The pure joy that shines from Alia Sharrief, is naturally infectious and a person cannot help but to get caught up in her whirlwind of #BlackMuslimGirlFly. Her genuine smile, and the way she speaks lets you know you’re loved and welcomed into her ride-or-die clique. At least, that’s how she made ME feel.
Alia, is a hip-hop artist whose grind is a reflection of the realness of Tupac and the passion of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. It was a pleasure to talk with her and get to know a little more about her latest music, her videos, and her upcoming event, Hijabi Chronicles, coming to New York next week. Here’s what she had to say about being #BlackMuslimGirlFly.
TeamBMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is defined as that “it” factor Black Muslim Girls & Women have that makes them amazing, dope, & fresh-to-death awesome. How would you describe your #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Alia Sharrief: My #BlackMuslimGirlFly is my attitude and confidence. I feel like being able to just say, “Hey, I’m Black and I’m Muslim and I’m FLY, taking all three of those and being able to stand on that and rock with it, that’s what makes it fly.
TeamBMGFly: How did you grow into your Muslim identity? And, how does being a Black girl impact that? (Or, if you’re bi-racial, or of multi-ethnic heritage, how does that impact your Muslim identity?)
Alia: I feel like it went through stages similar to Malcolm X. I wasn’t the Nation of Islam, I’ve always been Orthodox Muslim. But, I do see it as, things from the ummah also were staring to just… like as a kid I don’t think I really got it. But, I understood that there was some form of mistreatment, some racism toward the younger Black community in the Masjid. As far as my Masjid goes, (growing up) definitely, yeah, it was mostly Arab. I still had my clique, my squad, at least fourteen of us, mostly all of us Black. But, unfortunately, it was there that I had my first experience of being called a nigger, by a little kid actually. But, it wasn’t… honestly, I would be wrong if I just sat here and said that my experience was just this whole racist thing in the Masjid. Because that Masjid was really dope. I had Arab teachers, with Muslim classes on Sundays, and it wasn’t just like every Arab was all out of pocket. There were some solid sisters there.
As I grew older, I started realizing as far as my Muslim identity and being a Black Girl, and just being a human being, when you don’t exactly feel accepted into something you start traveling into more so your Black identity. Which sometimes, that’s hard to find because of the media and what they give you to follow, and what you’re “supposed to be.” I feel like, I was challenged in college, by a teacher who was making me question, because he was saying ‘God isn’t real,’ and that as a Black person I’m ‘so stuck on being, (not just me, but the whole Black society was,) stupid for thinking that was powerful, because God doesn’t even exist.’
That was really, really deep for me, so I started digging into Islam, gathering facts, listening to sheikhs and Imams I could really trust. And, it was like, “Wow, this is bigger than me. This is bigger than the ummah. This is bigger than my experience.” Because Islam, right here, this is perfect. There are so many facts in this. So, when I really saw that, regardless of what my Mom and Dad raised me as Muslim my whole life, I’m for the facts. And, when I got those facts, that’s when I realized whatever Islam brings, and the guidance it provides for women, I should follow.
TeamBMGFly: How do you maneuver the music industry as a Black Muslim Woman?
Alia: I basically had an interesting conversation with this panel I was on, and it was on Muslim women being highlighted. And, this woman who was in Hollywood, you know I was just listening to her. She was saying she’s Muslim, but she can’t put Muslim on everything. And, you probably relate to this, I know we talked about that years ago, I’m like the fact that she was just saying this, I was totally thinking to myself, ‘Wow,’ you know. I really just come and I’m just like, take me as I am. Because at the end of the day, with social media, the psychological warfare, I don’t necessarily have time to try to, like… And, everybody’s story is different, so I’m not saying anybody should do this, or should do that, or should be more or should be less. But, for me, it took me a long time to get this confident, and to get this brave, and to get this Muslim Girl Fly. So, I don’t necessarily have time to really just kind of adjust my Muslim(ness.) And, I find sometimes that us Muslim women, especially the ones who wear hijab, have to try to kind of figure out how we can maneuver this to kind of fit in. And, I spent a lot of years doing that. So, like I said, I’m not trying to judge the next person, because life is literally a journey. Every step you make is a different day, a different you. It took me a long time to get here where I just was like, “You know what? Like Mary J. Blige said, ‘take me as I am or have nothing at all.” Life is too short, and I just feel like, with the Arab narrative being so dominant, it seems like they get a kind of acceptance. It’s like the face of Islam is a Muslim Arab woman. And, I feel like we have to try, Black women, we have to do more. We always have to do more. So, I’m like, take me as I am at this point.
TeamBMGFly: What made you decide to take that leap of faith and go into music? What were the steps to creating your brand?
Alia: I’ve always just been in music. Ever since I was young, I was performing for my family. And, I always tell the classic story of “Homey C.” I was Homey C at four years old. I had the backwards hat on, I had the mic. My mom said… I was talking to her, and I was very disappointed in her answer, because I asked her, “Don’t you remember when I was Homey C, man I was such a G, Mom!” And, she said, “Girl, you got that from Homey The Clown!” But, you know what, Homey the Clown was tight, so I don’t care. I was Homey C! Alhamdulillah, and my grandma was a poet. She always told me,“Pencil whip ‘em. Pencil whip ‘em. This is the most powerful weapon you have in your hand, is this pencil.” She told me that when I was in elementary school. And, I was always… I feel like when I came out I was singing and not crying. My mom would say otherwise, of course!
Besides going through the stages of the talent shows, and always being in the school plays, and going to theater class. I feel like it started in 2014, but years before that I dropped a mixtape. But it was a little mixtape that was all just for me. It felt like it was just mine, but I put it out there. I did a lot of shows. I went to Sri Lanka and performed out there. I started doing shows in New York, L.A., all around California. And, then 2014 when I graduated college that’s when I was really like, “I’m about to do this again, or not?” As I graduated, I was going through that whole coming into my Muslim identity and being a Black woman. That’s why the first song that I dropped was “Black Heroes.” In that song I definitely made it a point to say,“I’m Black like the first man who called the adhan,’ to make it known, I’m tired of y’all silencing me. I just was like, “Man, I’m Muslim!” And, my heart is my Deen, my Deen is my life. And, I gotta make it pop. I’m hip-hop. I’m not haraam for making music, and I’m Muslim. I can wear my hijab and rap on stage. So, I started just being unapologetically Muslim. As far as being Black, I’m Black no matter what. You can’t change it. So, when it came down to really finding my identity, being Black and Muslim, I can’t separate the two. It’s easy for me because, you know what, I’m Black and Muslim, it is what it is. I can’t separate the two.
And, then CNN picked up on my performances at all these colleges, and the word spread. Then, Al-Jazeerah came to our first Hijabi Chronicles Show, and it picked up the whole movement. It was all together, Allah’s will, alhamdullilah.
TeamBMGFly: What’s your writing process for your songs? Are there stories behind them?
Alia: Back in the day, I would just get a concept and just write it out. I have a song that’s a classic called, “Notebook,“ And, “Notebook” was literally that I had an idea and then wrote the song out. But, it was a very true song. So that’s how my first mixtape was. The second, my process started becoming a little different. It’s because, honestly, when you are in a spotlight, being a Muslim, a hijabi, a rapper, you do have somewhat of a responsibility, in my opinion. I started learning. I started listening to Sizzla Kalonji, a Jamaican artist, and he’d say ‘read the books.’ I started listening to Tupac, “Read the books.” I started listening, and everybody was like, “The key is in the books.” I did a music video a long time ago, called “Tough Love,” and basically it’s a Black man who’s trapped in chains, and I hand him a book, and he opens the book and he gets the key and unlocks himself. So, I’ve been telling myself this subconsciously all this time, so now let me read the right books. So, I started reading. I started listening to more lectures, and started being more involved in the community. And, for me, I feel like writing to me… when you get something it’s from Allah. It’s literally from Allah. There’ll be days I’ll just be trying, and it’s just not coming. And, it isn’t because I suck! It’s just, Alhamdulillah, for me it’s a gift from God. So, I just try to take down notes. I try to keep melodies in my head, and I revisit myself.
TeamBMGFly: Why hip-hop? How do you think it’s relevant to today’s generation of youth?
Alia: I think Hip-Hop has always been relevant. It’s never not been relevant. That’s why all the designers have to get their clothes to be what we are wearing. We’re from the slums, from the poor. And, we can still flip anything. We are the standard. We are what fashion is. Everything that we’re seeing is from us. Hip-hop is something that… spoken word alone, the beat, the rhythm, it literally has been for generations speaking to people. Even me, I find myself… I can write, and sing something or be on a beat, something better than I could just say sometimes. Like, ‘Oh, I can’t say it, but I can rap it out.’ *Alia freesytles.* It comes so natural, so I feel like when people hear hip-hop, they’re influenced because you just provided a voice for so many people. Regardless of what the voice is. One thing that’s really important is that it is all about platforms. And, who chooses to highlight which hip-hop. Because, hip-hop wasn’t started just to like, pop it and shake it. It was started to help with gang violence, to help gang treaties, to help with drugs in the community, to stop people from hurting people, to unite the community, to give people knowledge. People were rapping about facts. So, the generation is very inspired by hip-hop, and I feel like it’s just all about what hip-hop they receive. Kendrick Lamar, huge fan of his, I opened for him, it was an honor; one of my favorites. And, then a lot of people are fans of J. Cole. There are a lot of artists, I think who are being a vessel for some good hip-hop for the generation.
TeamBMGFly: How do you keep aware of what you deliver, and what separates you from others in your industry?
Alia: One thing I got inspired by was the idea, Astaghfirullah, I’m not saying this to be conceited. And, I really don’t want this to sound conceited, but you can never be me. I keep ahead of it by waking up everyday breathing, saying Alhamdulillah, inshaAllah before I even talk. And just giving thanks to Allah, because no matter what, no matter who is doing what, or where. You can never be me. And, I can never be you. Recognize the differences in what I bring. As long as I keep my grind going, keep consistent at what I’m doing, and just follow my heart, and know I’m doing this for a bigger picture, Alhamdulillah.
TeamBMGFly: What’s the number one thing you hope people will gain from hearing your music?
Alia: I want them to get the essence of just being strong, having an opinion. Being fly, being ahead of the game, and knowing that a female can be the one to actually say what you need to hear, inspire you, motivate you. It doesn’t just have to be this male dominated perspective of hip-hop. I would like people to take away my higher vibrancy, and my deeper understandings, and my creative levels of consciousness. And, really to, peep the flow, though. Because sometimes I really feel like nobody cares, I mean about lyrical. Hip-hop has always been about a narrative and a story. Listen to the lyrics.
TeamBMGFly: Who did you look up to while growing up? Who inspires you now?
Alia: My family. My mother, is my bestest friend. It took us a while, when I was younger. In high school it was a little rough. But, everything she said was the truth. That motherly love is so important. Yeah, my mom and my dad, have been my biggest inspirations, and the people who’ve steered me right. And, my grandma Margaret, may Allah be pleased with her. She is definitely inspiration for my poetry. My mom is my music, my hip-hop. My mom used to listen to like, when we were little, country. And, like, all kinds of stuff. My dad was more like all the soul and the hip-hop. My mom, we would listen to like Carly Simon, Dixie Chicks, all kinds of stuff. I know a whole bunch of songs. So, I have a varying taste in music, I don’t just listen to hip-hop. And, I’m inspired by people like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Tupac… and a whole bunch I’m just blanking on, but I’m inspired by this consciousness. I was inspired by Canibus, he’s like super old school. Canibus was literally one of my favorites, because when he came with that “Second Round Knock Out,” I was a little kid and I knew it by heart. I have three older brothers, we had a little boxing ring in the garage, and weights and jump ropes, we all worked out. As a little tiny kid, and I love it because they let me have my set. That song was something I’d work out to. The thing is, it was just something that was like, okay this is where lyrical combat, lyrical fierceness, lyrical sassiness, is coming from. And, a lot of people would say, “You remind me of Left Eye.” And, Left Eye was really influential to me as a little girl, because Left Eye was really positive. I loved her vibe.
TeamBMGFly: You have an upcoming event, Hijabi Chronicles. What inspired you to put it together?
Alia: Hijabi Chronicles started because I felt like we needed a Muslim women’s hip-hop collective, because, since I was all Muslim on them, the hip-hop sites that normally supported me turned silent. And, back then the Muslim platforms weren’t supportive, so we created our own platform. People knew the Hijabi Chronicles existed, but I really wanted it to come to the point to put together a show. I scouted every Muslim woman I could find, like the army recruitment. Anyone and everyone we could get, mostly in hip-hop, and we did that first Hijabi Chronicles show, and it took off from there. Definitely, I’m the founder, and the president, but I do believe in the word collective when you have one. Like right now, I have a couple sisters in New York, who have really just been being there for support, helping me out with contacting people, booking people. And, then we have our base of girls that we started with. And, Ahlaam has been with me from the start for every single one. But, the response that we were getting, the hate that we were receiving, the non-support we were receiving. Literally we were getting all kinds of threats, just evil, negative responses. And, then it just was sad, that literally the whole… a lot of the Muslim community turned their backs. But, I’m glad that these last two years it’s been more accepted. It was not an easy road, but Alhadulillah the burden is slowly being lifted as each year goes by. It’s so good to be grounded with the sisters I’ve been working with since the very first event until now, and it means a lot.
TeamBMGFly: What is one thing you want attendees to leave with, from your event?
Alia: I want them to leave knowing that Muslim women are talented, we are gifted, we are human beings, we can do anything you can do. We’re humans, we walk, we talk, there’s no reason to be afraid of us. Respect us, don’t neglect us, if you see us assaulted, protect us. I just want people to leave having a new sense of love, for not only Muslim women, but for women in the Arts that are intelligent. We have an author coming through, we have hip-hop artists, we have poets, we have speakers, we have activists. So, as women, (recognize) there are a lot of Black women up here, so, Wakanda Forever.
TeamBMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt defeated, and how did you overcome that?
Alia: That’s a tricky one, because I don’t necessarily know if I’ve ever felt defeated. But, let me think. Because we’re all human. I think, I’ve been through so much in my life, that defeat is just blocked out. Because, where there’s a will there’s a way. I will say, there were times where I put a lot out, just for Muslim identity in general. And, to try to deal with the Black Muslim erasure, and the “Arab is the end all, be all,” kind of made me feel distant. But, like we said earlier, as being a vessel, and that honor and having a bigger picture and it’s bigger than me. It’s like you just got to push through. I’ll say this, I have felt like certain things can slow you down. And, not even defeat you, because you know you’re not defeated. You know that you’re not going to lose, but you know you’re being slowed down. The best thing to do is try not to doubt yourself, and replace those negative thoughts that are from the devil, that sound just like you, with positive reaffirmations, and say Alhamdulillah. Say thank you to the Lord, to Allah, every day. It’ll lighten your burden. You know, I was read this book, from Joy DeGruy called, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and one thing that she described in that book was howAfricans who were enslaved worked until they died, some of them. So, sometimes I feel like I remind myself that my ancestors, had to do this. They had to work, to force themselves to do things that I don’t have to do. So, sometimes when I’m feeling tired, or I’m feeling down, I think of that thought. Like, ‘girl just go through this, just run through it.’
TeamBMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt like you defied odds or broke barriers?
Alia: You know when I really hear that, I can’t help but to say at the Women’s March. Because, not only were people like, “What the hell is she doing up there?” And, dealing with all the trolls online, talking that mess. Talking that crap. I don’t even want to repeat it. And, I’m just on stage, little old me with a mic and 550,000 people. And, I’m just supposed to do, “Who Ready,” last time I checked. I thought hold on, I just came from Oakland, CA. We’ve been out here in these streets for years. I was making du’a. I even had a circle on stage with the sisters that were on stage, ironically that were all Black Muslims Sisters. And, I was praying with them. Because I knew I didn’t just want to perform. I just felt obligated to say something. I had to say something. Everybody was scared. And, literally going up there to perform my song it was an honor. But, once I got on stage, I just felt like I understand that this is a great spotlight for my music but also I feel like I had to let it be known, that I’m representing the Black Muslim community. I came up there with the Sisters. I was like, “Look sisters, I don’t know what I’m about to say, but I think we should all go up there together as one, and let it be known.” It was three Sisters up there with me. I said, “They talking about they gonna ban us. That stuff ain’t gonna happen, right? No! We represent the Black Muslim community, we’ve been Muslim our whole lives. Talking about we got to take off this hijab? But guess what, “We are not afraid of Donald Trump!” I was kind of nervous, but I did that to give young, Black Muslim girls that rock all around the world, a voice.
TeamBMGFly: What would you cite as the foundation of your success?
Alia: My mom. She really is, because she’s my biggest fan. She does things for me, that no one can do. My mom, she literally does like little things. Just an example, when I was about to do the Kendrick Lamar show, I was so nervous. I really was, and I came to her. And, I never tell people I’m nervous. And, I told her “Mom, I’m hecka nervous,” and she said, “You’re nervous? You’re never nervous. Alia, you can dance. Just dance.” I said, What? You approve of my Muslim self, dancing? What?” So, I was up there, dancing. She’s literally like my life coach.
TeamBMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is an empowerment brand created to uplift and remind Black girls that they are FLY in many ways. What advice would you give all the Black Muslim girls out there, worldwide, to cultivate their own individual #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Alia: Don’t ever underestimate yourself. You literally can do anything you set your mind to do. The only person stopping you ultimately, is you. So, don’t doubt yourself. Don’t look in the rearview mirror. Don’t look in the past. When you want something and it’s not happening for you, cultivate it. Create it. Do it. Because at this point in time with this internet, this social media, it’s such a time to just get active. But always remember, don’t sell yourself short. It’s not about the fame or being seen. Do things from your heart and your intention.
TeamBMGFly: What’s something you haven’t done yet, but would like to do next?
Alia: I want to visit Africa, West Africa. And, I want to go to Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. I want to check out the whole continent, but if I only had a few that I could go to, it’d be those. I’ve been to other countries before, but never there. I want to go and see it for myself. I want to see my people.
Thanks again for sharing your story with us and the rest of the world. I believe it’s very important for us, Black Muslim Girls and Women, to stand up and speak up and let the world know we are here and we’re making things happen. For far too long, we’ve been made to be invisible. Well, not anymore!
Get your tickets to Hijabi Chronicles here: