Rapper Napoleon, Islam and the African-American Identities

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“The fact that blacks look like human beings and act like human beings do not necessarily make them sensible human beings. Hedgehogs are not porcupines and lizards are not crocodiles simply because they look alike. If God has wanted us to be equal to the blacks, he would have created us all of a uniform colour and intellect.” P. W. Botha, 15 August 1985. 

“I think racism is overrated,” my friend, then a nineteen-year-old just out of secondary school, concluded in dismissing what he considered our exaggerations of the evils against the Blackman overseas—in America, Europe, even Asia and the Middle East. The year was 2003 and the occasion was our insistence that he must stand up against any arrogant white man’s slur as he set out for undergraduate studies in the United States of America. Our friend had never travelled out of the country, had only “known” the Whites on television and, like any other non-travelling countryman, racism was only understood as an injustice that had been defeated by the Civil Rights activists somewhere far away. He returned from that search of America in America with an angry “Fuck!” as the punctuation of his experience of that psychosis.

The African-American is a perplexing identity. He is a representative of a people who have lost a line of their ancestry; he is neither an African nor a proper American. He is seen as an inferior and, in his reaction, he becomes the good, the bad and the ugly. This society of a racially irked and socially destroyed people is the burden of the rights activists, rappers, drug barons, prostitutes, and thieves of which Mutah Beale, who took up drug-peddling and rap music to fit into a designed destruction, was a member.

Mutah Beale was Napoleon, a member of the once notorious rap group “Outlawz” which was formed by the legendary Tupac Amaru Shakur. In their years of terror, the “Outlawz” popularised the idea of Thug Life—a musical ideology that glorified an extreme and reckless hedonism. Thug Life was their revolt against a society that didn’t like them, thus they named themselves after the enemies of the West: Tupac as Makaveli—after the Italian political realist Niccolo Machiavelli who must have inspired the unusual and shockingly realist interpretations of histories and events in their songs; Napoleon was named after France’s Napoleon Bonaparte, Hussein Fatal after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, E.D.I. Mean after Uganda’s Idi Amin, Kaddafi after Libya’s Muamar Kaddafi, Kastro after Cuba’s Fidel Castro. . . Outlawz and similar groups in the 90’s, expectedly, could not defeat the politics of racial subjugation and integration and exclusions as they soon fought one another, black against black, gang against gang, guns for guns, blood for blood, uprooting the legacies of their parents who were members of documented black redemption movements. In the end, the mortality rates escalated, drugs became snacks, hedonism lost its allure and the tough who still thought had to rush out to seek new identities

As I listened to rapper Napoleon recount the horrors of those years in Abuja, Nigeria, last Saturday, I felt like shedding tears in my solidarity with our African-American “cousins”, especially pained by losses stimulated by their disconnection from their ancestral homes, and identities. I was hurt afresh by the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in Civil Rights, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. in intra-racial feuds, and the nameless, numberless cousins who passed on by way of drugs, gang fights, robberies gone wrong. . . As I listened to Napoleon, I wept for my Africa that could not justify Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” dream. The reverse actually is the case; our brilliant minds have fled to the slave-master’s land in search of sanity. We, and our fathers and the fathers of our fathers have failed to build a Black Africa that every member of our dark-skinned race can point to and smile. As I listened to Napoleon, I was ashamed that we have only built an Africa of ethnic and religious anarchy, which has killed more people from bigotries of many styles than cocaine and the guns have done in Black communities in America. 

But Napoleon is no longer Napoleon; he is now Brother Mutah, having taken up Islam to repair his humanity through a spiritual relationship with a deity, with God. Away from the superficialities of atheism, we must understand that honest subservience to a supreme being checks our excesses. Brother Mutah is an example; he didn’t “inherit” religion as many of us who kill one another in the name of God did, he went to God. He wasn’t religious by reputation as many Africans are, he practises his faith and has given a lot to charities, and his forthcoming documentary “Napoleon: Life of an Outlaw” which was screened during his visit to Abuja—on his growing up in a crisis-ridden black community where being black was a crime and his exploits as a hedonistic rapper—is already an inspiration to those who listen! 

But has Bother Mutah found his identity? I say, Yes. What then is black identity? There is no such thing as “Black Identity”. The identity of the Blackman is simply earned though his self-struggle to overcome or resist the labels that debase his humanity. The identity is to invalidate the efforts and arts of skewed portrayals and stereotypes. But I still pity Brother Mutah, who not only has to fight racism today, but islamophobia as well. The colour of Justice remains white, and so long as car tyres remain black, the Blackman is literally challenged to explain the science of black tyres and asphalt to the psychotic definers of racial supremacy. May God save from us! 

By Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (17/05/2013)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

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2 thoughts on “Rapper Napoleon, Islam and the African-American Identities

  1. We can’t learn to be African from Americans! My pain is the penchant of Africans who are mirrors of American misunderstanding of what being African is…its time we start to teach them what it means to be us and not necessarily vice versa.

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