February 26, 2007

Rapper Traces His Hip Hop Roots

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Last Friday night, underground emcee One Be Lo spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of approximately 40 fans, who later got to hear him freestyle on Slope Radio and perform at Theta Delta Chi. Students gathered in Goldwin Smith to hear the artist, formerly known as OneMa-nArmy of the rap duo Binary Star, speak about his life growing up in Pontiac, Mich. and his life now as an underground rap artist.

“I have a responsibility to myself and to youth to spread a positive message — love each other, love music,” he said. “Music is put out there to be a discourse. I’m not trying to be an authority. It’s not a money or an industry thing.”

One Be Lo — whose given name is Nahshid Sulaiman — spoke and rapped about subjects ranging from the war in Iraq to going to prison, often using metaphors and themes like the number 16 and the alien E.T. and even comparing Santa to Satan in a song about giving into temptation.

Sulaiman spoke about what it means to be an artist and the experiences that he draws from to write lyrics. He emphasized how Malcolm X, his personal hero, inspired and taught him that everyone has different experiences and a different reality.

“Every day you are a totally different person,” he said. “You read a new book, and you are a totally different person. You get harassed by the police, and you are a totally different person.”

Sulaiman briefly talked about his experience in prison, where he converted to Islam, and the many different people and beliefs he was exposed to there. He said that he learned to get along with and understand the mentality of people of many different beliefs.

He also expressed to the audience the joys of hearing a bird singing for the first time and the importance of appreciating the good in life.

As Sulaiman’s experiences change, his style and music change as well. Through writing, he said he hoped that a broad range of people will be able to relate to him and his music.

For Sulaiman, speaking at Cornell is one experience that helped him to gain a new understanding of other people. He said he did not expect to hear from Andag Bhai ’08, treasurer of the Sikh Student Association and organizer of the event, after Bhai had approached him at a show at Castaways last year about coming to speak and perform at Cornell.

“I never would have thought that the Cornell community would be interested in having me, but I’m here because they asked me,” Sulaiman said. “They reached out.”

Bhai was excited to meet one of his favorite artists and to bring Sulaiman’s message to Cornell, but acknowledged that this event was atypical.

“Seeing him here is a great act of randomness,” Bhai said, but he felt that bringing the rapper to Cornell was “the greatest thing I’ve done during my time at Cornell.”

Bhai has great respect for Sulaiman because the person behind the music is consistent with the image he portrays on TV and in videos.

“Meeting [Sulaiman] gave me a new confidence in him and his music,” Bhai said.

Even those who had not heard of Sulaiman were eager to hear his views on art and music.

“I’m interested,” Jimmy Kirby grad said before Sulaiman spoke. [img_assist|nid=21653|title=Candid Conversation.|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=69]“I want to know his philosophy on the purposes of art.”

Others were excited to learn about a new artist.

“I have never heard of him but I heard that he raps and that he has interesting things to say,” said Hannah Steinberg ’08.

“His music is tight,” said Bennett Fox ’08. “I was so excited that I kicked my dog right in the face.”

Bhai thought that Sulaiman would be a good artist to bring to Cornell because “his music opens up the door for more thought.”

After leaving the group assembled in Kaufman Auditorium, Sulaiman performed on Slope Radio’s Unsigned Hype with The Big Picture’s Zeke Rediker ’09, nicknamed D.J. Zeke, who talked to him about the role of hip-hop in today’s society and the importance of being a socially-conscious rapper.

Listeners also got to hear Sulaiman perform some original freestyle.
He ended his night at Cornell by putting on a show at Theta Delta Chi.

“He rocked the house,” Rediker said.