One Be Lo: Respected Indie Globe Trotter

By Anne van de Sande  |  04/09/2008

One Be LoThe real fans have been supporting One Be Lo (real name: Nashid Sulaiman) since back in the day when he still served as one half of Binary Star, under aliases like One Man Army. The group, which he formed with Senim Silla, spent most of the late 90s recording and performing shows throughout the Midwest helping turn that region's hip-hop scene on its ear, along with Eminem and Slum Village. They finished and self distributed an EP, entitled New Hip-Hop, and set out to expand their fan base beyond Michigan's borders. After the group disbanded, One Be Lo kicked off his solo career by launching his own independent label, Subterraneous Records.

A lot has happened ever since. In between recruiting some of Michigan's most talented MCs and producers, releasing the independent classic, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., and a fling with Fat Beats Records, One Be Lo has been spending a lot of time on the road and in the studio, where he's worked on his new album, The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. Now that the album finally hit stores, One Be Lo is on a promo tour in Europe where he is doing some shows, impressing hip-hop fans with his lyrical abilities. Ballerstatus caught up with the globe trotter on the other side of the pond to talk about his rebirth, musical development and how converting to the Islam has affected his life. You have like eight stage names: Mr Hide, One Man Army, LoBeOne Kenobi, Lofat, BoyOneDa, the Anonymous and more. Why have you been working under so many aliases and what's the story behind the name One Be Lo?

One Be Lo: Well in the beginning, I really didn't care if people knew who I was, I just wanted them to respect the music. I came up with this concept called "The Anonymous." I never called myself that all the time because then I wouldn't be anonymous, so I called myself different things. It was just a concept that's all. Your last album, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., was released on Fat Beats Records and became one of the most successful independent releases of '05, selling over 22,000 units. Besides it being a great album, how do you think you managed to sell those units? What was the process of you getting the album out there?

One Be Lo: I think selling those records was a combination of many different things. First and foremost, having a track record was key. It's not like I just came out of no where. So yeah, Binary Star played a role in that. Doing so many shows over the years, plus the little bit of marketing that they did as well. The list goes on, but I do know that it's a never ending hustle. Now you parted ways with Fat Beats Records. How would you sum up the record deal and the time you spent with Fat Beats?

One Be Lo: I would say that Fat Beats was a chapter in the One Be Lo book. And now that chapter is over, and it's time to move on. It wasn't the first chapter and it won't be the last either.

I'm currently regrouping and rebuilding myself to be one of the most sought after "free agents" in hip-hop, so to speak. I got some incredible sh** in the vault right now. I'm well respected around the globe, and I work nonstop. The fun is just beginning, so stay tuned. It seems like you tend to stay independent because you are afraid to loose full creative control over their work. On the other hand, a major has more power to promote projects to the fullest extent. Would you consider to go shopping for a major deal in the near future?

One Be Lo: Every situation is different. I never shopped a record to a label, mainly because I just never thought about doing it. I wanted to do sh** myself because I can, and I needed to. Experience is the best teacher. Now that I have a better understanding of myself, the industry and even my fan base, I feel like I'm on a whole other level now. I wouldn't mind shopping my record to anybody who knew how to market and distribute my music to the people who need to get it. You recently released your new album, The R.E.B.I.R.T.H., and teamed up with several outside producers. When you first started to work on the album, were you initially going for a diverse sound, or did that develop along the way?

One Be Lo: Yeah it just developed along the way. I didn't know I was gonna do a record called The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. I was just making music, and decided to do some kind of side project that I could sell on tour. These were actually the songs that I felt wasn't good enough to go on the "real" album. After we mixed it, it came out way better than I thought it would, and so I felt comfortable releasing this as an album, instead of a mixtape or whatever. This album is a hip-hop album. I'm not one of those people who separate hip-hop into different categories, like gangster, or conscious, or dirty South or whatever. Just dope beats and dope rhymes. What does this album mean to you, personally? And in what ways do you feel you have grown as an artist?

One Be Lo: This album is a rebirth in many ways. You may not be able to tell in every song that is on this project, but it definitely documents a time period where I went through some changes. I know people listen to the record or the songs, but the way I record is more like a story. The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. is another story in the career of One Be Lo. And if you are paying attention, you can see where this story is going. The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. stands for "Real MCs Bring Intelligent Rhymes To Hip-Hop." Name your top 5 hip-hop songs with the most intelligent rhyming.

One Be Lo: To me songs are intelligent for different reasons, just like a 5-year-old can be intelligent for a different reason than a 20-year-old. So in my own catalog, each song is amazing in my opinion for a different reason. Some are stories, some focus more on wordplay, and some both. I put a lot of time into it all. Around the time when your group project, Binary Star, fell apart and you decided to pursue a solo career, you converted to the Islam. Can you speak a little on your decision to become a Muslim and the process of studying the religion?

One Be Lo: Actually I converted to Islam before there was a Binary Star. I would say the year was '95, we formed that crew maybe the same year and we went our separate ways in '99. I was exposed to Islam for the first time and in the beginning it caught my attention because for so long I only heard the stereo type stuff about Islam, or we thought that it was all about the Nation of Islam. When I learned that it was nothing like what I had been told, I guess it intrigued me more. I read the Qur'an for the first time and it blew my mind. Now as a musician, it must be extra hard to for instance, fast during the Ramadan when you're on the road non-stop, or to pray five times a day. To what extent did you adapt your lifestyle to the Islamic principles?

One Be Lo: It's not extra hard to do what you want to do, if you really want to do it. When I worked in restaurants, I thought it would be hard to fast because I was always around food, but it wasn't. One of the purposes of the prayer and the fasting is to help you to establish self discipline. I think some people struggle to fit Islam into their schedules, when they should be actually fitting their schedules into Islam. More and more artists are traveling to the Middle East to perform. Not too long ago, Ludacris went to Dubai to do a performance. Now Middle Eastern hip-hop is developing more and more and seems to be finding its way to the mainstream. Do you check out hip-hop from that part of the world? And -- being the globe trotter you are -- how would you feel about setting up a tour there?

One Be Lo: I'm not saying that I would never do it, but when I go to the Middle East, it ain't about business or music. That's like my get away from it all. I go to recharge my batteries. What does a One Be Lo hip-hop show look like?

One Be Lo: I never really seen a One Be Lo show, but what I try to do is connect with the crowd. Every crowd is different. At some shows, I tell more jokes, or I do more spoken word. It just depends on the energy that I'm getting and the people that are there. What are your tricks for hyping up a lackluster crowd?

One Be Lo: It's gotta be love at first sight. So you gotta impress them right away. If you can't get them all, at least get as many as you can. Some people like beats, some people like what you saying. I got something for everybody. I make sure that before my set is over, everybody will walk away with something to remember. It's more like an experience than anything else. Do you prefer studio or stage time?

One Be Lo: It's all a part of the recipe, so I like them both for different reasons. They both require a different type of artist. Some people are great on stage, but they can't record worth sh**. And vice versa. I work hard at both.