Shawnee, Kansas-based hip-hop artist Brotha Newz "The Ustadh"is David Muhammad, whose reach as an artist extends into everything he does, including teaching high school social studies at Shawnee Mission East and the martial arts (as a 5th Degree Black Belt). He describes his recently released "Construction Paper" EP as a "build up" to an upcoming album based on theHunger Games trilogy. The EP stands on its own, however, as a heralding of a powerful new voice in KC hip-hop. It's a pleasure to share an interview with Brotha Newz as well as his wide-ranging book, music and movie recommendations.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
My full name is David Abdullah Muhammad. I'm a 31 year old African American Muslim man. I live in Shawnee, KS and teach at Shawnee Mission East HS. I also teach karate at my father's martial arts school, Integrity Martial Arts Academy, in KCMO. I have a wife, Aisha Sharif, of 7 years and a 2 year old daughter.
Delve into the making of your recent “Construction Paper” EP. Where and how was it recorded? With whom did you collaborate?
"Construction Paper" was birthed out of necessity. I have an upcoming album releasing and I wanted to put out some free music to give people an opportunity to hear my work. It's meant to be a "build up" (construction) to the album. But I also wanted to touch upon the concepts of innocence and unstable foundations in society (like construction paper).
The majority of it was recorded at "The Depot" with local producer Conductor Williams. However, I worked with several artists on the project. Producers: B., Signz, and Melomind (from Chicago) all pitched in beats; as well as Conductor Williams. I also collaborated with T.Lee, a Texas rapper based in Emporia. The recording process was fairly simple. I took the beats to "Conductor", he mixed them down, and I put my vocals over them. T.Lee emailed me his verse. I recorded the song "Dull Pencils" at Sam Kulikov's (Signz) home studio.
Your upcoming album “The Hanging Trees” is inspired by The Hunger Games series. What resonated with you about this series that made you want to reinterpret and respond to it?
The entire Hunger Games series really resonated with me. I felt like it was so relevant to the social issues humanity is facing now. I read all 3 books in about 2 weeks and I felt like it was jumping out of the pages. Political corruption, economic disparity, false love, divide and conquer, PTSD, time manipulation, etc. All these themes were portrayed in the series. I felt like the use of fiction was the perfect avenue to introduce these tough topics. The teacher in me felt compelled to spread the message. I started thinking about how, many kids I knew, and even adults, weren't going to be organically moved to read the novels. However, everyone listens to music. Therefore, music became the vehicle. I wanted to use music as a way to spread the message of the Hunger Games to people who weren't going to read the books or watch the films. Or to people who saw the films, but maybe didn't pick up on anything other than the romance of Katniss and Peeta.
You are a father, teacher, martial arts instructor, social justice advocate and artist. How do you make time to produce your music with everything else you do?
I don't know where I find time! Lol. Honestly, for me, it's not about finding time, it's about finding motivation. Once I'm motivated, I'm all in! Which can sometimes be problematic. I tend to exhaust myself. But, I have an internal drive to achieve as much as possible. I don't want to waste talent or thoughts or energy. I feel like there's too much work that needs to be done. Too many messages that need to be heard. The music has simply become another avenue for my interests. It's an extension of my classroom, it's an extension of the activism I've been involved in, it's an extension of my role as a father. And it's fun! When one enjoys something, they find time for it. It's been an exhaustingly refreshing process
What inspires you about the Kansas City-area hip-hop community?
KC hip hop is so undervalued. There's so many talented artists in the area. And such a diverse sound. You have your staples like Tech 9ne and Rich the Factor and they should be respected. But there's a lot of great, conscious minded talent on the rise. My producer Conductor Williams is one of them, but you also have guys like: Stik Figa of Topeka (he's on my album), Barrel Maker (also on the album), MC Storm (also on the album), Les Izmore, Approach and Weave Pancho of Lawrence, Milk, Show, Mac Mo Green, Gee Watts, Reach, and so many more!
The KC hip hop community is a hardworking, organically built movement. It inspires me to create a product that they could hear and be proud of. We don't get a lot of notoriety in KC, but many of the artists are creating music for the love of the art. That in itself is success. Art only lives on through love.
Brotha Newz's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Books: The Quran, To Kill A Mockingbird, All American Boys, Slam (Walter Dean Myers), Some of My Best Friends Are Black, of course the Hunger Games Trilogy, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Anything by Howard Zinn
Music: I grew up on John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Quincy Jones "Birdland" was the soundtrack to my youth. Currently in rotation: Oddisee, Kendrick Lamar, Mickey Factz, Robert Glasper, Anything and Everything by The Roots, Blkflanl, Chance the Rapper, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend
Movies: Finding Forrester, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Dear White People, Hoop Dreams, Dope, Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, all the Harry Potter Series, Higher Learning