Since debuting in 2008, Blak Madeen have used their positivity and passion to craft some of the more poignant Hip-Hop to come out of the New England area. On the back of their latest offering, which is a 7 track EP titled One Second To Pray, the duo of Al-J and Yusuf are taking their craft a step further with their insightful and somewhat thought-provoking social commentary influenced music. We were able to get some words from the duo on all things music, life and more insight on how their Islamic background shapes them. Check out the interview below.
WRG: Please give us a brief backdrop of yourselves — did you start out as solo acts? How did the partnership come to fruition, etc.?
Al-J: I was in many groups, then in 2003 I cut my first CD as a solo artist. I went by the name Al-Jabra. I linked up with Yusuf in 2005.
Yusuf: I had a lot of friends involved in the Boston scene. Some were rappers, some were deejays, others were promoters. I ended up meeting Al-J at a show in ‘05 in Cambridge, MA. We started working together, and a couple of years later Blak Madeen was born.
WRG: Your latest EP, One Second to Pray, tackles sensitive subject matter. Do you believe challenging the status quo is integral to the work of an artist?
Al-J: I am a misfit naturally so I always went against the grain. This is not to harm myself or bring harm to anyone. I consider myself a non-conformist.
Yusuf: I just write about the issues that I feel are important. If those issues are considered sensitive subject matter, then so be it, as long we do it with knowledge.
WRG: Tell us about the recording process behind One Second To Pray. How did y’all come up with the concepts, the guest features, etc.?
Al-J: I was building with Yusuf and both of us came to an agreement: the features we have on this album, with the exception of Edo. G, were just as underrated as we were. We appreciate the poetic value of these artists that were largely overlooked.
Yusuf: I think this project is something we did as hardcore Hip-Hop heads. Guys like Divine Styler, Grand Daddy I.U., and West Coast Kam are artists that only real fans can appreciate. In terms of the production, we just sought out that hard Boom bap. We needed a sound to match our subject matter and deliveries.
WRG: As Muslims, how do you balance the strict religious obligations with Hip-Hop?
Al-J: Being Muslim is the ultimate experience of being human. The community as a whole wants wholesome culture, so I’m honored to provide a service. We are honored to provide a service.
Yusuf: The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that religion is easy. I have been Muslim for 15 years, so I don’t see anything as a strict obligation. Islam is a way of life. As far as music, we just keep the lyrics clean and focused on things other than the typical drugs, sex, and violence.
WRG: Being independent artists, which is the one factor above all else that you desire most (increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure, more club and live performances, etc.)?
Al-J: All of the above. We need all the help we can get. I’m proud of our accomplishments throughout our past, our dedication coming out of our own pockets.
Yusuf: I’ve come not to expect anything from anyone. That might sound harsh, but it isn’t. We just put the music out, and we’re appreciative of any support we receive. We just hope our supporters spread the word.
WRG: What’s the most memorable responses you’ve received with regards to your music?
Al-J: I remember Cormega said to one of our friends and business associates when he heard our music and agreed to collaborate with us, “I need to be doing music like this right here.” I was able to exhale like, “finally…”.
Yusuf: Hearing Chuck D introduce one of our songs for the first time on Rapstation. That was dope, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have that happen more than once.
WRG: What’s the most memorable experience you can recall as recording artists?
Al-J: Meeting Just-Ice a/k/a Sir Vicious, that was a trip. Not long after that, we opened up for KRS-One, and as soon as we were I done, I got off stage and he was right in front of me. He gave us respect and everything.
Yusuf: Working in the lab with Tragedy Khadafi. Seeing him operate in the studio, going through the process of writing and recording, was really something. He is a master craftsman. It was like watching Michael Jordan or Mike Tyson.
WRG: What is the importance of the connections you make in life/the industry? How can you utilize them?
Al-J: Everything is a learning experience. You learn every day in this business. I learned to never take anything personal and that was a challenge for me at first.
Yusuf: Connections are important, as long as they are on the up-and-up. There are a lot of shady characters who prey on artists and sell them a dream. You are better off alone than with people like that. But we’ve fortunate to have some good people in our corner, especially Ned Wellbery of Leedz Edutainment here in Boston. Also, brothers like Divine Styler have been very encouraging to build with.
WRG: What is the most difficult thing y’all had to endure in the music industry?
Al-J: Patience in releasing this project. In general, me and Yusuf have a great working background. It’s just that others might not see or have your best interests at heart.
Yusuf: The rules of the indie rap game are always changing, with the technology and everything. It isn’t always easy to keep up. We are not part of any clique, and we don’t have big money behind us, so we often have to figure it out for ourselves. Like Al-J said, it takes patience.
WRG: Is there something you would like to do more of in the future?
Al-J: I want to get into a band. If I had the necessary resources, start a production company, create a movement like Public Enemy. As you might know, they came from a group called Spectrum City that consisted of deejays, and emcees, etc.
Yusuf: I’m not sure, to be honest. The opportunity to travel more and perform in various countries would be nice.
WRG: Who of your contemporaries do you listen to the most?
Al-J: Basically what I grew up on, that’s who I listen to. One thing about me, I am suspended in time when it comes to music. 1988-1990, that’s where my heart’s at.
Yusuf: I’ve been listening to West Coast Kam’s most recent project Mutual Respect, a lot. He’s an incredible lyricist. Edo. G just put out an album FreEDOm that’s really dope. The Warporn Industries project Everlast recently released with Sick Jacken and Divine Styler is bananas. I love listening to the vets still killing it.
WRG: What is the next stage for y’all, any pending projects in the works?
Al-J: Nothing at the moment. Currently just promoting the new EP. Who knows, the way me and Yusuf’s chemistry is, maybe something is on the horizon…you never know.
Yusuf: Really, getting the word out about the EP is the main focus. We have two videos for it, maybe we’ll shoot a third. I’m not sure, but we’ll keep you all posted.
WRG: If you had just one message to give to your fans, what would it be?
Al-J: Stay focused, never hopeless. Know this, they are not fans, they are extended family.
Yusuf: Thanks for the support. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Allahu Akbar.
Always a pleasure receiving gems from artists that have such a pure conviction of their craft and are willing to go the extra mile to not lose their integrity in this ever-fickle music industry. We at Weekly Rap Gods pay respect to Blak Madeen for keeping it a hundred at all times.
Show some support and cop their latest project One Second to Pray: HERE