Former Outlawz rapper Mutah “Napoleon” Beale speaks to Mspiration about growing up from tragedy and life with slain rapper Tupac Shakur to experiencing the contentment of faith.
I grew up in violence. It was all around me. I witnessed my mother and father get gunned down when I was three years old. I was angry and I needed an outlet. I started writing poetry as a kid. It was a way to disassociate myself from the society and what I was going through. I had no one to talk to except my paper and pen. Whatever I felt and seen I would just write it down. I became addicted to it. Even when I was in school I couldn’t wait until class is over so I can go write about the things I was thinking about.
When I first encountered rapping I immediately knew this was the route I wanted to go on. You have to understand, back then in Irvington, New Jersey it wasn’t like it was now where there is a rapper in every corner. Back then I can probably count in one hand how many people in my neighbourhood trying to do music. I felt like a celebrity in my own neighbourhood because no one else was doing it. I would come home from school and drug dealers would say “I heard you rap, so rap for me.” And I would say no and they would offer me a dollar, now as a kid, a dollar was a lot of money so I started hustling. I knew from the reaction that I was getting that something big could come of it.
I ran into an old friend’s mother and she told me that he was in living with Tupac Shakur. Now I was like wait a minute, Tupac wasn’t that big at the time and he already put out a record already but we knew him in the hood. I couldn’t believe my childhood friend knew him. So she called her son and he told me where to meet them and I jumped on the train to New York City. When I met Tupac I was amazed that he already knew the story of the death of my parents, that I was a rapper and how I wanted to get out of the hood. He was humble enough to invite me into his hotel room and listen to me. From that day we kept in touch. When he put me in The Outlawz it was a bitter-sweet feeling because I wanted to be a solo artist, but it worked out.
Pac’s growth was steady. I have to say the man was a genius. His work ethic was great and he was all about building it and making everything better. He didn’t play around. You see these artists now hanging out in clubs always talking about partying. Pac would come to the studio and do three or four songs a day. And the way he worked was that he would tell the producer to put the beat on and he will say I will talk about this on the song and you, the Outlawz, better start writing something to fit these sixteen bars and you better finish before I finish. And if you don’t finish you just don’t end up on the song. He had integrity, he had honour and he would say what he believes in. That’s what he always taught us, to be honest. The thing with Pac is if he is your friend he is your friend, if he was your enemy then you better know he was your enemy.
My grandma raised me and she would go to church. She taught us that there is a God and when we die we go to this thing called heaven or hell. Since then I always believed in God and the next life. But it was very hard to be spiritual during those early years in the music industry because there was so many vices around creating obstacles to live that spiritual life. It got to a point for me that no matter what I do I thought I would never be held accountable because I would tell myself that God would understand my predicament. My spirituality was corrupted. I actually wanted people to hear my lyrics and then believe that the devil himself wrote those lyrics. I wanted to be the meanest person people ever met.
I believed Pac was untouchable. Nothing can happen to him and even if he got shot up again he would make it. When he died it was a wake up call that we don’t have the power of life and death. I was in grief. I became curious and spent nights thinking about where he was, what he was going through. After his death I also became angry. I turned to alcohol because he was another person I loved and he was taken away from me. Alcohol was medication and I became an alcoholic and I drank every single day.
It was around 2002. I was in the studio and I got into a fight with my own brother. I was intoxicated and my brother hit his head on the metal bars in the studio and he had to go to hospital to take care of the wound. I met a Muslim brother in the studio that day, he was always around and I liked his character and he always smiled when he spoke, he stopped what was left of the fight. He spoke to me and questioned me like no one ever did. He told me “how can you do this to your little brother. He is from the same blood as your father and mother. You are drunk right now. Imagine if you woke up now and found out that you killed your brother.” I had a bunch of yes men around me at the time, and this was the first time some one gave it to me uncut and raw. It made me think. We exchanged numbers and he invited me to the mosque. I felt like I owed him the right to visit.
I came to the masjid the first time strapped. The people who murdered my parents were from the Nation of Islam and I couldn’t tell the difference. I went with a bunch of friends and a gun because I didn’t know what to expect. I immediately noticed how everyone in the masjid was more happy than me and my friends. We had money and one hundred thousand dollar cars and here you have brothers coming to the mosque with a bike and no money but they were happy. We chilled for a while and then the prayer time came and the brother said to come pray with him. I told him I don’t know how to pray. He just told me do what I do and when you put your face to the floor you should ask God for whatever you want. At this time of my life I only wanted happiness, nothing else really mattered to me. I had the money, I had the houses but I was just tired of waking up and falling asleep depressed. I felt some ease when I put my face on the floor and prayed to God. I just thought whatever this is I want more of it.
The Quran was a different level for me. Even though I was reading an English translation, it was clear to me a man can never come with these words. And when I read the story about the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, that’s when I realised the qualities needed to be a real man. Where I grew up you couldn’t show kindness because you are viewed as soft. The way the Prophet Muhammad PBUH treated women and strangers, that he wasn’t a bully, called for peace and to keep families ties and standing firm in defending the words of Allah made me realise the way I was living was wrong. I realised that the Prophet Muhammad PBUH had the attributes of what it meant to be a true man. After reading the Quran I knew I wanted to become a Muslim and I called the brother and I took the shahada over the phone and a few days later I took the shada again in the mosque.
My documentary, Life of an Outlaw, is a form of therapy for me. I met friends and families who I didn’t see for a long time who spoke about events in my childhood that I never knew existed. When it comes to the book (also called Life of an Outlaw), it gave me room to speak about details I couldn’t really speak about in the masjid or university. It’s not that what I’m talking about is out of the boundaries but it gives peoples details on the decisions I made and how it led to where I am today. The book is more street than my normal talks but a thirteen and fourteen year old can appreciate it with out crossing the line that makes parents upset about what I said. In the movie you will see footage of Tupac never seen before. There are more people in the entertainment industry as well in the film such as Mike Epps, rapper Freeway, these are people are still active in what they are doing. It is all a form of healing for me. But not every thing is in the book and film, I still have stories for days.
For those in Australia, Mutah Beale is coming for two special screenings of Life of an Outlaw, sponsored by the Islamic Museum of Australia.
Here are dates:
Saturday March 30 at the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, Sydney, 6.30pm.
Sunday March 31 at the State Library of Victoria, Village Roadshow Theatrette, Melbourne. 6.30pm.
Purchase tickets here.
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