(Part 2 of 2) To read Part 1 – CLICK HERE
Khalid Hussein El-Hakim is a Hip-Hop scholar, author, educator and collector. He authored the book “The Center of the Movement: Collecting Hip-Hop Memorabilia” and founded the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, an innovative traveling table top exhibit depicting Black memorabilia spanning slavery to Hip Hop. He has strong ties to the Detroit hip-hop scene and a short career in the music industry managing the late rapper Proof (Eminem’s childhood friend and member of the platinum rap group D12). He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree at the University of Illinois where his research is heavily focused on Hip-Hop history.
In this interview we discussed how he got started, the Hip-Hop movement, and a surprising response to Dr. Dre’s legendary The Chronic album (Dre was covered in Part 1 Interview).
Emad Rahim (ER): What is your definition of Hip-Hop?
Khalid Hussein El-Hakim (KHE): I submit to what the pioneer Afrika Bambaata has given us in regards to a definition which is hip-hop is peace, love, unity & having fun. I also respect what Professor Griff teaches in his lectures that hip-hop is “Higher Infinite Power Healing Our People.” Within that framework there are the five elements: deejaying, emceeing, breakin’, graffiti and knowledge of self.
ER: Now lets fast forward and discuss your first taste of the industry. From starting off as a fan to eventually being involved in the music industry. How did all of this get started?
KHE: My first introduction to the industry was actually in college. We are talking about the early 90’s here. I was the vice president of the student programming board and worked on committees with other student organizations. We were responsible for bringing in people such as comedian Joe Rogan, as well as Bill Cosby, KRS One, De La Soul, Black Sheep, The Last Poets and other artists to speak and perform on the campus. I learned how to negotiate contracts, book shows, and work with promoters and agents directly in the entertainment industry.
ER: It is amusing that you got all of these professional experiences as a college student without working as an intern. Often students don’t realize how many opportunities exist on campus by joining different programs and student groups.KHE: Yes it was an invaluable experience. On campus I was a part of a poetry group who was strongly influenced by the work of The Last Poets. I used my business acumen to book shows all over the Midwest. Eventually we ended up meeting The Last Poets, and I became one of their booking agents. I went on to do some management work for them as well. That was an exciting time in my life being a student, fan of the culture and music, to getting hands-on experience in the industry and meeting a lot of artists that I respected.
ER: It sounds like you worked with the group for a while. When did you return to Detroit?
KHE: I returned to Detroit right after college in 1994. While promoting a show in Detroit for The Last Poets in 1997, I crossed paths with Proof of D12. Proof, at the time, was just an MC (rapper) that everyone in the city knew of and respected. He was hosting battles at the Hip-Hop Shop on Seven Mile every Saturday.
ER: Was this the same place that inspired the Eminem movie 8 Mile?
KHE: Yes – this is the same place that Eminem began his career. This is the same place where the Detroit hip-hop scene would come and sharpen their battle skills. Your who’s who in Detroit hip-hop came through those doors. After getting to know Proof, he asked me to manage his group, 5 Elementz, with fellow members Mudd and Thyme. Eminem blew-up in 99, and shortly after that Proof formed D12 and rolled with Shady Records. I continued to manage 5 Elementz. As you know D12 went on to become platinum selling artists. Proof reached out to me over those early years as his fame grew and let me know that he would come back and get me. I respected that.
ER: So you saw Eminem, Proof and D12’s rise to fame, personally, and during all of this Proof stayed in contact with you. Did you ever feel it will never happen? Did you think maybe he was just being nice?
KHE: I said cool, if it happens it will happen, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. He was still reaching out to me, which he did not have to do. In 2005, things slowed down at bit for him and he actually came to my house to discuss his independent record label business plans. He told me that he had started a new label with all Detroit artists including Mu, Purple Gang, Supa Emcee and The Wolf Pack. He asked me to be the vice president of it and 1st Born was the president of the label. He also asked me to manage his solo career. From that day forward I was officially part of the Iron Fist Records family.
ER: How long did this last, in regards to you working with Proof in that capacity?
KHE: Unfortunately it was short lived but priceless. Iron Fist Records released his solo album Searchin’ for Jerry Garcia in the summer of 2005. We did shows across the U.S., Europe and Australia up until March 2006. It was through my travels with him that I really got a chance to see the influence hip-hop had on a global level. To be able to interact with so many fans, media groups and artists that represented different countries was a powerful experience. It was great on the job training that I got working with him and Iron Fist Records. But everything came to a tragic end on April 11, 2006 when Proof was murdered in Detroit. The hole in the Detroit hip-hop scene without his presence is still felt. I was very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to know Proof on a personal level. My relationship with him impacted my life in a very deep way.
ER: I remember being home and watching MTV when the news that Proof got killed hit the air. I read about all of the positive work he was doing for Detroit residents. We lost not only a great artist, but a great person that day. So, how did you end up going from working in the music industry to pursuing your doctorate at the University of Illinois and founding the Black History 101 Mobile Museum?
My passion was always in education and working with youth. I taught social studies during the school year and would go on tour over the summer, during holiday breaks and weekends. I would negotiate contracts, deal with promotions and book shows in the evenings and weekends. My introduction to black history was through the lens of hip-hop. Being around that socially conscious type of music in the 1980’s got me interested in wanting to learn more about my history. As I traveled with the different artists I managed I would collect all types of artifacts and historical objects from various places. I started collecting black memorabilia after taking a sociology class with a professor who used objects from the Jim Crow era to teach about racism in America. This approach to teaching was very effective and years later I found myself using the same teaching pedagogy in my middle school social studies class. We can talk about history, we can teach history, but it’s more powerful if you can see a piece of history and touch it. So, using cultural artifacts the Black History 101 Mobile Museum provides museum quality exhibits in non-traditional spaces and exposes people to the rich legacy of the black experience. The Black History 101 Mobile Museum is now 5,000 plus artifacts and has traveled to over 20 states with thousands of people visiting the exhibits. I have to give a huge shout out to Professor Griff of Public Enemy for rolling with the Black History 101 Mobile Museum for the past nine years.
ER: What made you decide to go this route instead?
KHE: I decided to pursue my doctorate because the timing was right. I have been presenting and speaking at college campuses all across this country. I have been a teacher for over a decade and had the opportunity to publish the hip-hop portion of my collection into a book with my co-author Dr. Derrick Jenkins. Now I want to capture all of my experiences, love for hip-hop culture, passion for black history and academic dialogue, and combine that into a research study. I hope to use my education and experience to impact positive change and inspire others like what hip-hop has done for me.
Khalid Hussein El-Hakim is currently a Teaching Assistant and Doctoral Student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He still travels across the country showcasing his Black History 101 Mobile Museum and discussing his book The Center of the Movement: Collecting Hip-Hop Memorabilia.
For more information about Khalid Hussein El-Hakim please visit his website.
Dr. Emad Rahim is an author, educator, foodie, father, husband and Hip-Hop lover. Find him on TWITTER.