Nadiem Musleh is taking a different route in the rap game.
Music is a big part of all of our lives. Music is the alarm that wakes us up, the ambiance walking across the Oval, and the soundtrack to our nights out at the bar. But for Nadiem Musleh, music is much more.
He freestyle rapped in high school. He and his friends would spend time on the school bus rapping back and forth, but then it was just a hobby. Fast forward to now and Nadiem has dropped an EP—Exception—as well as a few singles. He’s working on his second album. He mixes, he produces, he raps, he sings, and he goes on tours. And he still shows up to class every semester, right alongside you. Music is more than what he uses to fill his headphones, because his hopes are that his music will fill yours.
His conscious rap tackles issues you may be struggling with, or, at least, that you can understand as he weaves his lines together. His catalogue, while young, has already tackled issues of depression, loneliness, and even being disowned.
“For me, if two people come up to me and say ‘wow, your music changed me,’ that’s fine with me,” Nadiem said. “I don’t need the stats, I don’t need the numbers, I’m cool with where I’m at. I wouldn’t mind, but at the end of the day music is always going to be something that helps me.”
And that idea is evident, no matter what song you listen to. His music is his tool, and with it he wants to tell stories. And these stories aren’t usually created in a few hours, or maybe even a few days. His song Crossroads was written over the course of several months before it was completed. On the song, Nadiem grappled with his loneliness, failed relationships, and understanding his own self-worth.
Perhaps one situation that influenced his vulnerability in his music was telling his family that he was going to pursue a career as a rapper, despite already being in college.
“I want to be the light to show people you can do whatever you want.”
“It was hard because my parents didn’t go to college so they don’t quite understand what I’m going through,” Nadiem said. “So when I told them, they’re like ‘What do you mean? You’re gonna be a doctor,’ and I’m like ‘No, I’m not. I can be whatever the hell I want to be.’”
Nadiem’s experience as a student and a rapper are inseparable. His influences come from his major in psychology, and he uses puns and wordplay from the subject in his music, like the names of different parts of your brain to specify what he’s going through.
Perhaps even more inseparable from his rap career is his identity. Nadiem is of Arabic descent, he comes from a Muslim family and he is a Christian. The intersection of his various identities informs his music and he uses it to motivate his songs, but he doesn’t want to live under that label.
“One thing I hate is when people label me as this ‘Christian Rapper,’” Nadiem said. “I’m not a Christian rapper. I talk about what I’m doing as a person mentally … I like having these spiritual metaphors and analogs because I think it’s relevant to the topic at hand.”
Being of Arabic descent hasn’t been the easiest thing for Nadiem, either. He noted that there aren’t many Arabian stars in hip-hop. DJ Khaled is there, but he’s known as a producer. So, in addition to the difficulty of trying to make it in the rap game, he said he also understands that it’s even harder when you don’t look like what people expect—both as a student and as a rapper.
“I remember last semester, the first day of class, some girl came up to me and said ‘Hey, do you speak English?’” Nadiem said.
But that sort of hardship has hardly discouraged him. He gives himself the responsibility of facing down oppression and educating those who oppress him—whether it’s accidental or intentional.
“I want to be the light to show people you can do whatever you want,” Nadiem said. “Don’t become a product of what other people tell you you are, because you’re not that.”
Throughout my time talking to Nadiem, he never talked down on anyone. He said that he wants to make his name rapping a certain way, but he never bashed someone who didn’t think the same way as him or wanted to do it differently. His rapping might be conscious and lyrical, but he holds no grudges against people who just want to make hits over bass-heavy trap beats. He knows the ins-and-outs of the business, and he holds having fun in the highest regard.
“I know some people don’t have fun when they do it because it’s a business, but I would say, as an upcoming artist, just have fun,” Nadiem said.
Seeing him work in the studio, his dedication to his craft—and to his many identities—was abundant. He was working on a song about Ohio State that drew on his experience at the school and his upbringing in Cleveland. It was also made to get people hyped for Buckeye football. Take after take, he made small adjustments to make sure he got everything right so that he was representing himself—and all the things he stood for—just right. Dancing every time his producer played it back, singing along and being excited to record the next take.
Because at the end of the day, if you aren’t having fun, then why are you doing it?
Nadiem released the single “Venom” as well as the six song EP “Expectation” earlier this year and both are available on Spotify and Apple Music.