Critics of American rap music say it glamorizes "thug" life, and contains too many violent themes and profanity. But one Muslim rap trio, known as Native Deen, is aiming to do the exact opposite with its music. The American rappers incorporate the teachings of Islam to send positive messages to their fans.
They may sound like any other American rap group, but listen closer and you'll hear a big difference.
(singing) "I'm so glad to be M-U-S-L-I-M"
Native Deen is a Muslim rap group. Founding members Joshua Ahmad, Naeem Muhammad and Abdul-Malik Ahmad are American-born Muslims all in their mid-to-late twenties. Most mainstream rap music in the United States talks about violence, drugs or sex, Native Deen's music is all about Islam and what it means to be a Muslim-American.
"We do believe, one of our mission statements is that we believe through our music we are creating a better understanding of Muslims and Islam," says Joshua.
Native Deen was formed in 2000 when the trio decided to come together after performing separately at Muslim Youth of North America camps and other Islamic events. Their music has the same rhythmic rhyming as in mainstream rap, but they use only traditional drums, vocals and synthesized percussion in their live performances because many Muslims believe string and wind instruments should be avoided in Islam.
Member Naeem Muhammad says the melding of rap and Islam in their music was never intentional -- it was merely a natural product of growing up black and Muslim in America.
"It is, basically, the music of black youth who grew up in America,” says Naeem. “So, when we spoke, it came out this way. And when we write it came out this way."
Native Deen performs mainly at Islamic conferences, fundraisers, weddings and religious holidays. They've even toured internationally. Their music has broad appeal, crossing gender and age lines. Native Deen prides itself on making wholesome music even young children can enjoy. And that's something one father is grateful for.
"I think it is good stuff. And for the kids here it is. I'm telling all the parents, go ahead, just let your children and express their Islam in this way, better this way than the old way back in the East."
In the past few months, Native Deen has reached a new level of celebrity thanks to a radio show that is broadcast over the Internet via the Islamic Broadcasting Network website. For fans who can't get enough, they can access Native Deen 24/7 at their website www.nativedeen.com.