He laughs when I suggest that the jail time was just a PR stunt to bolster his gangster image.
"Naw, I ain't into that gun and gangsta shit--just like I don't have anything to do with that bullshit war in Somalia," he says in an easygoing tone. "I just do my thing. I'm a peaceful person. For me, the gangster thing is only a style and part of the music."
American style was part of the performer's consciousness long before he arrived on its shores. Born Malik Mohamed (or, according to others, Mohamed Farah), Mo-Man first heard rap music in Kismaayo, a southern city in Somalia. His father owned a video and electronics store that also carried pirated tapes of Western musicians, including the likes of Rakim and Run-DMC. Under this influence, Mo-Man took up breakdancing, once attempting to rap in Somali over the backing track of Salt 'N Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex." Not long after moving to Mogadishu, he and his family left Somalia altogether for Kenya. In the early '90s, they emigrated again, this time to the U.S. Mo-Man would spend most of the next decade moving from city to city, living with relatives across the country: New York City; Alexandria, Virginia; San Jose, California. He finally landed in Minneapolis in 1997.
His wide travels and early listening habits help explain a lot about the rapper: his noticeable lack of a strong Somali accent, his constant use of African American urban slang, and even his free-spirited ways. Mo-Man has a darker skin tone than many Somalis and different facial features, too; it wouldn't be hard to mistake him for a native-born African American. Mo-Man explains that while most people believe his stage name comes from "Mohamed," it actually has a less pious origin. While clubbing at places like the Quest, he would so often order bottles of Moët champagne that the bartenders and his friends started calling him Mo-Man.
"If you want to drink, then drink," he says. (To our dismay, we've already finished off the Jim Beam.) "I'm a Muslim, but I'm just living in my feet and being free. You know what I'm saying? It is the second generation and you can't stop them. I don't represent them, all these cats, but I look up to all of them. You know, these are my people."
After a little more than a half-hour of talking, Mo-Man becomes restless, shifting in his chair. I still have a lot I want to ask him: Does he study Arabic poetry for inspiration? How does he afford his fast-lane lifestyle when his main means of support seems to be an assembly-line job that he found through a temp service? Will he ever join forces with rappers Brother Ali and Musab to form a Minneapolis Muslim supergroup? But before I can get to any of those questions, Mo-Man says, "Yo, J. I need to get back to this party before it's over."
And in a minute he's up and off, soon disappearing into the mass on the dance floor.