BallerStatus recently reported the international release of anti-Muslim movie “Fitna”, which made the founder of the movie, Dutch politician Geert Wilders, and the Netherlands the talk of the day. The offensive 15-minute movie led to debates, heavy responses from international leaders and aggressive riots around the globe. Muslims and terrorists, whom Geert Wilders can not differentiate from one another, were initially the main subject of the movie. In the end, one man unintentionally became the most talked about character in the movie: Arabic-Dutch rapper Salah Edin. The creators of the movie chose to discuss Mohamed B., killer of a provocative film maker, but had mistaken Salah Edin for Mohamed B. Instead of showing his photo, they used one of Salah Edin — whose album cover showed some resemblances with Mohamed B.’s mug shot and was accidentally used in the movie.
Although Salah is in the final stages of releasing his new album worldwide, there are more pleasant marketing tools to get his name out there than through a movie that insults his own religion. See through all the media attention around “Fitna” and find a street smart globe trotter who spreads knowledge and stimulates interaction about multicultural life and society through a universal language we all understand: hip-hop. BallerStatus sat down with Salah a couple of days after he slammed Wilders with a lawsuit to chat about the media circus, his relationship with Aftermath producer Focus and his new album Horr.
BallerStatus.com: Can you speak a little on your background? Where did you grow up and when did you first get acquainted with hip-hop music?
Salah Edin: I was born in the year when Bob Marley played his final live performance at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh. I was born in the month when the African National Congress in South Africa published a statement of their imprisoned leader Nelson Mandela’s saying “Unite! Mobilize! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall rush apartheid.” And I was born on the day that the Israeli police clashed with Palestinian demonstrators at the West Bank. Nowadays they’re still clashing… so I’m still here. Born and raised in the 0172 Netherlands, went back to the motherland Morocco at the age of 5 and eventually came back again to the Netherlands when I was 8. Raised by a single hard working mother, my father was a rolling stone and moved back to Morocco when I was 12. I remember my old man listening to all kinds of music, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Prince to Moroccan folklore group Nass el Ghiwane. One day I found a tape in his car that said “Follow the Leader.” I played that tape like a thousand times. That beat, the flow, the voice, the sound, everything sounded lovely. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about, but it didn’t matter. Few weeks later, I was reciting all the words and glued to the television, checking “Yo! MTV Raps.” First hip-hop album I ever bought was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. Everything about that album made sense. The whole structure, I analyzed that sh** back and forth and later applied it to my music.
BallerStatus.com: What was it about hip-hop that made you want to be part of it?
Salah Edin: Basically the message, the power of words and being able to express feelings and emotions that way. To have your own private way to reach people from different nations and spread your vision on life, society, politics and basically everything in life.
BallerStatus.com: When you first entered the scene, your lyrics were in Arabic. You’re like the Arabic Twista. It’s amazing how fast you manage to rhyme in what is said to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. Why did you choose to go with Arabic rhyming and how did you develop your skills?
Salah Edin: First of all, it starts by living the language, that’s why I chose to do it in Arabic. It was the language I grew up with, Dutch was my second language. But my priority was the Arabic language because, according to UN statistics, there are over 650,000,000 Arabs worldwide. And not to forget there was nobody representing Arabic hip-hop in the 22 Arabic states. So after I saw the French group, IAM, release their album, L’Ecole Du Micro D’Argent, and breaking through in different countries and continents, I felt I was in the position to fill up the role of an Arabic artist and rep my people, my culture and roots.
I don’t consider myself to be like Twista. With all due respect to the artist who created his own style and rhyme patterns, but I focus more on my own style through the use of my voice and intonation. But like you said, there are some songs where you could find me twisting differently on beats or rocking it to a 3/4 beat. I like experimenting with a language I can’t read or write. Everything I write is phonetic. So I challenge myself all the time.
BallerStatus.com: I attended some of your shows in the past. It’s pretty crazy to see how people who do not speak one word Arabic react to your music. I mean, they nod their heads to the beat and get energetic when they see you live, without understanding a word you say. How do you experience this?
Salah Edin: I’ve been to 36 countries with Wu-Tang members, Cilvaringz, RZA, Raekwon and Meth. But I’m in no way affiliated with the Clan. Every time I got on stage, the crowd couldn’t understand a word I spit, but it showed me that hip-hop is not only about understanding the words, it’s also about feeling the vibe you’re rocking to. It’s more than just singing live, it’s the performance, the image, the energy, your personal persistence and experience. One of the first things I’ve learned as an MC is to control the crowd. That’s where it basically starts. And when I got off this tour with Meth last November in Colombia, Chile and Canada, I got to learn from one of the best out there. That dude is a monster on stage.
BallerStatus.com: Last year you made the transition to rapping in Dutch by releasing Nederlands Grootste Nachtmerrie, which became your most successful album so far. On certain songs on the album and the cover itself — which we will be discussing later on — you had an outspoken opinion about society and wanted to send out a social/political message. Dutch stores even considered banning the album because they considered it to be insulting the Dutch society. Eventually the album made it through. Are you content with the response it has received so far? Did you achieve everything you wanted?
Salah Edin: Well like I said in the beginning, I was raised in two different languages, Arabic and Dutch. So why not take advantage with both, create more possibilities, express yourself in different languages. Besides that, the Dutch scene recently became more appreciative of local hip-hop and grew fast. The scene developed into many different styles, but didn’t really reach anything of what I was looking for. I like to think about the total picture, not just be a good MC. For instance, there are plenty MCs, but not many have a story. So I worked it all out because whatever image and marketing I was going to come out with, it was already in my persona. I didn’t have to create it. I took advantage of the fact I looked like convicted killer, Mohamed B, who happened to be the most famous killer in Dutch history. I chose to play with the preconceived opinion that was created by society itself. I did not choose to look like him, it chose me. To finish it all off properly, my manager Cilvaringz hooked me up with Aftermath’s wonder child Focus and the rest is history. We as artists always try to push to the edge. That in itself is an art. If it has an influence on society and creates debates on social and racial issues. I certainly consider it having achieved all that I ever wanted to do with my music. F*** an award, even though I won one for Best Hip Hop Album of 2007. That was a bonus, but the real price was proving with my music and marketing the hypocrisy of the Dutch society. And that’s an achievement you can’t buy.
BallerStatus.com: Dutch politician Geert Wilders has become a worldwide phenomenon when he announced the release of his anti-Muslim movie “Fitna.” It received a lot of attention, from press coverage and debates to people in Saudi Arabia demonstrating against the release of the movie and burning photos of Wilders. As a Muslim, what went on in your mind when you first heard about his initial plans to release such a movie?
Salah Edin: First time I heard that he was about to release his anti-Koran movie, I wasn’t shocked or anything. Wilders was already known for his provocative or rather fascist ideas in parliament. In addition, being a Muslim myself, there wasn’t really much he could say to change my mind. So it really didn’t bother me much, until he ended up mistakenly using my picture. That’s when the tide changed.
BallerStatus.com: There are more movies coming up, such as a Dutch cartoon that is said to negatively portray Muslims as well. Do you think it has anything to do with freedom of speech or more like an insult towards the Islam?
Salah Edin: It’s more ignorance and fear. Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth. At the same time, earth inhabits many ignorant people. So when they see some crazy Imams saying some outlandish wild sh**, they automatically associate it with the religion, which is ignorant, but understandable. I’m sure part of it is to insult, incite hatred or whatever. But I think the biggest part is ignorance and fear. Like Nas once said “People fear what they can’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer, guess it’s just the fury of man, became a monster.”
BallerStatus.com: “Fitna” is now available online. I personally wouldn’t want to call it a movie, more of a 15 minute slide show or compilation of footage from several terrorist attacks like 9/11 or the train bombing in Madrid. After seeing the movie, was it what you expected it to be?
Salah Edin: I saw that movie before. It’s an Al Qaeda propaganda movie. Think about it, if Osama Bin Laden’s commentary was under that slideshow, it would be perfect for an Al Qaeda recruiting movie. Only difference was the commentator. He was showing sh** that was danger according to his opinion, and Bin Laden would’ve said “This is how y’all should be doing it!”
BallerStatus.com: Now most shocking to you must be the fact that he has mistaken you for a Mohamed B., the murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Your album cover showed some resemblances with his mug shot and was accidentally used in the movie. Of course it’s painful when people mistaken you for a killer, especially in a controversial movie like “Fitna.” On the other hand I look at it with a positive outlook; it’s a good reflection of how ignorant Wilders and his production team are. It shows how they inequitably see a Muslim with a beard and instantly link him to violence or terrorism. Do you agree with that?
Salah Edin: When I saw the movie “Fitna,” or should I say slideshow “Fitna,” I wasn’t impressed at all. I was impressed by his marketing because the whole world was talking about that movie in no way Hollywood has ever managed to do so. But the movie was horrible, the research and conclusions he made were of such low intelligence, everybody was stunned really. Everyone was wondering if this was worth all the fuzz and media. But like always, the media blows sh** up. I heard of my picture before I got to see it though. It proved again that this man was only out to create fear and incite hatred. He couldn’t even get the picture of the most famous killer in Holland straight, so why should the world believe the rest of his research. Funny thing was, I didn’t even know about the picture until the police knocked on my door and asked if I heard the news and if I knew anything about any riots that could take place. I was like “Damn, you knocking on my door asking about riots, instead of offering some protection or some sh**.” That was crazy. But once the phone started blowing up, it started to sink in. And once we had CNN, Fox and ABC on the phone asking why I sympathized with Mohamed B, that’s when I knew the damage to my artistic intent with the picture was being done. That’s when I decided to take that dude to court, defamation of character. But at the same time, yeah, it proved everything I wanted to prove with my picture. I only didn’t want my controversy to break through the Dutch borders. My album was made specifically for Holland.
BallerStatus.com: With all the controversy that came along with the album and “Fitna” mistake, you have become a popular guest at talk shows and debates. How do you feel hip-hop can influence or change thoughts and views on society?
Salah Edin: Yeah, I appreciate it when they invite me. It’s a good thing for hip-hop because they sit you down with these people they call intellectuals, whether they are or not, but hip-hop has a voice and it’s a strong enough voice to be on television in front of 2 million viewers, being heard. Your usual target group might not be tuned in, but you reach different people too.
BallerStatus.com: On a different note, we spoke with both Wu-Tang Killa Beez artists, Cilvaringz and Aftermath producer Focus, last year. Both of them have contributed to your come up and production of Nederlands Grootste Nachtmerrie. During our interviews they were very excited about the brother ship and musical relationship between the three of you. What is it about the two of them that you admire most?
Salah Edin: It’s the same love here. We do operate as brothers from different mothers before operating as colleagues in the same field of work. I admire Cilvaringz for his work ethic. Man, he never gave up on his dreams. He went from being a local rapper in a small village in Holland to joining the Wu-Tang Clan to doing the biggest world tour in the history of hip-hop to setting up his company and booking tours for superstar artists and managing his brothers’ careers to where they can live off music.
Focus is a mad humble brother, I love my brother deeply. Whatever he did for me can never be returned in any way. I can’t even find words to describe my appreciation for having him play a part in my life and career. We click so well in music, but also in life. Someone like him, in his position, being a producer at Aftermath for over six years now, looking at his discography man, people like Beyonce, J-Lo, Pink, N-Sync, Dr. Dre, Game, 50, it’s just crazy yo. Most underrated producer in hip-hop!
BallerStatus.com: Your upcoming album will be released in the US as well. Break it down; producers, guest features, concepts and all that. Also, does this mean you will be working with Focus again?
Salah Edin: My Arabic album, Horr, is being mixed as we speak. It’s two weeks from mastering. When the album comes out, there will be an English translation in the booklet. We already shot two videos for it, we’re shooting the third in a few weeks. Focus however has no part in this album. He will on the next one. For this album, I have an in-house producer Mohalim. The album doesn’t have many features, except for one song called “Siasa,” which mean “Politics.” It’s a song featuring the best classical Arabic rappers in the world, Eslam Jawaad (Syria/Lebanon) and Palestine (Palestine). That song got picked up by director Gavin Hood when he was shooting his movie “Rendition” in Marrakech, Morocco. He ended up asking New Line Cinema to use it for that movie with Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon. So that was a good look for my first official Arabic release. As for Focus’ advice on the US rap scene. He knows it as well as I know it, hip-hop in the US sucks at the moment. There’s no advice needed. The best advice is not to try and make something similar to American hip-hop. He told me to be original, same thing RZA and Raekwon told me. And yeah, we will be releasing it worldwide, including USA. We’re closing the distribution deals right after mastering.
BallerStatus.com: With all the misunderstandings and hate that has stirred up against the Islam, do you think it is extra hard for you to make name for yourself as a Muslim rapper in the US?
Salah Edin: I’m not really trying to be successful in USA. People should stop thinking that “making it in the USA” is top notch level of success. I’d rather be successful in my community man. That’s whom I’m doing this for. If my community feels my sh**, I’m satisfied. If some American people feel it too, that’s a great bonus. I’m happy people like the Wu, Focus and artists like Lenny Kravitz were feeling my sh**, but the real price is getting that love from the MENA regions, Middle East North Africa.
BallerStatus.com: How do you feel about non-American hip-hop? Do artists get the props they deserve?
Salah Edin: I’m happy to see hip-hop nationalizing. When I was in Poland they were playing Polish hip-hop in the club. When Cilvaringz and RZA were in Hong Kong, they heard Cantonese hip-hop, which blew their minds. It’s good yo because like I said, USA is not the only place for good sh** anymore. Everywhere in the world there is talent. And with the Internet, we have a good way of finding that talent, be it music, movies, art, anything. The world is way bigger than USA.
BallerStatus.com: Is there anything else about Salah Edin our readers should know about?
Salah Edin: Watch for my group ARAP, a formation of the best Arabic rap artists and DJs consisting of myself (Morocco), Eslam Jawaad (Syria/Lebanon), Palestine (Palestine), Cilvaringz (Morocco), Shadia Mansour (Palestine), Miskeena (Lebanon), DJ Van (Morocco), DJ Shadia (Jordan), DJ Lethal Skillz (Lebanon) and DJ Lady S (Morocco). If you’re into Arabic hip-hop, check us out taking sh** over!