Shaykh Hanif: «I had to go through the worst circumstances to learn who I truly was»

After releasing one of the best 2023 rap albums (“WILDERNESS OF NORTH AMERICA”), Boston rapper Shaykh Hanif told us something about the harsh trials and tribulations with which life has tested him, how a long detention in jail has profoundly changed him, about his conversion to Islam, the inspiration by Malcolm X, how he recorded his album, about his support to the Palestinian people, the next projects in the pipeline and much more.

Peace Shaykh, for us it is a great pleasure to be able to interview you as in our opinion your album produced entirely by MichaelAngelo “Wilderness Of North America” was among our favorite albums of 2023. Listening to it we were especially impressed by the depth of your rhymes, which show a life experience that seems exceptionally deep for your age. Can you tell us more about your origins, your background and some of the life experiences on which this beautiful album is based?

I’m from the South End section of Boston. Poverty was the norm but there was always such an extreme juxtaposition in the disparity of the wealth and the disenfranchised. I lived on Massachusetts avenue, a street where you can find the biggest open air drug market in the city in one direction and one of the worlds most prestigious schools,Harvard, just a few blocks down in the opposite direction. This and the stories of my life are the recurring tropes one can find in not only my album WILDERNESS OF NORTH AMERICA but in all my music as well.


Would you like to tell us two moments in your life that made a difference: one negative and one positive?

The moment that made the most negative impact in my life was when my father left when I was 13. I went from just a regular kid to running the streets virtually overnight. Without having that male guidance and disciplinarian in the household I turned to older dudes in the streets as role models and they were all living some sort of negative lifestyle.

The most positive moment in my life was when I went to prison. Some may look at it as a negative experience but for me it truly was a blessing. I had to go through the worst circumstances to learn who I truly was at my core and make a change for the better.

What made important figures in the Boston scene such as the Feed the Family collective take you under their wing immediately after you were released from prison, after having spent 10 years in prison since 2009?

FEED THE FAMILY was created by BoriRock who formed this super rap collective with 2 of his older homies from his hood, Dun Dealy and Top Hooter. They were already rapping together under the moniker Hooterville but he added me to the team and decided to go with the name y’all know now. I met Bori in jail when he was 17 and we reconnected when I was released in 2019.

Can you tell us about the reasons that led to your conversion to Islam and how this has definitely led to personal growth for you? How do you reconcile the faith with the streets and the music industry environments which often at first glance seem to contradict certain precepts ?

became Muslim in prison, Just wanting to better myself. I always believed in God but through studying many different religions Islam spoke to me. All the questions I had about religion and God were answered.

I mean we are all contradictions. Contradiction is one of the most humanistic traits. Nobody is a 100% good or a 100% evil. But being firm in my beliefs allows me to navigate through the sea of temptation in the streets and the music industry.

In addition to the links within the scene already mentioned, you had the chance to work with MichaelAngelo and he was lucky enough to find a diamond in the rough like you…The impression is that he found the right dress to completely explode your potential! How was “Wilderness Of North America” born and how did you meet MichaelAngelo?

I met Michelangelo through BoriRock while they were working together on the “OnDogs” album . We recorded the title track “Wilderness of North America” first then slowly pieced the project together.

How did the recording process happen and did you prepare the lyrics only after hearing the beats or did you have something saved for a long time for such an occasion?

A few tracks he sent me the beat and I wrote to it before I got to the studio but the majority of the project was done on the spot. I would walk in his studio and he would be making a beat and I would be like “who’s this going to” and he would respond, “if you want it, it’s yours”. That spontaneity gave the project just an organic vibe, so nothing was forced.

In terms of sound, after this masterpiece album, do you think you have found your dimension or do you consider it just a parenthesis in your musical journey?

I’m still growing as an artist and never want to limit myself to one particular sound but as long as I have been rapping I’ve always valued bars and have been a wordsmith, so that will never change.

Do you already have something ready for 2024? Can you tell us something?

Yeah, in 2024 we have a lot of things lined up. We are dropping FEED THE FAMILY album on vinyl for the two year anniversary. Followed by the FEED THE FAMILY 2 album shortly after. Also I’m finishing up an album with producer GRUBBY PAWS. Insha’Allah.

We know that you are a “militant” artist, who is not afraid to express his point of view: we would like to ask you if you could tell us about your personal experience in prison but also about the current state of the American penitentiary system from your point of view…

Prison is what you make of it. Malcolm X once said, “In the hectic pace of the world today, there is no time for meditation, or for deep thought. A prisoner has time that he can put to good use. I’d put prison second to college as the best place for a man to go if he needs to do some thinking. If he’s motivated, in prison he can change his life.” And this was something that I lived by. Prison was a college for me.

You have already expressed your support to the Palestinian people: what is your point of view on this situation and could you also tell us that of American public opinion?

My point of view on the atrocities being committed in Palestinian are the same as any sane person. It is egregious and despicable that the world powers are turning a blind eye while civilians are being slaughtered, innocent children by the thousands. Politics and Religion aside, where is the humanity? How can we see this level death and destruction and the UN General Assembly has to vote on a ceasefire. This is nothing new though, the Palestinian people have been suffering through this holocaust for decades only now the masses are seeing first hand the war crimes that are being committed…. FREE PALESTINE!!!!


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