Music, Pop Culture, Interviews

Mona Haydar speaks out on her newest hit “Dog,” smashing the patriarchy, and hip-hop

This year, rapper Mona Haydar went viral with a song celebrating Muslim women, Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab). Now, she’s back - and she's not messing around.

Three months after the release of her song, “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab),” Mona Haydar is back at it with the release of her new song, “Dog.” The opening line says it all:

“If you think this song is about you / I don’t know what to tell you.”

Mona starts with her signature direct style, calling out the male abuse of power in Muslim communities. Unabashedly going where few have gone before, Mona speaks out about issues often pushed out of sight. With 1 in 3 women in the world dealing with abuse, Mona refuses to stay silent on the matter.

Rather than worrying about what people will think, Mona’s take is, “What will people think that we continued to allow our sisters, daughters, friends to be violated because we didn’t stand up against the structures within our cultures that made it possible?”

Mona was raised in Flint, Michigan, a community where she often didn’t see herself represented. She found part of her Muslim American identity through artists like Mos Def, who begins his albums with the Muslim blessing, “Bismillah.” Growing up, she didn’t fit in with the mainstream, which meant she sought mentorship and support from a plethora of spaces. Particularly, Mona is grateful for her mentors, most of whom are Black, who helped her cultivate her voice.

Following her work as a poet, she’s now stepped out of her comfort zone, beginning her journey into the rap world – inevitably ruffling some people’s feathers. However, Mona continues to push forward, using her platform to lift up other artists, such as Al Tawam, who was featured in “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab).”

The Tempest: So, what inspired the story and lyrics in “Dog?”

Mona Haydar: Violence against women is something important to me as a woman, and the statistics that I feature are staggering.  I feel that, as an artist, if I’m not pushing myself to do things for the betterment of the world, then I shouldn’t do anything. I’m interested in using my art to explore the intersections of art, activism, music, and identity. I think to myself, “How can I use my voice for the greatest good?” …It’s not trash music, but I am interested in making music that people can enjoy – while shedding light on important issues.

Throughout the song, you give examples of abuse that women have experienced. That’s not something people usually explicitly acknowledge. People –  mostly women – have been tweeting and quoting lines from the song. Especially the ending “ohmygGodyouneedGod.” Of course, there’s been pushback, particularly from men. What’s it been like to see that sort of reaction?

I expected pushback and people being upset. I’m bringing up something which is taboo. Misogyny and patriarchy are global problems, but we like to pretend, especially as people of color, that they’re not really going on or they aren’t real issues. That culture of silence is so damaging because it allows those cycles of abuse to continue and we have to break them. People are starting to talk about it, and “Dog” has people space to have those conversations, whether people like the song or not, I just hope people start talking about sexual violence and predators in our communities.

I don’t care if people like the song. My end goal has been achieved, which is to get people talking about it. Ultimately, I’m happy.

There’s also been criticism that your entry into rap music and your inclusion of Al Tawam, two black women in your videos is evidence of you appropriating Black culture. What do you have to say about that?

I think appropriation is important to be talking about, especially as a non-black PoC. Now is a prime time to have these conversations, and I’m happy to talk about it. I grew up in Flint, Michigan and the idea that hip-hop is only a product of blackness doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s a product of the culture of oppression, and in the Bronx, when it was born, it was a direct response to that culture of oppression.

Similar to how a diamond needs pressure for creation, a culture of oppression creates beauty despite trauma. I used the lyrics “teleporting through trauma” in “Hijabi.”

Sometimes, it’s trauma that allows us to be great. Hip-hop can be used as a global tool for liberation and the refinement of our selves and egos. I believe that’s the truth of hip-hop. I wasn’t taught that hip-hop is only for black people. Those who are oppressed could and should use the language of hip-hop to that end. I was taught poetry by people who cultivated my abilities as a young person who loved poetry.

Hearing Mos Def say “Bismillah” at the beginning of every album was the first time I felt seen and heard as a young Muslim. Intersectionality is part of the story of rap and hip-hop.

As a young person who doesn’t fit in with the dominant culture, I feel grateful for the people in my life, the majority of whom are Black, who helped cultivate this voice. They told me that my voice is necessary: As a woman, as a person of color, as a young person in this world. I was taught to use these tools to express myself in beautiful and healthy ways.

There can be damage when young people don’t have outlets to express themselves.

You see that phenomenon in Black Muslim communities, and you see it in non-Black Muslim communities, as well. Hip-hop came from the intersection of Black and Puerto Rican communities in the Bronx. Hip-hop is about unity, bringing people together who live under the systematic oppression of white supremacy. It’s a tool to take that supremacy down. It’s a unifying force in the world, especially for people of color.

This article was edited for length and clarity.