— As told by Binta Kane Diallo
Mother, rapper, model, and community activist, Neelam Hakeem is the multi-talented light needed in the rap game. She embodies poise and elegance in her style, while at the same time schooling people with her conscious rap metaphors and lyrics.
In 2018 Neelam’s now viral freestyle rendition of the “What Y’all Wanna Do” challenge caught the eyes of Will Smith and Diddy. Both praised her for her positive lyrics showcasing a few of the many injustices plaguing our communities. From there, sis took off! Her talents allowed her to join the likes of Erykah Badu, Chika, Bri Steves, and Sharaya J on the BET Hip-Hop Cypher stage. Neelam followed this feat by releasing her “I’ll Be The King” video, which featured a cameo by none other than Ms. Erykah Badu herself.
Aside from her rapping career, Neelam is extremely passionate and dedicated to advocating for and aiding the oppressed. She recently visited Wajir, a village in Kenya, where some of the people “have been blind for over six years due to lack of healthcare.” Last year, she also took a trip to my mother’s homeland of The Gambia to assist the children there.
Many artists move with fear when it comes to utilizing their platforms to fight for the rights of others. Neelam is not afraid to utilize her platform and her music to share the truth about injustices occurring around the world.
Her latest EP, “Different” (out now and streaming on all platforms), speaks to just that.
I asked Neelam a few questions about her journey and inspiration. She was gracious enough to keep it 100 and share her thoughts. Check them out below:
Muslim Girl: What is your biggest inspiration behind the work that you do?
Neelam Hakeem: The biggest inspiration that inspires me do what I do is the importance of representation. I always say that I believe that women are the most dynamic creatures on the planet, so I believe it’s important to have a very diverse set of women’s voices with different perspectives with a balance of different views.
It’s important for Muslim women to continue to break down barriers and stereotypes and control the narrative. That’s what I’m trying to do in the music industry. Shift the culture.
What has been the best lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
The best lesson that I’ve learned on this journey is that being your authentic self and owning who you are is the best thing you could possibly be. Unalike attracts, so it’s okay if you’re the only one in the room like yourself. Just be magnetic. Also, to care less about what’s trending or what’s so-called “in.” Just “do you” proudly!
What is the most important challenge you choose to overcome as a Muslim woman in your field?
It’s definitely a challenge to be a Muslim woman in the music industry, especially in hip hop as a rapper. There’s no one mainstream that looks like me, so naturally that’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m up for.
I always say representation matters, and we need to bring balance to the industry, especially when it comes to women. We are more than what they push in the mainstream, and all our voices need to be heard.
I’ve been told that if I conform and be more like the other rappers that I would probably be more successful. That’s what my single “Secret Meeting” is about, but I choose to overcome and fight to be me regardless of what people say. I believe it’s bigger than me, and it’s not about money or fame. It’s about us having a voice.
What’s the one message you hope to deliver to the next generation of Muslim girls?
I would want the next generation of Muslim girls to know that you’re dope, first and foremost! Also that you can do anything you want to do! I know it sounds cliché, but it’s factz! Continue to break down barriers, break records, and be the first, second, and third etc. Let your voice be heard.
What do you wish you could say to yourself 10 years ago?
If I could talk to myself 10 years ago, I’d say throw that fear away girl! It’s False Evidence Appearing Real. You’ll be surprised where overcoming your fears will take you.