Ex-Outlawz rapper Mutah Beale talks Tupac, finding faith and life in Saudi Arabia

Rapper ‘Napoleon’ reflects on the journey from LA’s rap scene to Saudi Arabia and discovering Islam

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Mutah Wassin Shabazz Beale is many things – former rapper with Tupac’s Outlawz, coffee shop owner, motivational speaker, writer and convert to Islam.

Despite being raised in a Christian household, he didn't grow up religious. In fact, he felt disillusioned with faith after an early traumatic experience.

“When I was three years old, my parents got killed in front of me,” Beale tells The National.

“These people ― the killers ― were connected to the Nation of Islam and my grandmother who raised me didn't know the difference between the religion of Islam and the 'nation' of Islam, so I grew up just hating them,” he says.

The Nation of Islam is a US-based religious and political organisation that’s teachings differ significantly from mainstream Islamic thought.

After his parent’s death he was raised by his grandmother but admits that, despite two of his uncles being Muslim, he didn’t know much about the faith. But, he says, the painful deaths of his parents fuelled the emotional warfare in his mind when it came to faith and religion.

“Growing up, hearing these accusations about Islam ― I didn't want anything to do with it.”

But he found faith at the height of his rap career, after moving from his home in New Jersey to LA at 15 where he met Tupac.

On the outside, the group was part of the biggest movement in rap.

“Especially in the 90s, being a part of Death Row [Records], they were the face of gangster music – They had Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac, they were selling the greatest number of records than any other label.

“We appeared on 40-50 million record sales with Tupac, especially during his last days.”

But Beale says people had no idea about what went on “behind the scenes”.

“It was violent, fights going on in the studio and so on,” he recalls. “It was streets ― so the stuff I was trying to run away from, found me in the music industry.”

Tupac himself was killed in 1996 in a drive-by shooting.

Everything changed for Beale when he found religion.

“Once I became Muslim, I walked away from the music industry,” he explains.

In 2002, he says he was intoxicated in a recording studio and got into a fight with his younger brother.

“It was a Muslim person in the studio that stopped the fight. We spoke for a while, and we exchanged numbers. He'd call and invite me to the mosque from then on,” he says.

At first, he declined the invites – still mistrustful of Muslims after the death of his parents - but when he finally did, he says it changed his life.

“You know as a child if you believe Muslims killed your parents and this is the first time you're going to a mosque, naturally you'll have your reservations about it,” he says.

“I remember I took a loaded gun with me and a group of friends.”

When Beale got to the mosque in South-Central Los Angeles, he says he saw a vividly different representation than he was expecting.

“It was different races ― Arabs, white and black Americans, Pakistanis and Indians — from all walks of life and everyone was praying together, calling each other brother, which instantly struck a chord with me,” he says.

It contrasted with his experience growing up going to a church, which he says was very segregated by background.

“I became more curious, and I wanted to know more. I got some literature about Islam and started to read,” he explains.

As he started to read, he instantly recognised the names of prophets in the Quran from learning about the Bible.

“There were names my grandmother told me, like Prophet Abraham, Jacob. When I read about Prophet Mohammed, his companions and the last revelation, I knew this was from my creator. I accepted the religion of Islam shortly after that.”

About five months later, Beale went on to perform Hajj, a religious ritual that involves travelling to Makkah in Saudi Arabia that is an obligation for every Muslim healthy enough and who can afford to do it.

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When I go back to America and they say, 'women in Saudi are oppressed and they can't even leave their house without permission' and I let them know it's the opposite. To me the women got it good here, they spoil you.
Mutah Wassin Shabazz Beale

“I spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia and that was at the time [when] there was no social media, so I was able to sit back and reflect. It was an amazing experience.”

He was meant to return home and “jump back on the club scene around alcohol, women and drugs,” but he didn’t feel ready.

Beale worked on a solo album “without any cuss words and eventually decided to leave it [music] altogether”.

Then in 2010, Beale moved to Saudi Arabia where he co-founded coffee shop MW Café and the Smokey Beards Texas-style restaurant in Riyadh.

Beale says he's always been a hustler and he put that to work in building his businesses in Saudi Arabia. He says he has been constantly working on new ideas and projects – he recently published a biography titled Life is ЯAW.

He also runs a podcast titled MU2Q where he also interviews other members of Outlawz.

"It's amazing because my partner here is Korean-American and a Christian, so we are able to talk about what life is like in Saudi for Muslims and Christians as well as issues back home," he explains.

"I am just trying to stay busy and soak it all in."

The rapid changes in the kingdom over the last few years as the government pushes the Vision 2030 reform programme makes it “feel like home” but he says that many people still don’t know how safe the country is, especially for women.

“When I go back to America and they say, 'women in Saudi are oppressed and they can't even leave their house without permission' and I let them know it's the opposite. To me, the women got it good here, they spoil you,” he says.

“If I want to get work done faster at government offices and public venues, I bring my wife with me, and they will put me in front of the line because I am with a woman.”

Today, Beale's life is very different from the 90s LA rap scene.

He recently returned to the US for a visit and says he feels things have become very different in the land of his birth.

"Not to say there isn't any good there, there is, and so are the American people. But I was speaking to a friend of mine, Tiny, who also recently converted to Islam, and he told me about a recent school shooting in Arizona, at his daughter's school and said we are so lucky to be raising our kids here [in Saudi Arabia],” he says.

In Saudi Arabia, he says he feels there is a focus on family structure and child safety.

"A typical day in my life, I'd say, begins with me taking my kids to school. It's such a blessing to raise them here," he says.

Updated: September 15, 2022, 2:55 PM
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