Welcome back to another edition of The Multifaceted Muslim! This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kareem Cromwell AKA YMG Reemo, member of the Yung Muslims Grindin’ (YMG) coalition from Baltimore. The group consists of three members: YMG Lor Akh, Reemo, and Dula. The trio have known each other since childhood, and began making music together as a hobby until they realised their innate talent and began pursuing it in a more serious manner. They create socially conscious music that centers around their experiences as young black Muslims from the inner-city of Baltimore.
“We spit our emotions as black muslims in Baltimore. Our lives are incorporated with islam, and the music reflects that story” – Reemo
How did you guys meet and start making music?
Lor Akh is actually my nephew, but we’re only a few years apart. We’ve known Dula since a young age, and all went to the same Islamic school. Our families have known each other for years. We started rapping around eight or nine, but didn’t actually begin recording our music until age fourteen. My cousin had a studio, so we would go in and practice our vocals and rhyme schemes. Eventually I got an audio interface set up in the closet in my bedroom, so I would also record music there.
What is your creative process like?
Most of the time we come to the studio with pre-written songs, but once we begin recording, we may edit things out or alter the lyrics depending on how we feel during the process, or change our flows to match the beat. The whole thing happens in a natural way, our music never feels forced.
What was it like growing up black and Muslim in Baltimore?
Growing up black and Muslim in Baltimore definitely impacted my upbringing in a positive way. The black Muslim community in Baltimore is not huge, but since a child, the majority of the people I spent time around were Muslim. I went to an Islamic school from daycare to middle school. My uncle and grandparents actually built masjids in the Baltimore community, so my whole family has been super locked in to the deen for decades. My family was first exposed to Islam through the Nation of Islam back in the 60s and 70s. I think my family’s experiences in the Nation influenced the topics I choose to speak and rap about. The Nation had a militant mindframe, and encouraged people to speak out against social injustices in the black community, and create our own economic and community endeavors. Like a lot of other black American Muslims, my family gradually moved away from the Nation and into Sunni Islam.
I feel that the Black Muslim community is underrepresented in Islam. Not a lot of people know how many Black Muslims there are. We are somewhat isolated and do our own thing. I want Yung Muslims Grindin to be a voice for the underrepresented. I want people to understand that there are Black American Muslims and that our stories are worthy of being shared. It’s about more than just music; I want Yung Muslims Grindin to be a collective of Black Muslims who are doing things in the creative industry, but I also want it to include black Muslims who are entrepreneurs, and just generally forging their own path in society.
What’s one thing about Baltimore that you’d like people to know? What do you think is the best thing about the city?
I think the best thing about Baltimore is the people. We just have a different swagger. We don’t bandwagon off of anyone else’s city or style; we’ve always just done our own thing. We just dragg.
(Dragg: Baltimore slang that means to basically do your own thing without worrying about how other people feel about it)
What does being black and Muslim mean to you?
Being black and Muslim means people asking you “when did you convert?” and being shocked when you tell them that you were born Muslim. Being Black and Muslim means being a minority within a minority, which some people may consider as a double disadvantage, but I like to think it means that Black Muslims are double special.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing Black Muslims today?
I think there is a lack of unity within the Black Muslim community. We need to come together and help each other, especially in times like these when there are so many instances of islamophobia and racial injustice. I also think mental health within the black Muslim community is an issue that needs to be addressed. Muslims, especially young American Muslims who grow up in non-Muslim environments, get exposed to so much haram on the daily, and it can be hard to hold on to your iman. It can be a lot of pressure to maintain your religious obligations and also operate in the secular world. I do hope that YMG can be the motivation for young Muslims to stay on their deen while dealing with the daily struggles of everyday life while Muslim.
In your opinion what are the keys to a successful life?
Pursuing knowledge, both religious and secular.
Make money, but don’t allow money to be the primary focus of your life. Balance is key. Take care of your mental, spiritual and social health. Make sure you interact with people: check in with your family and lock in with your peers. Hit the gym, eat the right foods, and focus on holistic wellness.
Where would you like to see yourself (& YMG) in five years?
Hopefully in five years I will have graduated from college, and be working in a career that I enjoy. In terms of YMG, in five years I would like to see YMG as a movement, a collective with various business ventures and opportunities for every Muslim who wants to eat.
Who are you inspired by?
- Prophet Muhammad SAW – because he embodies everything that we as Muslims should be aiming toward.
- H. Rap Brown
- Quadir Lateef
- My parents, who got me to where I am today and who support all my endeavors.
What advice would you have for a young person that’s struggling to stay on their deen?
I’ve seen Muslims who got so involved in the dunya to the point where they eventually left Islam because they felt unworthy of Allah’s forgiveness. I know it gets hard sometimes, but I would say to always hold on to the rope of Islam, even if you have to hold on with your teeth. Keep Islam in your heart and always remember Allah. Set goals for yourself and don’t worry about what other people are saying or doing. Do what you feel is best for you and your religion.
How can we connect with YMG?
- Follow us on Instagram
- Bump our latest project, Blakh Talk, available on Apple Music and Spotify
- Check out our apparel
- Stay tuned for more music from us, coming soon insha Allah.
If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed for the Multifaceted Muslim series, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sadiyah serves as the North American representative for Black Muslim Forum, providing stories and updates regarding the Black American Muslim experience. Sadiyah received her Masters degree in Urban Planning in 2018. Her academic research and personal interests revolve around community-led development initiatives in low-income communities of colour, in both the US and the UK .
The Multifaceted Muslim Series: An Interview with Baltimore’s YMGTweet