March 6th, 2009
Published two years after their first CD, Native Deen’s Not Afraid to Stand Alone also opens with a benediction entitled “Subhan Allah” (Glory to God), which features the profession of the Muslim faith. The rest of the CD is not simply a repeat of the group’s earlier efforts, however. Not only is the sound more polished, but the group has incorporated a wider range of sounds and themes, adding to Not Afraid‘s overall complexity. Perhaps the most notable changes are the introduction of South African style singing, particularly on “Eid Morning” and “Rain Song,” as well as more brooding examinations of the discrimination frequently faced by Muslims living in America.
If Deen You Know was aimed at instructing listeners in the way of Allah, Not Afraid to Stand Alone seeks to strengthen group identity and a sense of hope and solidarity in the face of adversity. “Stand Alone,” the title track and the most widely publicized song on the album, tells two stories of perseverance in the face of religious intolerance. The first story is about a single mother who embraces Islam only to be denied a job because she refuses to give up her hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty. The second story is about a student who is teased for praying, fasting, and refusing to wear clothing associated with gangsta culture. The song urges Muslims to maintain their faith despite pressures to conform. In addition to the CD, “Stand Alone” is also available in the form of an online music video.
“Still Strong,” featuring guest rapper Islam B., discusses the false arrest of Muslims by the US government following 9/11 as part of the war on terror. Many of these Muslims faced illegal interrogations and others experienced months of imprisonment during which they were denied access to a lawyer, a trial, or even a means of informing family members of their whereabouts. Although the tone of the song is understandably indignant at this treatment, it simply urges Muslim to remain strong and unbroken despite these harsh injustices.
A third song tackling discriminatory behavior is “Be at the Top,” which complains about the negative depictions in the media of Muslims as violent and barbaric. Native Deen compares the treatment of Muslims today to that of African Americans in the 60s and the Japanese in the 40s and questions why anyone would trust TV for their knowledge about other cultures. In response to the people who do act on what they glean from the media, the group comments:
You don’t know ‘bout religions
And you don’t know ‘bout the races
You look, see black, think that I’m athletic
And you look and see I’m Muslim and think anti-Semitic
To solve the problem of the media’s anti-Muslim bias, Native Deen proscribes Muslim self-improvement and aggressively training a new generation of Muslim lawyers and journalists.
Not all the songs on the album are focused on countering stereotypes, however. There are still some religious lesson songs, such as “Lord Is Watching” and “Pray Before…,” songs which respectively remind listeners that that Allah is aware of their bad deeds even when no one else is and that there is no excuse for skipping prayer. “Life’s Worth” bemoans the war in the Middle East and how Christians and Muslims are “dying over different points of view.”
On the happier side of things, “Sea of Forgiveness,” “Tala’al Badru,” “Eid Morning” are all songs offering praise to Allah and Muhammad. “Labank” sings about experiencing the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and the wonders of performing traditional religious rituals beside Muslims from around the world. “M-U-S-L-I-M” is a song made popular by Native Deen’s live performances and is described on the CD as helping young Muslims to get “hyped.” Perhaps the sweetest song on the album is “Zamilooni,” which tells the story about the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Khadijah. Khadijah was a successful noble woman and entrepreneur who turned down a sea of suitors to marry Muhammad despite his lack of wealth and status. The title, “Zamilooni” means “hold me” and refers to Muhammad’s cries for comfort to Khadijah after his first confusing encounter with God and in the times of hardship that followed.
This time, the structuring device of the CD takes the form of a radio DJ announcing the release of Native Deen’s latest CD. The call-ins to the release show feature prominent members of the US Muslim community including Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America; Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Imam of Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn; and Rami Nashashibi, the executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) praising Native Deen and speaking messages of hope to Muslim listeners. Correcting their mistake from the last CD, Native Deen has moved these spoken dialogues to independent tracks. The person programming the headings for the CDs apparently missed this fact, however, so the song titles displayed by your computer or CD player probably won’t match the actual songs after the first track.
Not Afraid to Stand Alone doesn’t have much in the way of liner notes, so there isn’t a printed translation of the Arabic provided. The lyrics are, however, available online through Native Deen’s website. In place of lyrics, the booklet includes a call out to historic figures who serve as role models to African American Muslims including Bilal Ibn Rabah (the first black Muslim), Hagar (a slave and the Mother of Ishmael), Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali.
All and all, this is an excellent CD. Again, the content is more brooding and many of the songs tackle thornier sociopolitical issues than those from Native Deen’s first release. While I could see playing Deen You Know to pretty much anyone, Not Afraid to Stand Alone might prove confusing and even troubling to children and to non-Muslims who are completely unfamiliar with Islam simply because it contains a number of more complicated concepts and allusions. For these audiences, my recommendation would be to let Deen You Know serve as your introduction to Native Deen, and to move on to Not Afraid a bit later.
Posted by Ronda Sewald
Review Genre(s): Rap and Hip-Hop