Hip hop artist and alum Essam Muhammad shares his story and creative practice

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Essam Muhammad is a UW Bothell alum, South Seattle-based rapper/poet, and community organizer. On October 20, he connected with students over Zoom for the event "Coming Home: Songs, Stories, & Conversation with Essam Muhammad" organized by UW Bothell’s Campus Events Board (CEB) and IAS faculty member Georgia Roberts. Muhammad spoke on his childhood, social issues, and the liberation he’s found through creative expression.

Muhammad’s career took off in 2016 with the release of his debut video “West Is My Home.” In the four years since, he’s been invited to perform on different continents, sharing his journey and creativity in countries like South Africa, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and The Netherlands. He has also maintained a constant presence in the South Seattle community where he grew up, helping to cultivate safe spaces for young poets to grow and share their work.

Muhammad barely graduated high school, and higher education wasn’t on his radar until friends enrolled at Seattle Central College. Not sure about school, Muhammad took a chance, and the poet who wrote his first rap at age 8, found his passion for writing. “I wrote a personal narrative essay – it was the first time it wasn’t research – and I realized that writing is for me.”  From there, he began performing and recording, eventually transferring to UW Bothell where he continued to develop his creative practice and graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s in Media & Communication Studies. UW Bothell was a positive space for Muhammad, who only knew two other students from the south end when he started. Eventually, he found community through CEB, the Muslim Student Association, the Black Student Union, and African Student Association. “In my last quarter, May 2016, I released “West Is My Home.” It dropped at 3pm, and I remember walking into the ARC. Everyone was playing it; I was so overwhelmed by the love I was receiving.”

Chapter20six album coverMuhammad has released two albums, "12.12," (2018) and "Chapter20six," (2020) with acclaimed producer, Petty Pro, and his music and videos have received praise worldwide. In September, Muhammad’s video “Runnin” was selected for the American Muslim Futures exhibit, an online gallery of work that pairs the creativity of visual and performing artists with the conviction of civil rights advocates to realize new civic futures where all Americans live free from hate and discrimination.

“Everybody has a story,” Muhammad told students. “For me, as a creative artist, I’m constantly tapping into experiences I’ve had in life.” When asked his advice for aspiring creatives, he referenced Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” saying, “If you feel like you can live without writing, walk away from it. If you feel you need creativity to live, continue on this journey.”

Students like Danielle Chi, a Culture, Literature & the Arts major, were moved by Muhammad’s presentation. “I really loved Essam's philosophy on the importance of a community and the relationship it has on a person's psychological and moral development,” she reflected. “Our surroundings shape us and how we react to the past impacts the future. It's a really powerful statement to return to the proverbial roots even with our trauma, but to try to develop and lay groundworks for the next generations in the hopes that they won't have to undergo the same experience.”

Asked what motivates him, Muhammad responded, “What makes me happy in life is being in service to people, others, your body, family, campus. I do this for the people.” Muhammad’s work can be found at masse.one and on YouTubeTwitter and Instagram.

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