Ibrahim Sincere is an independent 26-year-old rapper from London, telling gritty stories of crime, poverty, social justice and the search for inner-peace which are equally as ugly as they are beautiful.
We talk to Ibrahim about all things identity, belonging, poetry, music, NFT’S and how he uses art as a tool for social change.
Where are you from and how did your journey as an artist begin?
I was born in Mombasa, Kenya - my family moved to Kenya for a short period of time after the civil war in Somalia, and we migrated to London when I was one years old, where I was raised on a council estate. Originally, we are of mixed Somali and Indian descent, but according to a DNA test I did recently, my Asian heritage is mainly Pashtun, whilst my African side is a mixture of various East African tribes. I’ve always been creatively inclined; I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember being able to hold a pencil - with the encouragement and training of my mother. I started writing lyrics at the age of around 10; Grime music was thriving as an important and emerging part of London culture and naturally, many of us were influenced by it. After having spent many years doing grime and rap, I moved into writing and performing Spoken Word Poetry. As I grew and matured, my lyrics became focused around politics, human rights, and telling stories about the issues that affect the youth growing up in economically deprived areas like mine.
How has your cultural heritage and faith influenced your practice?
For many of us growing up in the west, we see those around us and ourselves falling into the traps of the dunya (material world), many are intrigued by it, or forced by their situation into seeking a means to survive and thrive in a way that ultimately leads to our destruction. Alhamdulillah I have always aimed to be God conscious, and I found it important to convey positive or inspiring messages through the gifts that God has loaned to me. The uprising and revolution of Hussain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet in 680 AD has always been close to my heart, and has kindled a passion to stand up for the oppressed and use whatever means I can to shed light upon the similar struggles which oppressed peoples around the world go through today. As a diasporic immigrant with a mixed heritage, I myself am a product of years of migration and war, this history is embedded within me and tells the story of who I am today - creative expression with this at heart has become a natural part of my being.
You are a multidisciplinary artist working through a variety of mediums, why is it important for you to explore different types of creative expression?
God is the creator and distributor of creativity. I give thanks to Him for granting me a level of talent in various different forms, and along with this comes an intrigue and natural drive to explore them. The stories of societies and civilisations since the beginning of time have reached us through their creatives, be it poetry or hieroglyphics, and Allah has chosen to guide us through the poetic scripture of the Qur’an. Art is therefore both a spiritual and political experience - it brings peace to those who engage in it and can both inspire and educate those who come across it. I believe that if I am blessed with the talent, then I have the responsibility of utilising it in the way of God, and maximising this potential. As I reflect, I realise that it brings us closer to the Creator of all things, as we attempt to both imitate and describe the wonders of the universe.
You are an advocate for social justice and through your work you tell stories of crime and poverty. Why is it important for you to address these issues through your art?
UK Hiphop Artist Reveal described his lyrics as a ‘stream of consciousness’, and this rings true for me. Writing lyrics is a way for me to digest, reflect on, understand and express my observations of the world around me. Poetry, music and art are powerful; people can emotionally connect with art in a way that they may not be able to with other forms of information, they can be influenced by it in a way that destroys or builds them. Though hip-hop started out as a form of fighting for justice, mainstream music in general has been numbing and programming us to become driven by our own desires, with a lack of empathy towards the struggles faced by people around the world. I believe that as humans, to unlock our full potential we must strive towards selflessness, goodness and unity - hence we must combat the narrative and influence of mainstream media.
If I can change the heart or positively impact decisions made by a single listener, then I am fulfilling my duty to spread goodness and equality in the world. Growing up I have seen many of those that I love make choices that will ultimately continue the cycle of deprivation and depression for themselves, their families and future offspring - as a result many are today imprisoned, homeless or struggling with mental health. If I can spread a positive message, I can inspire people to better themselves, their circumstances and their environments.
Can you tell us more about your music, how did you find a connection with spoken word and hip hop?
Hiphop is ultimately a form of poetry, and is the artform which introduced me to the power and creativity of poetry in all its forms. Spoken Word poetry allows me to write more freely, and deliver it in a way where I can fully express the emotions, passion and intention behind my writing. For me, I’ve found spoken word to be the most impactful way to engage with audiences when performing live, capture their attention and keep the focus on my message - whilst I’ve found rap to be most impactful when trying to engage with listeners in the digital world, allowing them to fully appreciate the connection between the flow, the instrumental and the lyrics.
What are the ideas and concepts behind your digital art collection?
My first digital collection depicts human or human-like figures in the futuristic environments often depicted in the current trends of digital art. I combine these worlds with the one that is familiar with the environment I grew up in, through the clothing worn by the subject. I developed the idea whilst thinking about how and whether or not street and urban culture will ‘survive the future’.
What made you pursue NFT art and when did you start doing NFTs?
I have been researching and investing in cryptocurrencies for a few years now, and I see NFTs as a revolutionary way for artists to share, sell and earn royalties for their work for many years to come, in a way that removes barriers associated with the traditional art world run by elites, and sometimes the exploitation that comes with it. It is an opportunity to put your work infront of investors and art enthusiasts in an accessible way, whilst not being left behind as the world moves further into digital interaction and asset ownership.
I’ve only gotten into NFTs this year, so I am still learning in this space and understanding the intricacies of it, whilst networking more with other artists.
What are you bringing to the NFT art world?
My next project will be based around depicting Muslims in the digital world, preserving our various cultural heritages through the ever changing times. Ultimately it is my own creative expression that I am bringing to this space, and I hope to spark conversations around our faith, environments, spirituality and culture; how will we be represented and influential for many years to come?
Can you tell us more about the Kufi Lives? What was inspiration behind this body of work?
I spent a night thinking about a hat. I thought about what it represented and what it meant to me, and how it reminded me of my elders. I’ve always loved the kofia (as it is called in East Africa) – an embroidered and threaded, brimless cap worn all over East Africa – Zanzibar, Kenya, Somalia, Mainland Tanzania, Uganda and more, as well as being heavily prominent in Oman. It’s thought to have originated in Oman or Zanzibar, where it’s called bargashia – named after Barghash bin Said, the former Sultan of Zanzibar. In Somalia it’s called the koofi baraawe, where Baraawe is a reference to the Bravanese peoples of Mogadishu and Merca – the tribe my maternal grandfather was from.
Every Eid the elders in my family would wear it with a kanzu (a white robe, known as a thawb in the Middle East) and a blazer. The addition of the blazer in itself is a paradox; a European garment worn with traditional African and Arabian clothing. The outfit is a symbol of colliding cultures, it is both an adoption of European culture and a rebellion against it.
I understood why I’ve always felt connected to the kofia, it reminds me of honour, spirituality, tradition, and home. Growing up, I always associated it with those elders, but I realise now it’s a part of my identity, of me. I realised that night, as our elders pass on and take history with them, that we in the diaspora are watching as each remaining tangible connection to our roots and homelands is lost forever from our bloodlines. Everything we don't adopt will die with our fathers. Will our children ever see us wearing them? Will they ever feel connected to anyone they see wearing it - the way we do?
I decided to do an illustration depicting not only the Kofia, but various cultural hats worn by Muslim cultures around the world. Not all of these hats have Islamic origins, but they are worn in regions which are strongly populated with Muslims. I wanted to represent a wide range of cultures, and specifically Africa, as it is usually overlooked in conversations about Islamic culture.
How did you feel about the phenomenal reaction Kufi Lives had on social media?
Blown away; I had no idea so many people would connect with and relate to the illustration and story. Many people shared amazing pictures and information about the hats I illustrated, as well as various others worn by different cultures. I could feel the similar connection the contributors felt with these hats, as some shared stories of their grandfathers and the hats they used to wear. A large number also shared their own collections of hats with me, that they had accumulated over years of travels.
What are your future aspirations as an artist?
My aim is to improve and evolve my art; as a perfectionist I always look at the highest quality of artwork out there and aim to reach that level - but I am always struggling to give the proper time to it amidst my own commitments and responsibilities. Of course I hope that I can get the best of both worlds; earn some good income from my art as well as spread positive message and spark meaningful conversations, or reflections from the viewers.
What does the future of Islamic art and culture look like to you?
Islamic art has a long and vastly important history; whether poetry, paintings or architecture it has always sparked passion and spirituality for Muslims whilst capturing the attention and intrigue of the rest of the world. Along with the sciences, Muslims in their greatest years of influence were producing the most intricate art in the world - and it has been central to preserving and telling our history. We must also preserve these traditional art forms, and if we were to seek Godliness through our art in a way that our predecessors did, we could ensure that our history, culture and message of peace will last the passage of time in a global, connected and changing world. This also means establishing our presence in the digital world and creating art that can compete with the great artists of our time. As we spend more and more time online, we are becoming further detached from our spiritual selves and purpose. We are digesting countless bytes of information everyday, going through a rollercoaster of emotions everytime we scroll the timeline, and as technology advances we venture deeper into virtual worlds, living through our avatars. For me, my Islam is my spirituality, it is myself and my culture - and the online world has basically become an essential part of our lives and livelihood. For as long as there are Muslim artists, there will be creative expressions with Islamic influences in all mediums accessible to them, but we must make a conscious effort, again, to preserve and spread the message of peace and God consciouness in a way that generations to come will interact with, and be impacted by. Thank you Bayt-Al-Fann for providing a great platform for artists such as myself to continue this important work.
For more information check out:
Instagram: @ibrahimsincere Twitter: @ibrahimsincere
Youtube: /ibrahimsincere NFT Collection - London Street Culture Survives the Future: https://opensea.io/collection/london-street-culture-survives-the-future
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.