Words by Jeff Nelson
All images courtesy of Nadiem
When most people hear the words “local rapper” they think someone that’s handing out their mixtape in a parking lot outside of a larger show, or someone that plugs their Soundcloud under popular twitter posts. Nadiem Musleh is none of these.
Nadiem is more than a rapper. He is a producer, an Ohio State graduate, a businessman, and he is a professional. He isn’t just doing this as a side hustle, or as a passion project. No, he is doing this as a job. He loves what he’s doing, but it’s still a job. “I think at the end of the day, no matter how passionate you are about music or how fun it is, you have to remember that this is a business.
“If you want this to pay your bills, you need to invest in it. This pays my rent. If I don’t do it, I don’t eat. Every day I ask, ‘how can I make today better than yesterday?’ You can’t just rely on the attention of other people or the grace of someone else to listen to your music, what can you offer that person to then invest in you in return. Until you realize that, it’s not going to be a business for you and you’re never going to grow.”
I sat down with Nadiem in November, at the tail end of his last tour. On that tour he had been to Europe, Morocco, and a few cities in the United States. Again, this is not typical of a “local rapper.” This seemingly scattered tour was actually another business move. Nadiem has learned to use Spotify and Apple music to find out where the largest concentrations of his fans are, and he does everything he can to schedule stops at these pockets of fans, to capitalize on it.
“As an independent artist, you have to know how your budget works and you need to know where you can go. I use Spotify and Apple music to see where the most listeners are and I use that to see where I should go play, and that’s why my cities are a little bit different this year. I always like to end my tours in Columbus though, because that’s home.”
When he was in Europe, there were a few opening shows, but overall, a lot of the shows on the continent were headlining slots for him. “Even if they aren’t big, they’re headlines for a reason. I plan everything about these shows myself. I bring my own lighting crew, I use Apex Productions here in Columbus a lot, they’re my partners that I use here, and they’ll travel if I need them to. So, I bring all my own lighting, my own sound, all of that.”
Nadiem also brings his own dance crew with him. “One thing I live by is, find like five people in a city that you like, and offer to buy them coffee, or a drink, or something, and eventually you’ll find something that you like, you’ll find talented people that might be able to help you, and that’s the thing that happened with my dance crew.
“I met this group of people that were already really good at what they do, and I just wanted to make something out of it. They had their own program with the university, the one group I work with is called the Black Cultured Performing Arts, and they come with me on everything I do.”
Nadiem has only been professionally rapping for about two years, but he has been working toward this goal for a long time. His story began just like any good story starts: rappin’ on the school bus. “When I got here, I just started meeting the right people, I started getting connected better. The internet is really small. You can meet so many people on the internet, I’ve met comedians, influencers, that have helped me get to where I am today, and I’d be nothing without them.
“Even with the Europe shows, even if it was a show where only twenty to thirty people showed up, it’s still surreal that you’re able to fly to another country, even if it’s an opening act or something, just to meet people, interact with them and hear their story. That’s the cool thing about music, man… that’s what made me want to get into this in college.”
By “Get into this in college,” he didn’t just mean joining a student organization, or rapping at open mic nights. He double majored in psychology and music production, which explains why he approaches his career in a different way than others trying to make it. While he does take over a good portion of the production duties for his own music, he always looks for collaboration.
“I don’t do all of my production; I always look for people to work with. One thing I’m really big on is bouncing creativity off someone else. If you’re just secluding yourself, you’re never going to see what options are out there. Before my music gets released, I send it to five to ten people, just to get some ears on it. On my EPs, I’ll find a producer that will make a beat to match my style, and then I’ll go and add my own kits to it, I just like to use multiple sources.”
I asked if he does any production for anyone else, and he said he will when it’s needed, but he tries to keep that to himself, just because he is more involved as an artist now. The psych major wasn’t just to put on his resume, though. He uses psychology to go deeper into human behavior and human nature in his music, which leads to it being more lyrical and cerebral.
“One of the things I learned in psychology is, human behavior is important. I wanted to use it be able to connect with fans. A lot of times I’ll get fans that come up to me at my shows like ‘Hey, you really know how to relate to me,’ and that’s the main goal. I don’t care about the money side of this, its where my passion lies, is helping somebody out, and I use that to be able to better understand behavior and how I can help change their lives if its needed.”
When Nadiem was at Ohio State, he was approached to collaborate with the university on a song called 60K for the football team. “I was asked to do something with the football team just to hype up the school that we could play at local bars around here. The basic message behind it was basically the sixty thousand students that represent Ohio State. Then the media team picked it up and they started playing it at the football games. I don’t get revenue from that because it was more recreational, but we did work directly with Ohio State’s media team, there were a couple people there that helped us out with that, getting us situated to be put in the right hands. And now it’s been on all the Columbus radio stations, like 106.7, DJ IQ has played it a few times, so it’s been really cool.”
Being an OSU student myself I love this song, save for one line. “I love Catfish, but I prefer my Adriaticos.” I asked Nadiem if this was true or if it just fit the rhyme scheme. “I grew up on Catfish Biffs, but I started really liking Adriaticos because of the thickness. Maybe on the remix I’ll go back and give Biffs some love.”
To add to Nadiem’s resume, he started his own merch line called “Defeat the Label.” The name was inspired by his own experience of being labeled as one thing or another. “By my name, you can tell that I’m Arabic. My mom is white and Catholic, and my dad is Muslim, so I was always in this double standard where I had to either be this or that. After a while I just said, ‘To hell with that’ and I decided I was going to do me and defeat these labels that have been placed against me. It was easy to take something from myself and make it relatable to my following and it turned into a clothing label and them more of a movement.”
The merch line isn’t just a way to spread his brand; he also uses it to support things he cares about. Earlier in 2019, he donated more than half the profits from his merchandise sales to support those fighting in the Sudanese revolution.
“We bring in a good amount of profit from the merch, and I wanted to take a percent of that and give it to these people. I don’t believe in just giving another organization money to handle something, I wanted to actually create change, so we sent goods. I wanted to be able to send something tangible that would actually help, and I had the platform to do It, so why not.”
He mentioned how much he appreciates his fanbase’s willingness to support the things he is passionate about. “One thing I like about my platform is that even though it’s not the biggest, the people that follow me are very passionate. They know that when I see a mission, and they follow me towards that, they know that it’s because I see a purpose in that, and they feel the same way. Having people that will invest in things your passionate about is incredible.”
Moving forward, Nadiem plans to put out more singles before his next album, Headspace, which is planned for the summer of 2020. “It’s gonna be really special, man. I’m really excited for this.”
Nadiem will be starting his Exception Tour on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at Skully’s Music-Diner, and then he will be moving on to six dates across the United States.
Nadiem – Venom