Mohammed “Big Mo” Alkhadher doesn’t just want to make music.
“I want to influence more activists as an activist myself,” he says.
The 24-year-old Arab-American hip-hop artist started writing for local poetry slams in high school while alternating years between Portland, Oregon and Kuwait.
“When I was growing up in Kuwait I just heard hip-hop on the radio and it was an art that really just pulled me in. It wasn’t really something that I chose,” says Alkhadher. “From that stemmed my love for writing, which is greater even than my love for hip-hop.”
In 2012 Alkhadher signed with Green Luck Media Group after recording a sample during a free session. He has since released two full albums and a single, all of which deal with themes of socio-political criticism and cross-cultural navigation. His most recent album, Fight for Peace, dropped on July 4th of this year. The first two tracks, “Fight for Peace” and “Pray for War,” work in tandem to communicate Alkhadher’s frustrations with both Western and Eastern governmental systems.
“I have to balance my criticisms of the East and West to make my music relate to both sides of the world,” says Alkhadher. “I grew up 18 years in Kuwait. I have to utilize that.”
Some of that balance involves including Arabic phrases or words in his music, like in the song “Ay Shay,” which literally means ‘anything,’ but sometimes translates roughly to ‘whatever.’”
“It’s not something I do all the time. I write better in English than I do in Arabic,” says Alkhadher. “I do practice as much as I can, but I have to focus on what I’m good at when it comes to album writing.”
Although currently he attends school in Eugene, Alkhadher continues to be an active member of the Portland hip-hop community. In May, he participated in Food Wars, a charity event hosted by Fight Church and sponsored by Lagunitas where local artists in the hip-hop community compete to see whose fans will bring the most non-perishable foods to their shows. The food is later given to Impact NW and “redistributed to hungry children via the SUN School Program,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
“We were able to raise like 15,000 cans of food in one night,” says Alkhadher. “All these artists came together — a group of hip-hop artists who are often depicted as thugs or gangsters all went out and collected cans of food for kids, and it goes against every image that ever depicted hip-hop.”
Aside from the negative image sometimes associated with the hip-hop community, the young Arab-American rapper faces another stereotype.
“I definitely get stereotyped,” says Alkhadher, laughing a little. “At my album release show I was called Iranian.”
Alkhadher uses the double dose of stereotyping to fuel his work, a motivation evident in tracks like “Blue Monk” where he addresses the events of March 1st at the venue of the same name. Portland Police blocked street access to the venue after they were called to solve an issue with capacity. The incident has since sparked conversation about the city’s interaction with the hip-hop community, a conversation Alkhadher joins with lyrics like “Who’s intimidating, making our fans run?/ They show up, sit in the back, I hope you’re having fun.”
Alkhadher plans to continue performing while remaining engaged in community events like the Arab-American Cultural Festival of Oregon and a local hip-hop summer camp in North Portland.
“I feel like I have everything I need in life, my life’s fulfilled, so therefore I would like to dedicate my life to a greater cause,” says Alkhadher. “But that’s me being an optimist … and that’s basically how I operate. I spread a message under the assumption that people are inherently good and will inherently want to do good.”
Editor’s Note: According to the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon’s website, this year’s festival has been canceled.