A few months ago, I raved about my love for R&B songstress Elle Varner’s debut album Perfectly Imperfect. Even more than Varner’s unique voice, I loved her lyricism and how much I felt the songs on her album related to me as a young woman. Well, recently, my college friend Akilah shared the link for her new mixtape, Nehanda: The Best Part on my Facebook wall, and I got that feeling all over again. The music was positive, motivational, relatable, and for lack of a better term–poppin!– all at the same time. I loved the mixtape so much that I decided to do my part to get the word out. Check out our discussion about her creative journey, the music industry, and the return of the good girls…
Q: First, introduce yourself to the people.
A: I am Akilah Muhammad. I’m from Houston, Texas. I’m fairly new to the music world, but I have a performance background because I went to a performing arts middle school and high school. I go by my middle name, Nehanda, as my artist name because not only do I feel that Nehanda is a unique name that no one else has as an artist, but it also has three meanings that I think all describe me well. The first meaning is “solid,” like a rock. The second meaning is “recurring revolutionary spirit,” and the third meaning is “the beautiful one has arrived.”
On her approach to her music: My goal is to be one of the tools of a paradigm shift in music. God has put me on this earth to help jump-start something new. I have an obligation to use my artistic background to show young girls that you can be a positive figure in the world, instead of what’s being promoted–the promiscuous, bad chick, bad traits of women that are being glorified.
I named the mixtape “Nehanda: The Best Part” because I’m gonna give you the best part of me. I’m gonna show you the best part in me, and I’m gonna see the best part of you. I’m striving to be the best part of music, the best part of the music industry, the best part of the black woman, etc.
That goal is evident throughout the mixtape which includes songs like “Keep Her Sacred,” a tribute to the women who respect themselves and the men who respect them in return, featuring RG and Michael X, and “Good Girls,” which says, “We good girls always stay the cleanest. Don’t like drama, we just rise above it…” In order to accomplish her goal of making music that is poppin yet positive, Nehanda–who wrote all of the songs on the mixtape–uses popular beats that the average listener would dance to at a party or hear on the radio, but changes the lyrics to those that uplift and inspire listeners rather than denigrate or disillusion them.
Q: So, it’s sort of like what Kirk Franklin did for gospel music, right? Make it rhythmically relevant and appealing but let the music serve a higher purpose at the same time?
A: Exactly. What artists have to do is look at what the problem is. The beats are what get our attention. Change the toxic part and make it positive. It’s a very easy solution to a long problem.
Q: What about the argument that artists simply give the public what they want to hear? Do you think the general public would go for keeping the beats but making the lyrics positive?
A: I think the public would go for it, but what artist would have the courage to stand? That excuse is a means to cover up the cowardice. Michael Jackson and Prince were trendsetters. Being an artist is about more than just giving the people what they want. It’s about having the strength and the foundation to give them something better. If the people are telling you what to do, then you are not an artist. Period.
Q: You are a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). The mixtape features excerpts from the Minister Farrakhan. The NOI and Minister Farrakhan often generate strong responses and certain perceptions from people. How do you navigate that, and what role does your faith play in your mixtape and in your artistry?
A: I had to include my faith in the album because it is how I conduct my life, and it will always play a role in my message and in my delivery. At the same time, I have to tailor my message to the general public, and it is not so much about religion as it is about giving people something to uplift their minds and their consciousness.
On the people who will be reluctant to accept that, regardless: That’s where the artistry comes in. It doesn’t matter. I have to be myself regardless of all of these outside opinions.
Q: What is it going to take for good girls to make a comeback in popular culture?
A: It’s going to take a whole culture-shift to start bringing it back to the self-respect era of the 90s with the Queen Latifahs and the MC Lytes. There would have to be a campaign that shows young girls that it is good to be good–not just in music, but in fashion, TV shows. There would have to be male rappers who start to uplift women. We have to get together and unite as artists and build on that. Once you unite and build with each other, that’s when your movement becomes a movement.
Me: So basically we need U-N-I-T-Y? *Queen Latifah voice*
Nehanda says that her goal for right now is just to get the mixtape out to as many people as possible. She hopes to perform in a few places and eventually record an album. Ultimately, she would like to be an independent artist so that she can control her image and message.
In all earnestness, I urge everyone to support this project. I am blessed to have lots of incredibly talented friends with lots of projects, and I don’t advertise all of them like this. I truly believe that this is great music that we all need and can benefit from.
So please download the FREE mixtape at http://nehanda.bandcamp.com/ and spread the word!