Mo Money, Mo Problems

If Malik “Mo-Man” Mohamed really is a rising Somali rap star, why doesn’t anyone know where he is?

"I'm frustrated with him because sometimes he just doesn't follow what he is supposed to do," says KD. "I'm trying to help him stay out of trouble. He is like part of my family, though, and he has been dealing with a lot in his life right now. I have to stick with him no matter what."

As if reciting a hip-hop fairy tale, KD tells of Mo-Man's modest beginnings at a Minneapolis park on Portland Avenue and 14th Street where the two would often go to shoot hoops in the late 1990s. One day, instead of just listening to the group of young black men who would often gather courtside and rap freestyle, Mo-Man stepped into the circle and started "spittin' out rhymes." Several people in the crowd were surprised that a Somali had such skills, and the experience inspired Mo-Man and KD to start working together and get serious about hip hop.

Talking to Mo-Man's friends and fans, it's easier to piece together the last several years of his life than the past few weeks. A recent Saturday found KD at Karmel Square, hitting up people for bail money for his wayward friend. Mo-Man, it seemed, may have been arrested for marijuana possession, though KD remained tight-lipped about the matter.

Less than a week after spending some 36 hours in jail for reasons that remain mysterious, Mo-Man is scheduled to perform at an East African music extravaganza that showcases a couple of Toronto-based stars of traditional Somali music. These monthly concerts regularly draw some 500 young Somalis to the New Hall in the Profile Music building on University Avenue SE.

When I step into the spacious, red-curtained hall an hour before midnight, I feel like I've stepped into a kind of Somali high school dance. On the makeshift dance floor a group of 25 or so young women groove in a circle to a DJ mix of Missy Elliot, the Young Gunz, and Kelis's "Milkshake." Along the walls, the young men mill about, giving each other high fives and, in general, doing their utmost to look tough and cool. My own role here feels all too familiar: Mo-Man is MIA and I seem to have wasted another Saturday.

When I inquire about the absentee rapper with one aspiring Somali bad boy named Brohan, he blurts out, "Yo, Mo-Man, that's my nigga!" He shifts his cigarette from one hand to the other, which is also holding a can of Red Bull, and we slap hands. As we talk about Brohan's passion for hip hop, a popular traditional Somali singer, Omar Shariif, takes the stage and the growing crowd moves in to dance. "I like some of this music, too. This is my culture and I'm here trying to support it," Brohan says. "Really, though, I'm here just trying to get a girl."

With the open mixing of young and unmarried Somali men and women still strongly discouraged in the community, the New Hall gathering must seem like a veritable Gomorrah to many Somali elders. They may not take offense at the men's do-rags and throwback baseball caps cocked to the side, but some of the women's tight jeans and skirts would certainly provoke ire.

Before I can ask anyone what her parents might make of the bump-'n'-grind, a man steps up to the mic and shouts, "All my thugs out there put your hands in the air!" Mo-Man, at last, is in the house. And after an opening number, he starts flowing with a little ditty called "Sexy Mama."

Immediately he engages the crowd, standing at the edge of the stage, giving his shout-outs, moving his body to his own groove. With a medium build and handsome kisser, Mo-Man takes time to pose and look into the camera of the City Pages photographer just below the stage. And the crowd bounces to the beat.

 

A half-hour after his short-lived set, my time has finally come. Even though I feel I've earned the right to an exclusive interview with Method Man and a fat blunt, I'm instead sitting next to Mo-Man in a vacant hallway backstage, and we've only got my half-empty flask of Jim Beam between us.

He first apologizes for missing yet another interview that morning, recounting how he woke up in a hotel room next to a naked woman. "I'm a ladies' man. You know what I'm saying?" Mo-Man declares. "If I see the green light it's like boom-boom, I gotta go."

He goes on to express his frustration at only being able to perform about three songs because, he says, the DJ "messed up" the CD with all of his beats. (KD later claims that Mo-Man just forgot to pick up his backing tracks from the studio before the show.) Mo-Man seems even more irked, however, that he wasn't able to change out of his current threads--sagging jeans, a black cargo vest, a Raiders hat--into more suitable onstage attire.

Eventually, the conversation rolls around to the subject of Mo-Man's recent arrest, although he's sketchy on the details. Apparently, he had been hanging out with some friends on the street in north Minneapolis when a police officer pulled up in a squad car and asked to see all of their IDs. Checking his record, the cops discovered that Mo-Man had a number of unpaid traffic violations from 2002. And so they hauled him downtown. After a day and a half behind bars, Mo-Man reports, he was simply ordered to pay off his traffic fines. Furthering the mystery, a search of Minneapolis and St. Paul criminal records will turn up nothing about the man at all.

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