Black Al Qaeda, ESL, Riots of the Pirates, ISIS — With album titles like those, it’s clear that Seattle-based rap group Malitia MaliMob doesn’t shy away from controversy.
“We’re trying to change people’s perceptions of who Somalis are,” says Chino’o one of the founders and lead MC of the group.
Perception is personal for Chino’o — who was born Guled Diriye to Somali parents who fled to a refugee camp in Kenya when he was a child. Now 27 years old, Chino’o spends much of the group’s latest EP “ISIS” unpacking the scars and anger he’s experienced due to the stereotypes associated with his culture.
He describes the discrimination his family faced as new arrivals in Seattle when trying to communicate with thick accents, immediately being pegged as unintelligent foreigners.
He recalls a confrontation shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001 when a man screamed at his family to “get the f*** out of America” due to their traditional Muslim dress.
He details the internal conflict of trying to discover how to best assimilate into American culture through high school, not knowing quite where he fit in due to his many cultural identities.
Chino’o is Somali. He is Muslim. And in America, he tends to be mainstreamed as Black because of his skin color. He says he’s experienced negative stereotypes associated with all of those identities.
“In this white cops eyes, I’m Black,” said Chino’o. “There’s no difference between me and another African-American. But this other African-American feels that me and him are different.”
The identity crisis he experiences is what he is trying to diminish — not just for himself, but for the Somali-American community. By expressing his feelings through music, he says hopes to empower Somali-Americans to be proud of their heritage, and to explain their situation to the white-dominated American culture.
“It’s really all in the purpose of ‘let’s lift each other up,’” said Chino’o, “’let’s help each other where we couldn’t get help, what we can’t get from the government, what we can’t get from people that are supposed to help us.’”
Though Malitia MaliMob’s music is now focused on making political statements, it wasn’t always that way. In their early days of rapping, Chino’o and co-founder Krown — who has been incarcerated since 2013 — adopted the American-style gangster rap in songs like “Bosses in the Building,” which glamorizes flashy cars and bottles of champagne in the video. Chino’o acknowledges that in the beginning, they played into stereotypes.
“We used to be part of the stereotype,” said Chino’o. “We were part of the problem.”
What inspired Malitia MaliMob to change their style, says Chino’o, is the natural development of maturity that comes with growing older. In his case, becoming a father was part of that growth.
More than a decade after Chino’o and thousands of other refugee families fled the civil war that swept Somalia, many of the youth in Somali communities in America were born here.
He says he now feels a responsibility to guide these kids down a new path that embraces of the positives of their culture.
“Each generation has to pay their dues so that the next generation can walk,” said Chino’o.
Chino’o says he sees Malitia MaliMob is a movement, not just a rap group. From Ohio to California, Chino’o says there are people that consider themselves a member of Malitia MaliMob. He describes it almost as chapters in various cities throughout the country, where friends in the music industry and Somali community are tasked with encouraging the mentality of Malitia MaliMob.
“It’s not just the music,” said Chino’o. “We’re not a gang, we’re a community. A community that’s trying to go somewhere.”
In the next few months, Chino’o plans to travel back to Somalia to visit home, gain new insight for future material, and shoot a video for a track off of ISIS. While he hopes to continue making music for Malitia MaliMob, Chino’o someday envisions himself getting involved in politics. For now, his efforts are aimed at intertwining the two.
“This whole thing is really about us doing our part for our country, for our community,” said Chino’o. “Really we plan on being activists, not just rappers.”
In his eyes, music is the best way to get people to listen — and controversial or not, Malitia MaliMob’s music has something to say on behalf of Somali-Americans.
“We’re African. We’re proud,” said Chino’o.