Mona Haydar is The Feminist Rapper With One Message: Love
Mona Haydar is not the type of Muslim that Trump warned you about, but he should be wary of her all the same. Let’s put it this way: Haydar is on a mission of love, which directly goes against Trump’s mission of hate, and we’re gonna go ahead and call it: love wins.
If it wasn’t obvious, it feels really fucking good to be on the right side of history (even if the battle isn’t quite over yet), and Haydar is doing more than her fair share when it comes to spreading the love (not to mention, keeping people woke AF): from her breakout “Hijabi” single (currently at 1.7 million views and counting), to its follow-up, “Dog”, featuring Orange is The New Black’s Jackie Cruz (see below), to her and her hubbie’s “Ask A Muslim” activism, Haydar is nothing if not busy. And with a key focus in mind (we’ll say it one more time: L-O-V-E) and a penchant for optimism that’s desperately needed as of late, this newly-crowned rapper is lighting the way for a new wave of activist-leaning artistry. We can’t get enough.
I know that you do a lot other things besides music, but what prompted you to use rap as an outlet for getting what you wanted to say out there?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been a performance artist, again spoken word poetry, poetry for 13 or 14 years now. And there’s just this world of poetry that doesn’t translate over to the rest of the world. There are just people who really don’t like poetry. And it’s really interesting because a lot of those people love hip hop, love rap. And so rap is really just rhythm and poetry, it’s just adding a beat. So for me it wasn’t such a huge leap. It’s this sort of organic transition and progression into music. And I want to speak the language of the masses. And I do! It’s the language I was raised in. Growing up in Flint, Michigan, hip hop is what I grew up with. As a progression in my art I was like, “How can I challenge myself as an artist, especially given the world we in?” I wanted to do something meaningful and something that brought light to intense topics, but to do it in a way that make it more palatable to people—to make it more fun, something that’s woke, but something that people can also turn up to. So I wanted something woke, but something people could turn up to. That was my thing.
Yeah it definitely seems like people have taken to it….especially with your videos and so many conversations around them. Did you have a larger vision for what you wanted rap career to be or did you just go for it to see how it went?
I mean, I didn’t have a clear idea. I didn’t know that it would do what it did, you know? I didn’t know that people would be so into it. That just goes to show how hungry people are non-standard narratives. How people are just hungry for a little more fluidity in the business and the music industry. I kinda don’t fit into any preconceived ideas of what a rapper should look like or what a rapper should be or sound like. I think that makes people excited and I think that challenges the narratives about Muslim women and women in general. About what women in a music video looks like or what she looks like or what vibe she’s giving off. For me, it wasn’t really about, “Do I have a vision and am I representing that?” It’s just about representing myself in the way that’s the most authentic that I can and be vulnerable. Because when I think we’re being the most authentic we’re also being the most vulnerable. I think people really respond to that. I think that’s probably one of the reasons it’s doing well. It’s because I hope that people just feel my heart. I just really trying to put my heart out there for people.
Yeah, I was just talking to someone about this yesterday. I think honesty is power and it’s obviously, maybe, more nerve wracking to be more vulnerable, but that just makes the art more powerful because it’s sincere.
Aw thank you! That’s what important to me, it’s something that people feel, you know? If it’s garbage-y music that nobody cares about, that nobody feels, but it has a good beat then that’s “great.” It’s gonna last like a second and it’s gonna be a club banger and everybody will love it in that way. I want something that inspires people to work together, to build beautiful worlds. That, for me, is what hip hop is about. That is what art is about—bringing people together and inspiring them to build our world into something beautiful.
Have you gotten a lot of cool responses from young women and Muslim women, in particular?
Oh my God, it’s so crazy. That’s what’s really been keeping me going. In spite of a lot of the negativity, the stories from people all over the world. The intersectionality of people who respond to the music, people who are really vibing to it. Really, it’s international and so intersectional. It’s woman from all over the world, gender-queer people. It feels so striking to me. Like, I feel old. I’m not 30 yet, I’m only 29, but these people—like 14- and 15-year-olds—all over the world that share how moved they are by these stories that I’m telling, by the interviews I’m doing. For me, that’s what makes it worth it. That’s what it’s about for me, making sure that people’s stories are being told. This song, “Dog”, is about speaking out against sexual violence against women and violence against women, in general. So many people have reached out and thanked me for doing this, like, “I’ve never heard something that felt so safe, as a survivor of this,” and, “Thank you for creating a safe space for me to feel seen and heard.” Stuff that just puts me to tears. People sending stories of what happened to them. Instead of it being a trigger, it’s healing. That’s been the best response, I think, so far. We can talk about serious things that are difficult, but the music can be healing for people instead of just triggering.
Yeah! I think, especially in the States right now with what’s going on politically, we can’t have enough people doing what you’re doing. We just need it so desperately, I think.
Yeah, I think love, I think so much of the world is hungry for love. If I can do that, if I can give out love, I’ll be a happy person. I’m someone who believes that the more love you give the more love you get. I don’t feel like you can ever run out of love. So the more love I give, I just really believe that it will come back to me. I’m not scared of giving away all of my love. I’m really just making it so that our world heals itself and feels good for people and so that they’re feel safe and happy. That’s what I want with my music and my art.
When you were growing up in the States did you have people or artists that you would kind of look up to in the same way young girls might look up to you now?
Oh yeah, I definitely had artists who I was really into and look up to. Just like strong women like Lauryn Hill. Kind of, the way she vented herself and talked about her music. Someone like Alice Walker who’s this poet and wrote these amazing books. I actually had the honor of speaking to her, and with on a panel, recently. And just meeting with her in person and just sitting with someone who’s been an idol of mine for so long. It’s so cool and remarkable for to just go from being this young woman who looks up to people who were creating culture to now go to be sort of in that realm myself, as an artist. Someone like Alice Walker, Lauryn Hill, or Nikki Giovanni. Even just local heroes of mine like my professor, who just really inspired me and said, “Use your voice, express yourself! The world needs you, the world needs your voice. This hip hop thing is a tool for us to come together and bridge those divides.” She sort of guide me on that path. I just feel really blessed to have people like that who I could count on to be in my corner and support me.
Since you already have two children , do you ever think about the world that they’re inheriting or our generation and how you’re helping shape the place that they’ll grow up in?
Yes! I have two babies in this world and I want their world to be as magical, beautiful, and kind as possible for them. I feel like if I want that for my babies then I want that for everyone. I want to do anything and everything I can to make sure that there is justice for everyone. For me, people are out here saying I’m fighting Islamophobia, I’m fighting this and that, but that’s actually not true. I’m out here just being myself, authentically. And knowing that when we do that I’m not just combatting homophobia and transphobia and fat phobia. Just by being loving and kind and generous, we’re working to build a more loving and kind place for everybody. It’s like everybody says, “Justice for some of us isn’t justice for all of us.” So we gotta build that world that’s more beautiful for the babies. Especially, those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed. We’re just really make sure that we correct those wrongs that history has made. Going out of our way to give up privilege, to just fix some of those wounds, and heal some of those wounds.
So now that you’ve had so much initial success, what do you have planned moving forward for your music, your activism, or your art?
I hope to do a video for every song I do because I believe in the power of visual arts and how healing that can be. There really isn’t enough our there of Muslim women out there being as badass as they want to be. We have all these roles of these women who need help. I was just talking about this! Something as simple as Mulan, for instance, with my son. In this Disney movie this warrior girl has no love interest and she’s not falling in love with a price. Instead, she saves her people, by herself. She believes in herself. We just need more narratives like that where you don’t need to count on a man to save you. We can be all that we want to be in the world. You were asking what was hoping to do with the art. I think a visual album or something like that. But really more about just creating the space where we can create the narratives where we can feel like they are important. So I’m gonna keep talking about things that are important to me. I’m gonna try to continue to be as vulnerable as I can while being someone with my stories and my music. Just going the extra mile to be as authentic and as full of integrity as I can be as an artist.
Stay tuned to Milk for more female badassery.