There’s nothing black and white about New Jersey emcee Hasan Salaam. From his music, to his activism, to his role as an educator, Hasan Salaam is colorful. One of the most passionate rappers in the game, Salaam’s enthusiasm exudes in his speech and when he spits. His inclination to inform caught the ear of Executive Vice President of Viper Records, Immortal Technique and led to Salaam signing a deal with the label.
Hasan Salaam’s first solo effort on Viper Records is the recently released full-length album, Life in Black & White.
Life in Black & White features appearances by Immortal Technique, Hezekiah, Kendal Good, Maya Azucena and Drue Davis. The project is produced by Hezekiah, Snowgoons, DJ Static, Denny Carson, Remot, dj INSITE, Craig Rip, Beatnick Dee, Crossbone T, Southpaw, and Douglas G. Simpson and Kareem Knight of the Aqua League.
Hasan Salaam spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about joining Viper Records, his opinion on American’s racial tension following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, and his new album, Life in Black & White.
TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Life in Black & White.
Hasan Salaam: I’ve always been into Black & White photography. It forces you to look at all the gray area in life and that’s really what this album is about – not getting stuck into boxes, not letting people label you, or try to fit you into their limited world view. I don’t want to be ruled by anybody else’s limitations because I see myself having none. It’s also just a play on things. My mother is African-American and my father is Caucasian so growing up and dealing with race in American in this quote unquote post-racial society we deal with a whole lot of racist bullshit that shows me that it’s not post-racial anything.
TRHH: I agree with that. How did you wind up signing with Immortal Technique and Viper Records?
Hasan Salaam: I’ve known Tech for a while. Him and Poison Pen are like big brothers to me. He asked me to be a part of Viper and be a part of the Rebel Army. He wanted to put out this album and it’s just been grinding and working to get it done since then.
TRHH: How’d the single ‘Jericho’ come about?
Hasan Salaam: I was on an album by Range Da Messenger that was actually produced by Hezekiah. Range was just like, “Yo, y’all two need to work!” I looked up all the amazing joints that Hez has produced and he’s crazy. His beats are amazing. I reached out and wound up getting two tracks for the record. One is another song called ‘Unorganized Religion’. For ‘Jericho’ he already had the hook on it and everything. As soon as I heard it I knew what I was writing to it. I knew exactly who I wanted to speak to and what I wanted to speak on. I played the record for Tech and he wasn’t sure about the beat because the beat is real different. I just kept telling him, “Nah, this is it. This is the one.” Once he put his bars to it and heard himself back and how dope that shit sounded he was like, “Word, that’s the one.” It’s interesting to me how he heard the “wall” part and built off of that. I just heard the “fuck how you feel about me” part and built off of that. It just came together really well.
TRHH: Earlier you mentioned race, I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Mike Brown incident in St. Louis has nothing to do with race. What’s your opinion on that?
Hasan Salaam: I think those people are completely delusional. I think that we do not see teenage Caucasians in this country getting gunned down in the street for anything. If you’re talking about the Mike Brown situation and they’re saying that he stole some blunt wraps from the store that still is not a crime punishable by death in this country even if you’re found guilty and convicted of it. It has to do with race because black life is not valued here. It’s not valued when we’re alive, it’s not valued when we go through life, it’s not valued at all. This country built itself on our blood and it still profits from our blood.
You can get into each case individually whether it be Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, neither of these gentleman were in a position that they should have been killed, especially Trayvon Martin. He stands out more because Zimmerman was not a police officer for one, and two he’s celebrated like a national hero to some people now. The same thing with Michael Brown and Trayvon with them having marijuana in their system, marijuana is legal in certain parts of the country. In other parts of the country it’s not, fine, but it’s also not something that’s punishable by death. It’s something they use to spin that Mike Brown and Trayvon were some kind of crazy, psycho super thugs or something like that. The word “thug” has really replaced the word “nigger” in how they describe us. There’s already certain connotations that pop into their head when they say “young black teenage thug”. It’s the way everything is sold and everything is spun. If race didn’t matter they wouldn’t call out what your race is when they’re on the APB. If race didn’t matter there wouldn’t be only young black and brown men and women getting killed by the police because white people commit just as many crimes. In situations like the gunman in Colorado, he had a gun, he killed people, and they just apprehended him. There are so many cases that fall along the same line.
In the song I mention two people, Phillip Pannell and Jelani Manigault. Those were two people I knew as a kid that were murdered by police In Jersey. They were both from one of the towns I grew up in called Teaneck, New Jersey. In both of their cases no cop was ever sent to jail. I was ten years old when Phillip Pannell was killed and it’s something that stood out in my life as something that showed me the world that we live in and what’s it like to be a man of color in this world. He was shot in the back by an officer that claimed that he pulled a gun on him. Forensics found that he was shot with his hands up surrendering and they still didn’t send that cop to jail. That was in 1990 and twenty years later it’s the same thing. Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the head while he was cuffed, on the ground, and not resisting arrest. He shot him in the head in front of mad witnesses and he got a year in jail. To me that shows that there is no value for black life at all. You’re going to get a slap on the wrist if you kill one of these little black kids. There won’t be a real punishment. You’ll get desk duty.
TRHH: What do you make of these people who were murdered by police being shot in the head? Is that police protocol?
Hasan Salaam: Absolutely not. I don’t know why they send the police to the gun range to work on having some sort of sharp shooting skill if they’re always shooting to kill. They tell them that they’re supposed to shoot in the leg or somewhere else to disarm somebody. In the case of Oscar Grant he was cuffed and on the ground. There was no reason to even pull your gun on him at that point. In the Trayvon Martin case we’re talking about a citizen. We’re not even talking about someone in law enforcement and the police already told him, “Do not pursue.” He had every right to be there. He was going to see his family.
In these cases and situations it’s the verdicts that are rendered afterward because it’s like, yeah, it’s okay to do that. When you think about these officers who are just going straight to lethal force, what is their training for? Someone posted a really good post that said, “If you’re given a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail to you at some point.” The police officers are not from our community. They come in with some idea of what black people are like. They might not have come up in communities where they grew up with black people or have been in a black person’s house other than for a call to the police. So they have these particular perceptions and when they leave in the morning they have these sayings like, “Don’t get captured.” You’re not in an enemy zone, you’re in your own country and we’re not your enemy. It’s been proven time and time again that they’re an enemy to us.
TRHH: I think a lot of these racists don’t even view African-American’s as citizens. This is their country, we’re just kind of here.
Hasan Salaam: Absolutely. You see that in people still trying to prove that Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud. He wouldn’t be the fuckin’ President if he wasn’t from this country. That’s why y’all didn’t get to run Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s really ridiculous that it’s still at a point that people can’t get past race. You look at groups like the Klan or the Tea Party who have all these things to say, but we didn’t do anything to you. Y’all forced us to come here, and since we’ve been here we’ve done every single thing within the means of your laws and regulations. We march peacefully, we’ve worked to become a part of society in all different ways, shapes, forms, and fashions legally. It’s hard as hell to be a president. Think of all the sacrifices Obama had to make. I didn’t vote for him and I don’t agree with everything that he does, but I do recognize how hard it was for him to get there. And at the same time you still have people who think that we’re the worst thing on this planet and the worst thing for this country. This country wouldn’t have been built without us. It’s fear. If we did rise up we’d be completely justified. Their revolution was fought over less – taxes — not brutality, not being slaves, not being the victims of genocide. And we’re still peaceful and cool about it.
TRHH: Getting off the serious stuff, I didn’t know you were involved in the adult industry until I saw it on HipHopDX. How’d you get involved in that?
Hasan Salaam: I’ve actually been involved in that industry longer than the music industry. I’ve been writing and doing music ever since I was shorty, like 10-11 years old, but actually putting out music took a little bit longer. I used to be a real wild kid. My mother could only take so much so at a certain point she kicked me out. I needed to eat, I needed to live and I had a homegirl who reached out to me. She was dancing in Philly at the time and she was like, “Yo, these people want me to be in a magazine and I need another dude ‘cause I don’t want no random guy all in my face.” Me and her had messed around. I did it and made like $300-$400 for like two hours of work. Some people I know went away to college, but everybody else I know was either working a shit job or hustling. At the time I was selling weed and I was like, “I don’t have to worry about getting arrested, I don’t have to deal with police, and I get to be around women!” That sounds way better [laughs]. That was my first introduction to it. I had to put a roof over my head. At the time I was bouncing from spot to spot and staying in hotels so I needed bread.
TRHH: Since you’re Muslim do you see porn as conflicting with your faith?
Hasan Salaam: What I did when I was younger is a lot different than what I do now. What I do now is more about education. I try to bring couples together to have better relationships and make better love with each other. I help individuals to help them love themselves. I don’t’ see sex as a bad thing. Everybody has their own idea of who, what, when, where, and how you should have sex. I don’t tell anybody what is and what isn’t. I feel like if what I do helps people and it’s good, then it’s good for me. I think a lot of times when people think “adult entertainment” they think, “Oh my God, it’s going to be the worst most degrading thing in the world.” I personally believe it doesn’t have to be that way.
I believe that sex is a beautiful thing and if people want to watch, that’s a fetish that some people have. If people want to be watched, that’s a fetish that some people such as myself do have. I think a lot of times people speak about homosexual’s coming out of the closet, but a lot of straight people as well keep their stuff in the closet, which is a detriment to themselves. Everybody has their thing, everybody is into something. If you keep it hidden and lash out at other people that you see having fun then it’s a detriment to yourself. Having sex is one of the most revolutionary things you can do in my opinion. Being able to love yourself and your partner is a revolutionary idea in these days and times because everybody seems to be filled with hate.
TRHH: The song ‘Father’s Day’ is really heavy and personal. Did your family hear it and if so what did they think?
Hasan Salaam: I played it for my mother. My mother’s first reaction was, “You took it easy on him.” There was a lot of stuff that I didn’t put in the song because I didn’t want to go into certain things. Her second reaction was, “Are you sure you’re going to put this out?” We had a discussion about it. To me, my music is honest. It’s never not going to be honest. However I feel, whatever is on my mind, what I’ve experienced is going to be what it is. I’m not going to pull punches, I’m not going to go off on some other zone. I know a lot of people who grew up without a father. I know some people that grew up with great, amazing fathers, so I feel that the whole spectrum should be spoken about.
At the end of the day Allah tells you to honor your mother and father and I wouldn’t be here without my father. He might have only taught me one thing, but that one thing has helped me out in life. Some of the terrible things he’s said and done is part of life. It’s made me into who I am today. If it wasn’t for that who knows if me and you would be talking right now? It is what it is. One of my biggest influences is Bruce Lee and he said, “Honest self-expression is the best expression.” It took me a year to write the song because certain things I just couldn’t get out. I had to come back to it to help me work through certain problems that me and him had. Since then he and I speak every 4-5 months and it’s easier to have that conversation because of the song.
TRHH: Will you play the song for him?
Hasan Salaam: I mean we’ve had the actual conversation that the song was. I’d play it for him but he probably wouldn’t want to hear the shit [laughs]. I don’t know, to be honest with you he’s just not a Hip-Hop person. It’s funny, he straight up told me when I was a kid that I wouldn’t be shit. I’ve known that I wanted to make music since I was a baby almost. I told him and he said, “You’ll never be shit if that’s what you do.” At the same time I actually took care of him when he was really sick and I wound up having all of my CD Baby and ASCAP checks go to his house for a while after I wasn’t there anymore like, “Yeah, I ain’t gon’ be shit? Fuck you. Hold my check,” [laughs]. It’s such a complex situation. It’s hard a question to answer honestly. Would I play it for him? Possibly if we’re in the right setting I’d say, “Check this song, it’s talking about you.” He might hear somebody else play it – I don’t know. I know when he hears it he’s going to know exactly what I’m talking about on every line. To me that’s what makes it a song that every time I hear it, it stirs up something in me and a lot of people I’ve played it for it stirs up something in them — people that I know with and without fathers.
TRHH: Who is Life in Black & White for?
Hasan Salaam: Everybody. Even though I name colors in the title it’s an album that’s’ colorless. The gray area is what will bind people together as we move forward as human beings. If we don’t confront the race issues that I speak about on this album we’ll all destroy ourselves at some point. I don’t think that white people should be offended. I don’t think they should be afraid of the album. I don’t think that people who aren’t black or white won’t relate to the things that are on there either. It’s an album that deals with life and life is full of so many vibrant colors. Sometimes we overlook all the beautiful things in the world because we focus on one thing. We focus on the things that we dislike or our differences instead of the things that bring us together. That’s what the album is about. I got a song on there called ‘Savor the Moment’ and it’s about two of the best days of my life. One day was beating a case in court and the other day was an Easter brunch with my family. Who doesn’t enjoy spending time with family no matter your race, color, creed, or religion? It don’t really matter. We all love our families, and that’s the point. We’re all one family – the human family.
Purchase: Hasan Salaam – Life in Black & White