This piece is a precursor to my Born Allah Video Interview that will start launching on Monday! First, get some background information...
Adaptability is an important world in the world of music. Unfortunately, when acted upon without clear thought or a strong moral framework, it leads to loss of direction and most often to failure and/or regret. However, when adaptability intersects with the concept of evolution, while maintaining self-identity, then they form a lethal combination.
Truth is, most of us, at least anyone who is any bit interesting, have multiple layers and complex personalities. We have a wide worldview. We tap into the different parts of ourselves at will to adapt to different environments, it’s natural and it’s inherently us. When that is a part of us, then it also becomes a part of what we do.
Born Allah has been in this game a long time, but if you weren’t paying attention you may have missed his various incarnations and didn’t realize this was the same MC. Partially because he knew how to adapt and evolve and never lost sight of his integrity, but at the same time his actions weren't being projected to the world at large, so those outside of the L.A. Underground might have missed much of his progress.
The Rap world at large got their first dosage of him about 1990 via his group, Movement Ex when he was then known as Lord Mustafa. This was during a strong Hip Hop movement built on consciousness, social awareness, Islam, and Black Power. I doubt it was a coincidence that this was taking place in unison with the rise to the top of the sales charts and industry allure of what got dubbed as “Gangsta Rap”. In many ways, that other side helped maintain the balance, but in fact they weren’t exact opposites. The, also dubbed, “Conscious Rap” movement was filled with artists who came from the same streets as the “Gangsta Rappers”. Many of these “Conscious Rappers” were aggressive, radical in their ideas, anti-establishment, and willing to use physical force if needed…by any means necessary. Those ideas aren’t completely opposed to what the “Gangsta Rapper” was proposing. They were just focused on different targets and goals. Perhaps the single largest difference was that the “Conscious Rappers” projected strategy and purpose. They had the benefit and overall welfare of the people and society in mind as an end goal. Any killing or violence wasn’t for entertainment, acceptance from their peers, to prove their manhood, or because their thoughts were clouded from drugs and alcohol*.
Movement Ex embodied and articulated the bulk of those very ideas. The title of their first single reveals that, “Freedom Got A Shotgun”. They followed up with the next album push, “United Snakes Of America.” You can guess that they weren’t expecting a lot of radio support with those. As the name suggests, they were about the Movement first and foremost. Their messages were the primary concern, not the consequences or the lack of mainstream support.
It sort of adds a layer of interest to the story that they were on Columbia Records. Columbia Records was possibly the last major label to jump on the Hip Hop bandwagon. They did have their hand in the Rap game by distributing the Def Jam label, but they didn’t have a Rap artist signed directly to the label until Movement Ex. I don’t know why, probably because it just makes for a better story, but I can easily imagine a bunch of older white dudes in suits listening to Movement Ex and sharing their boardroom excitement as they brainstormed marketing idea, thinking they were about to be doing something radical. With each shocking lyric fired off of by Lord Mustafa they saw dollar signs. They could envision the rebelistic nature of the suburban white teens, dead set on offending their parents, eating this up and blasting it on their expensive home stereos…ha. I have no idea if there is any truth in that but it seems plausible and it’s fun to imagine.
Regardless, Movement Ex goals and missions came from a more guided, focused, honest and pure nature. In the album intro it is stated, “We have not come to dishonor anyone…or offend anyone. We have just come to teach. But, we will not lie for the satisfaction of the devil…” When you finish the album you should have no questions about what their politics, beliefs, and goals are. The primary theme is politics and the unfair conditions some people struggle with in this world. However the subject matter doesn’t stop at just politics, but even when it deviates it is still rooted in intellect, advice, and good moral living. Examples of this can be found on “KK Punanni” about the dangers of unprotected and irresponsible sex or “Universal Blues”, a very well written rhyme about the importance of water, as well as other pollution, and how we are currently abusing planet earth. On this topic Lord Mustafa teaches, “It’s a pity the city is built on top of the forest/Rape the soil for oil, not it washes on the seashore/Machinery polluting the air that we breathing/Toxic waste is placed in the water that we’re drinking/The ozone’s almost gone, it’s facts actual/With all the aerosol, not to mention space travel/Handle our environment with no kind of respect/Did a song like this because Earth is headed for a wreck/So the Ex comes to you, with the news/Face-to-Face, Eye-to-Eye, with the Universal Blues!” There are a lot of other great quotables sprinkled through out as well, Lord Mustafa was on fire with this. I’ll be honest I don’t think I gave this song most attention back in the day. Most likely I wasn’t in the right mental space to properly receive it. I wasn’t in tune with the concerns of the environment. This has to be the first Rap song to really tackle Global Warming, the thinning of the Ozone Layer, and the mistreatment of our water supply. Truthfully, not many songs have done a better job since “Universal Blues” (only Mos Def “New World Water” comes to mind immediately).
When I first I picked up this album my favorite tracks were always “I Deal With Mathematics” and “Zig Zag Zig”. These are the moments that I think best capture the strength of Movement Ex. Lord Mustafa was very deliberate with his words. I feel as if much “Conscious Rap” was designed to provide theme songs to rally the troops. The MCs focused on throwing out little bits of information to get the blood boiling and people pumped for the revolution…until the song faded out. Lord Mustafa definitely does some of that as well. At times, he is firing off quotes and theories so quick, filled with various wrong doings by the government, among others. There are moments that it is happening so fast you can barely keep up. However, he also spends a great deal of time giving a well thought synopsis of certain issues, educating on conspiracies in great detail, and giving ideas/suggestions on how to combat some of these very issues.
Another album highlight is “The Musical”, which Lord Mustafa explains as, “This is a musical, notes wrote for a dope composition/You ask me why, I reply, ‘I’m on a mission’/King and I had a vision, an intention to drop/Adding the sounds of Classical with the funky drums of Hip Hop/Done by no one…” That is a great example of his stylistic approach to writing by connecting rhyme parts at unique points.
Speaking of music, that’s an interesting part of this record. The production is confusingly credited as Produced by Sir Randall Scott, music by King Born and with musical arrangement by Loren “B-Truly” Chaney**. There is clearly a great understanding of musicality and sampling arrangement displayed through out the album. Where I think it falls short is the drum programming. At times, the drums sound like drum machines, rather than the more chopped sampled drum sounds popular of the time. Perhaps they were trying to purposefully sound different, but it also results in the drums not having that power and dominating force that is a Hip Hop standard and would also be complimentary to Mustafa’s strong voice. You can note the difference on the tracks where the beats are strongest. It’s there where the drums cut thru the samples and the music is effective, but also leaves some breathing room. Notable productions include "I Deal With Mathematics", “Zig Zag Zig” and “Universal Blues”. Another strong point of this album, arguably one of the strongest, are the cutting techniques of DJ King Born. His scratching is superb! I look forward to exploring that in great detail in a future King Born interview…
I didn’t think I thought about it then, but it’s not easy to pin-down where Lord Mustafa a.k.a Born Allah is from. His vocal approach has an East Coast essence, but his style and delivery is scientifically chaotic like the sounds of the West Coast Underground. This makes perfect sense, being that he moved from New York to LA, bringing that East Coast fury with him and then sharpened the skills in the Good Life/Project Blowed trenches.
When I first heard about Born Allah it was thru articles about his demos in magazines such as Rappages in the Mid-90s and I assumed he was a new MC about to hit the scene. I have a few articles about him that had me very interested in hearing his music, but unfortunately none of those demos ever became actual releases. Then a couple years later he started to pop up on Wake Up Show freestyles and promos, which kept his name visible to those outside of L.A. thru the late 90s. In the 2000s he finally started to see some official releases when he connected with M-Boogie and the Ill Boogie Label. That resulted in a few tracks, including the “Patience” split single with Grand Agent and solo Born Allah 12”, “Someone To Hate” b/w “Laid In Full”. He also lent his vocal talents to projects by Mykill Myers and Self Scientific.
I’m not sure when I made the connection that Lord Mustafa and Born Allah were one in the same. It’s not immediately obvious. The approximate seven-year gap between me hearing Movement Ex to his Wake up Show days gave plenty of time for him to adapt and evolve. He still was representing many of the core beliefs presented in Movement Ex. However, he shifted focus to a skill of his that was mostly over-shadowed on that album, battle rhyming. In our interview, he explains that battle rhyming was how he really built his skills as an MC, but then grew into the Movement Ex phase, so these Born Allah release were actually more of a return to form than a deviation...adapt and evolve. He had built his name as a damaging force to be reckoned with on the streets and clubs of LA. His flow was more refined and his approach had grown to be intimidating, even as he sounded calm and collected. The handful of tracks that I heard had me looking forward to a full album, but that never materialized. The next prominent experience with Born Allah was getting a great background story on him, as well as hearing his perspectives on LA Hip Hop, via the This Is The Life Documentary, which is a excellent film about the importance of the Good Life Café/Project Blowed MCs.
When I made my last trip to L.A I had set up bunch of interviews while I was out there. More than I figured I’d be able to complete actually. That’s because I know how it goes. If I set up 20 interviews with people then maybe 6-7 or will actually take place. All sorts of things always come up that prevent people from keeping our planned times or reaching back to me once I touchdown. The day before I left I just randomly saw Born Allah on my Facebook Friend’s list and thought I’d send him a random request for an interview. I assumed it would be far too last minute, but at least it would put me on his radar for the future. To my surprise, he hit me back before I had a chance to walk away from my computer and confirmed he could do the interview. Even then I thought it was possible it could still fall apart, I did my research and was prepared just in case. As expected, when I got to L.A. and I started to call around to the people I had made arrangements with weeks in advance I had trouble establishing contact with most of them, many of them never got back to me. Once again, it was Born Allah who came thru first. It made quite and impression on me that the last artist I actually reached out to ended up being the first artist that I ended up interviewing in L.A. It was evident that Born Allah was man about his business; professional, courteous, direct and to the point and very passionate about his music.
Adam Stanzak and myself headed out to his crib and we spoke about his extensive history. He exposed me to so much info about his career that I was not aware of and some of which was a bit shocking. Born Allah is a person who takes his music and Hip Hop Culture very seriously. He’s been controlling mics since the 80s and he’s still every bit of hungry and determined. His latest endeavor is his crew and concept project, Tabernacle MC’z. The crew is simultaneously paying tribute to the roots of the Culture, while at the same time staying relevant to the sounds of today, but without compromising their integrity.
In our in-depth interview we discuss all of this in more in great detail. Join us on Monday when we start to look inside the mind of the man known as Born Allah…
Movement Ex & Born Allah Compilation Set:
Written By Kevin Beacham
*At least for the most part, but there were definitely some outlandish and sometimes hypocritical ideas taken place in so-called “Conscious Rap” also.
**Born Allah explains these confusion production credits in our interview. Basically they were signed to a production deal by a company who didn’t do any actual music production, but took credit. The actual music on the album was mostly produced by his DJ, King Born. King Born later enhanced his skills and did some excellent production for Erule, you can hear that he perfected what he was touching on with the Movement Ex project. Then two of the Movement Ex tracks, were produced by B-Truly.