just naturally came out. I started rhymin' on the streets, freestylin' and it took me a long time before I actually wrote my first rhyme. Though, my whole style is kinda based off freestylin'. That was it man, just growin' up in the bay area.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: Where do you get the content for your music?
TYSON: Man, that has been the struggle of my life right there. When you freestyle, you kinda just pick what ever is around and whatever is on the top of your head at that time. And so, it's not really a discipline form unless you really try to focus on what you're saying. And so it took me a while to actually get to that point where I was able to focus, and I want to say something. There was a message I wanted to get across and it took years for that to happen. Because everyone else I was exposed to were just talking about your ordinary things; money, women, clothes, and nonsense, and that's not what I wanted to do. If I was going to say something, I wanted to say something, and it had to have some kind of impact. So the content was just my experience; what I saw, and I wanted to be able to communicate my experience to others. And then as I naturally progressed with Islam, it became trying to communicate that experience, but through Islamic lenses. And then also as an African-American and different things like that.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: Your new album is out and it's called "Ghetto Messiah"; why is that?
TYSON: Yeah, I think that's the question of the year right now, but Ghetto Messiah, I don't want people to think that's a tool or a name I'm trying to put on and carry as an artist. That's not what it's about. In my opinion, Ghetto Messiah is actually a formula, it's a formula for change. "Ghetto", the first portion of it, focuses on a social setting and that setting where people are, is usually that they're in underpriviledged, high poverty areas, that are politically unrepresented. And so these people are struggling; they're catching everything. And those are the people that desperately need the change the most. And the other portion of it, "Messiah", that brings in what I really feel is the solution which is a spiritual change. And so I'm using that term
because it's a word that we know in English extremely well, and people know it as a spiritual term. They automatically think of Jesus or Issa, Alayhi Salam (Peace be upon him). But what we're trying to get people to see is that Jesus or Issa (Alayhi Salam, he was apart of this foundation of Islamic monotheism. And so if we follow what came after Issa, that's prophet Muhammad, Salallahu Alayhi Wassalam (Peace and blessings be upon him) and that means the solution is Islam. In some other pieces, "Messiah", "Ghetto Messiah", was a term thrown on Malcolm X by the FBI, the CIA with the co-intel pro in the late 60's and so, it brings that political struggle to it. But Malcolm was a spiritual warrior too, I mean he practiced Islam in his later years. And then just looking at the character of Issa Alayhi Salam, (the word) Messiah, what it means is like a wiping, a touching of something. And so with music, we're trying to touch people. We're trying to get people to see that change is necessary, and we're trying to touch them with music, but the music, the message is Islam.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: So what's the difference between this new album and your previous recordings?
TYSON: Well, the previous album was 11:59, and that was the group project that I did with brother Isaq Abdul Noor. And man, that was a lot of fun. It was a good project that we put together in like a week (laughs). Alhamdullilah, It really turned out very well, I'm pleased with the project. And the difference is, this is just my take. It (11:59) was a group project, so when you're dealing with the group project, one thing I really love is; one person can come from this area or perspective and the other individual can bring a whole other perspective, but your still covering the same topic. And so now, it's just me. This is an issue I want to present, so I want to cover everything that I want in that 3 to 4 minutes I have of the listener's attention. I had alot of fun, I was able to push myself and really kinda experiment with different rhyme styles, and different voices just to add variety. Becuase I think that's the thing that hip-hop really lacks; it lacks content, a strong message, and it' lacks variety...in the way the artist actually delivers the material.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: You've worked with alot of artists, but who have you had the most fun with?
TYSON: I really enjoy working with the brothers and sisters that are down with Remarkable Current. And I'm not trying to throw that in as a plug, but I really enjoy working with them. And I've also worked with the brothers Aman, Suhaib and brother Amaar...we're all kinda from the same area so I've dealt mainly with the artists from the bay area. And, we've had a lot of fun. This is something that we've been doing for along time; we all kinda of have a common goal and we're just working to try to get there.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: What are you doing when you're not making music?
TYSON: We'll, I'm a married man, so (laughs) I like spending time with my wife, I really do. And that I think comes across in my music as well. Because I think an artist really needs to be balanced and marriage is an important piece of that balance. It's stressed in Islam because there is a wisdom in that. And the other thing that I do, my profession is I'm a teacher. I work for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and I teach in the county jail. And so I'm teaching mathematics to men that never graduated from high school, many of them have substance abuse problems or whatever it may be, and they're trying to get they're lives back on track. So education is a huge piece in that.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: How is the Muslim Artist/hip-hop scene in the bay area?
TYSON: I think, how should I say this, it's boomin' right now, that's one thing for sure. But I think it kinda leading the pack right now because we've been doing this for a very long time and so the actual community is organized, it's disciplined. And like I've mentioned before, we all have a common goal. We're all trying to get here. And so in order to do that, we have to make sure our content is at a very high level, that our product is a high level as well. So when Muslims that listen to our product instead of artists that are not Muslim, they're not suffering when it comes to that; actual beat content, the lyrics as well. They're not feeling like they're being robbed because they're listening to Muslims, (i.e.) it's not a high quality product. And so that's what's going on, we have a lot of shows in the bay area and just a lot of activity among the brotheres and sisters out there.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: What role do you think music can have in positively
affecting the Muslim community?
TYSON: Well, here in the U.S., we kinda just have to be real. The youth when they grow up, they're watching TV, they're watching movies, they like cartoons, they watch videos, they listen to the radio. And so if you as a parent are going to have your child totally removed from this whole "western" way of life, and just protect them from that, then cool...you don't need anything from music. But if not, then your child is exposed to all these things...what do you want them to see? What type of information do you want them to get? Do you want them to get this information from BET, MTV, Disney Channel, all of that stuff where there's really no redeeming Islamic quality in it, or, do you want them to get some Islamic message; a reminder about Allah, teach them about their messenger Salallahu Alayhi Wasalam, and continue to try and inspire and motivate them to hold on to an Islamic identity and really be proud to be Muslim and allow them to progress. And so I think music plays that role, it has that power to influence that because we listen to music. And so we need to have music that is good for the Muslims...and good for the non-Muslims as well because they get to learn about Islam in a new way.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: So everyone wants to know, what did you do before you became a rapper, i.e., job, school, work?
TYSON: Mainly just school, atheletics, I played basketball...and that dominated so much of my time. And really, basketball was the last obstical that I had to get rid of in order to get into Islam like I really wanted to. You know, I would go to school, take care of my basketball business and after that I'm basically done for the day. And so after I really put basketball away, it opened up my time so much more. And I was able to pick up the books that I've been wanting to read and try to answer the questions I've had for so long. And that was it, that's what brought me to Islam after I got rid of that.
MUSLIMHIPHOP.COM: Finally, how has Islam shaped your life?
TYSON: Man...I was lost. Honestly, before, so confused. The Jahiliyah, the ignorance, but that's what I knew (at the time). You know my parents never forced religion on their children, and so I was left with the opportunity to actually explore, and that's good and I really thank them for that. And, man, just America...If you don't have a system of belief, you're gonna get caught up in this thing out here man...and it's dangerous. It really hurts you. So Islam brought so much focus. I had something that I could believe in, that I felt proud to actually be apart of and it changed my confidence, my self esteem. But most importantly, a human being needs direction, and so it gave me the path. And it gave me the tools I needed in order to walk that path. And I mean, whether I use them or not, that's on me. But Allah gives you that. And so it's up to the human to decide whether they choose it or not. And so, Inshallah (God willing), I'll live as a Muslim, Inshallah I'll die in a state of Islam. May Allah make us of those who are among the Muslims. Ameen.