The transition from self-proclaimed “Outlaw” and successful hip-hop artist to a practising Muslim and motivational speaker is no small feat, but Mutah Beale - perhaps better known as Napoleonfrom Tha Outlawz - certainly took it all in his stride. Following a successful screening of his documentary, ‘Life As An Outlaw’, in the UK, he took the time to catch up with The Wrap Up’s Hannah O’Connor to discuss his experience of the music business, his relationship with the lateTupac Shakur and how he found peace in his faith…
The Wrap Up: To start off, can you tell me what made you decide to do the documentary in the first place?
Mutah Beale: Well, I was having a discussion with a couple of friends of mine that came up with the idea of me doing a documentary based on my life because I had a life that was very…it was out there, let’s put it that way! So, a friend of mine came up to me saying that if I basically put it into a documentary film then it could go worldwide. At the time, I was doing my motivational speaking and things like that but some people don’t like to come to talks. They don’t like to come to lectures but some people might watch this video at home – some people don’t like to read books. Nowadays, we have a generation that only want to watch television documentaries etc. So, I thought about it.
TWU: You mentioned that this generation don’t necessarily read books and you’ve really got to try to reach them on a different level. Do you think that it is a shame?
Mutah Beale: I think it’s definitely a shame, because reading is something you don’t get from watching television or watching documentaries etc. Even when an individual reads, it actually works parts of the brain that don’t work when you’re watching videos and things like that. You’ve got to try to work around it in most cases.
TWU: In the documentary, you really do look back on your whole life. Does this kind of represent a rebirth for you?
Mutah Beale: Exactly, you could say that. As a matter of fact, watching the documentary for the final cut, I actually learned stuff about my own life that I didn’t even know myself, you know what I mean? Listening to individuals talk and listening to other people tell their side of the story of how they were looking at me from the outside was actually a wake up for me. Listening to my uncle, for example, explain about my parents and what they saw when they first walked on the scene. There was a lot of stuff that I didn’t even know myself.
TWU: You must have learnt a lot. So, what exactly have you gained from making the documentary on a personal level?
Mutah Beale: On a personal level, I feel like I needed to get a lot of stuff off of my chest and I always wanted to know exactly what happened to my parents but in the back of my head would say, ‘You know what? If I ever find out or it comes out then no problem, but I’m not going to go searching.’ I never spoke to my uncle about really what happened that day and his reaction. Me and my brothers never ever had a conversation [about it], in fact I never heard them speak about the death of my parents until I watched my documentary.
TWU: That must have been pretty difficult but it must have been a way of coming to terms with things, right?
Mutah Beale: You could say that. You could say it’s one of those things. I might not have to travel around the world and keep repeating the same story over and over again because it’s in the documentary; that chapter’s closed and now it’s time to move forward.
TWU: Speaking of moving forward, this is a big change from what your lifestyle must have been before – working within the music industry, for example. How do you look back on that time?
Mutah Beale: When I look at that time, it was just basically a growing period in my life and a lot of things that I had to experience. If it happens that means it was written for us. So, I look at it like a growing stage. A lot of the things and the choices that I made helped mould me to the person that I am today. Like I always mention that I don’t regret anything that I did in past. I might not agree with some of the decisions and some of the choices I made in the past but I don’t have any regrets because I know it was written for me. It had to have some wisdom behind it one way or another, you know?
TWU: Definitely, it’s a learning curve. The experiences we have definitely mould and shape the person that we become. One of the things that I found particularly interesting was your relationship with Tupac. He was clearly a big influence on you. Is there anything in particular you learnt from him that has stayed with you over the years?
Mutah Beale: Of course. Pac, he’s a man of honour. He had honour and he had pride. So I learnt a lot from Pac – standing up for whatever he felt was right in the heart. Young people might want to be something in life but a lot of times you’re holding back because of peer pressure. When I accepted the religion of Islam, when I knew that this was the truth, I spoke the truth. I had no doubts about it and wasn’t afraid to tell my people that this was the religion I had accepted. This is the kind of conditioning that I got from Tupac. He was an honest person and an honourable person. He was like a father figure and a big brother to me.
TWU: He must have had a lot of influence on you. Does he still continue to influence you and inspire you?
Mutah Beale: Of course. One thing about Pac, he had a lot of messages and Pac had characteristics and a type of personality. Even to this day when I think about certain things that he did and what choices he made I still learn from that truth. He was an individual. The other day for example – I think it was a couple of months ago now – I was watching a programme that they did on Mike Tyson and Tupac. Watching that programme, it kind of brought tears to my eyes because when you actually read about him or start seeing him on television again it affects you in a way, because you probably think you got over it. Just looking at that night that Pac died as a person and an individual – as a personal friend to Tupac I definitely got the positive side of Pac. The other people from the outside looking in and the media they might have portrayed a certain side of Pac and show the faults, which we all have but to live in the same house as an individual and be with a person 24/7 you get to know them as a person. It was one of the things I touched on in my documentary. I was able to explain in the documentary what Pac was going through at the time – he got shot five times – and what he was saying and what he was thinking at the times and why he was acting a certain way. I was able to explain it so that the people could get a better understanding.
TWU: For me, he kind of embodied these contradictions that were within us all and he actually voiced them, which a lot of people didn’t…
Mutah Beale: This is one of the things I tell a lot of the youngsters. For me as an individual – where I’m at in my life right now – like I mentioned there’s a lot of stuff we did in our music that of course I wouldn’t agree with but I can see that our overall message was positive and we were actually trying to put a positive message out there that could wake the people up. For a group of young individuals coming from the hood, our foundation was shaky. From the beginning you have a shaky foundation, so this is why people see the contradiction in Pac. This is why he might have said one thing and then say another thing, this is actually the hood. In the hood you have contradiction in your everyday life. You woke up and had people telling you [that] you could be a fireman or they’d tell you how to achieve my goals to be a police officer but then you’d walk outside of the school and see a crack dealer pushing drugs that makes more money than a police officer and driving a car better than a police officer, so then you get these contradictions and conflict inside you. This is one of the things that Pac put down in his music and that is why a lot of people may have felt like they had a relationship with Pac, you know what I mean?
Frankly, it’s a sad state of affairs when the industry actively discourages an artist from making socially-aware, positive music, but this is something that Mutah Beale faced in his transition from Outlaw to practising Muslim and motivational speaker…
In the second part of this candid, in-depth interview (part one) with The Wrap Up’s resident hip-hop specialist, Hannah O’Connor, he outlines his experience of the music business and how his relationship with Tupac Shakur impacted upon him.
The Wrap Up: Hip-hop as never been afraid to delve into the darker side of life, which can often be perceived by its critics as rather pessimistic. Is this merely a negative outlook in your opinion?
Mutah Beale: Well, for the people who are actually putting the record out, it’s not negative at all because they’re making a lot of money. The artists should be more responsible about the lyrics that we put out. The rapper who talk about all of the people he killed and all of the drugs he dealt – he didn’t really live that life! We’ve got a lot of youngsters actually living their life by the lyrics they’re putting out, they’re making money off of their downfall and I think that’s wrong. They should at least explain to the people that it is also entertainment. It’s not just the artists’ fault, but the people who listen have to be smart enough to know that this is entertainment. The Governor of California, he’s not running around actually living the life of the ‘Terminator’, blowing up cars, but when it comes to the music, it’s like the people do not understand that this is also entertainment. You’ve got rappers who can’t even go to the hood, but in their raps, you’d think that they were the biggest gangster in the hood. The artists should be more responsible for what they’re putting out. If this is the life you are truly living and this is all you know, then that’s understandable, but if you’re doing it just to make money, I think you should at least have a warning sticker saying, ‘This is not really how I live my life. This is just entertainment.’
TWU: When you look at artists as role models it’s difficult, because there are conflicting messages, which is understandable – nobody is perfect! Do you think that rappers realise the extent of their influence?
Mutah Beale: If you start travelling around the world, then you’re not in touch with the people on the streets. The rappers get in to this world and they’re no longer connected to the streets, so they might not even know the effect that they have on the people. Many of them are walking around with bodyguards; they’re not able to go talk to the people. When you connect with the people, you start to understand the real effect. One of the things that Pac used to do was mix with the people, walk down the street in the hood and speak to the people. He had people telling him, ‘Man, when I heard you say that, it made me cry.’ You can’t always blame the rappers because in the industry and the entertainment business, they promote a certain type of music. You have these artists and when they do try to become positive, the record label doesn’t even give them support, but if they come out with disrespectful lyrics and talking this stuff, they support that. When I first accepted the religion of Islam, I wanted to be positive and I did a solo album with Johnny J (multi-platinum producer prominently featured on 2Pac’s album, ‘All Eyez On Me’). I remember I had a meeting with someone from Virgin Records, I’d done a record that was positive and he didn’t want to hear that. They said they’d give me one million dollars if I come back being a member of Tha Outlawz and start back the beef that Pac had with Mobb Deep. Of course, I walked away from them.
TWU: That’s a terrible thing and it says an awful lot about the business. There is so much pressure for artists to be this ‘gangsta’ that they may not be…
Mutah Beale: The majority of rappers are not living the life that they say – I’d say 99% of them aren’t and that’s the sad part. It’s misleading the kids. The majority of the messages are separated from the reality.
TWU: Sure. So, do you feel that through your community work you’re able to reach the people in a more positive way?
Mutah Beale: I feel the way that I used to feel when I was on tour with Pac, because one of the reasons I got into the music industry was because I always felt like I had a message and I wanted to put that message out there. So, I’ve been going around and I’m able to speak to kids all over the world. It’s the same as the music industry, but without the beats and without the hate that comes with it. It’s more on an intimate level, so I’m able to have conversations with individuals that might not be able to speak back to me on a record. They’re able to ask me a question. To me, this is a lot better.
TWU: Speaking of life with Tupac, if you could change one thing when Pac was alive, what would it be?
Mutah Beale: I would change him getting into that fight with that individual in Vegas that night. I can’t change it, though. It was written…
Don’t miss the third and final part of this in-depth interview, coming soon to MTV UK’s The Wrap Up. Until then, stay up to date with Mutah Beale on Twitter
Words: Hannah O’Connor (@HipHopSuperhan)
Online editing: Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)
Stay up to date with Mutah Beale on Twitter - www.twitter.com/MutahNapoleon