Dope, rap, and religion

With two hot collaborations, one new solo joint, and an upcoming reunion with Mob Figaz in the works, Husalah should be on top of the world. Instead, he's spending the next four and a half years behind bars

by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian July 12, 2006

I'm on the set of the video for "Never Blink," a song off Mob Figaz member the Jacka's 2005 solo disc, The Jack Artist (Artist), featuring Dubb 20 and J-Stalin. The "set" in West Oakland where 10th Street meets Mandela is not sanctioned by a film commission but monitored from a distance by a slowly circling caravan of three police cruisers. A Mercedes SL500 creeps through the crowd and parks in the middle of the road, retracting its hard top with the slow-motion elegance of a moon landing before a familiar 6-foot-3-inch frame unfolds from the low roadster and begins the usual round of hand slaps and hugs. Husalah is on the set.

"I represent the Iraqi Space Program," he announces, then immediately reconsiders. "The Nigga Spaceship Association." He has the air of one whose wit is so fertile he must double-stack its results.

Though Hus doesn't perform on "Never Blink," he has turned up on behalf of his fellow Mob Figa for some whoridin' — that art of dancing, lyric miming, and tough posturing behind the rapper — and for the next several takes nearly steals the show. He can't help it. Combined with his athletic build and strikingly handsome face, his height makes him conspicuous in any crowd, while his desire to "take it further," evident in his innovative, melodic flows and ever-evolving gangsta argot, also animates his appearance. Instead of imaginary bills, Husalah pulls out a stack of new hundreds, fans it to show it's all hundreds, shuts the fan, and begins to count, licking the bills instead of his thumb as he goes while bobbing to the mournful yet light-as-air RobLo production. Fielding an imaginary call, Hus shoulders his phone as he continues to count and dance, gazing off abstractedly as though processing information. It's a performance worthy of a Mac Dre or an André, though more thugged out and unmistakably Husalah's own.

Husalah's been recording for eight years, debuting as a teen with the other Mob Figaz — Jacka, Fed-X, AP9, and Rydah J. Klyde — on "Ride til We Die," the opening cut on C-Bo's Til My Casket Drops (Awol, 1998). Now, at 25 he is hitting his creative stride just as Bay Area rap is making itself felt on a national level. Three hot Husalah projects are currently in stores: 3 da Hard Way (FriscoStreetShow, 2005), a trio with Jacka and hard-spitting MC Marvaless; Animal Planet (2006), a Demolition Men mixtape cohosted with Jacka; and Dope, Guns and Religion (Sumo, 2006), a solo debut drawing on new and unreleased material. With a Mob Figaz reunion on the horizon, the timing couldn't be better, except for one small catch.

In February, Husalah was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute "more than five kilos" of cocaine, a charge dating from 2001, when the rapper was 20. At press time, he was set to turn himself in July 10.


"Where I come from," Husalah says several days before the video shoot, at the Mob Figaz's studio, hidden away in an upper-middle-class chunk of Antioch, "it's all about getting money, staying fly, being the coolest dude." Born in 1981 in nearby Pittsburg, the young Tito Alston grew up in el Pueblo Housing Project, notorious for its colorful "hood rich" hustlers, who made small fortunes dealing dope and pimping. It's exactly the sort of "subculture that glorifies swagger over work," according to a March 20 New York Times article and "causes the deepening ruin of black youth." Such preferences likely are also the effect of poor education and few opportunities for low-income inner-city families. Pittsburg may not be your classic inner city, but it's certainly no exurban paradise. An inland port first known as New York Landing, it was rechristened Black Diamond following the 1903 discovery of coal in the hills and received its present name in 1911 to honor the arrival of the steel industry. The low-paying jobs available to unskilled laborers (in chemical and power plants and oil refineries and distribution centers) are ones few would wish to take or even consider safe.

As a teen Husalah rapped in talent shows, but his first love was sports. He played basketball and football and even boxed. His hoop dreams were quashed, however, when he was expelled from Pittsburg High in 10th grade after being caught with crack he intended to sell. Following a brief stint at the alternative Riverside High, where he was again busted with his stash, he was expelled for good and sentenced to a year of house arrest. "I used to sneak out at 10 every night, until 8 in the morning [to sell crack]," he recalls. "That was my shift." By 16, Hus was "heavy into the streets. I didn't care about music no more."

"Then one day I was playing basketball in the gym," he continues. "Jacka, AP9, and RobLo came and got me. They was, like, 'C-Bo at the record store — he want to hear y'all rap.' I was, like, 'I don't care about this shit no more.' I got $4,000 in my pocket. To a young ’un that's big." Fortunately his friends managed to persuade the young Husalah to have his date with destiny.

"We weren't even a group," he says. "We were just the tightest dudes in the area. But C-Bo was fresh off 2Pac's All Eyez on Me [Polygram, 1996], selling 300- or 400,000 units consistently. We went into the studio that day and did 'Ride til We Die.' After that, Bo's, like, 'We fittin' to do an album.' We went on tour, dropped the album [C-Bo's Mob Figaz (Git Paid, 1999)], and sold 140,000."

If the number seems small to platinum-conscious readers, consider that this occurred in the middle of Bay Area rap's long commercial decline, when even an album with a radio hit — such as the Delinquents' Bosses Will Be Bosses (Dank or Die, 1999), featuring "That Man!" — only moved 50,000 units. Or that the stir caused two years ago by Frontline's Who R U? (IMG) was based on sales of 10,000. For an independent debut in the Bay, 140,000 would still be huge. The figure was more than sufficient to establish the Figaz as a force in Bay Area rap.


For a couple of years, Husalah says, "I was, like, 'OK, this is money.' But then Bo went to jail and it got stagnated." The loss of C-Bo's leadership coupled with the Bay's commercial misfortunes slowed the group's momentum. "I fell back into [dope dealing] because it was lucrative," Hus confesses. "I've always been the nigga to wear the flyest kicks, the best fits, the best chick, so I gotta keep that standard going." Work on an attempted follow-up album, Mob Figaz, languished so long that the exasperated Warlock Records would eventually release it unfinished in 2003.

As he returned to the streets, however, Husalah began to develop a spiritual consciousness. E-40's remark on In a Major Way (Jive, 1995) advising the listener to "read Proverbs" in times of stress got Husalah perusing the Bible, and from there he moved to the Koran. It was the Koran that spoke to his struggles and sensibility. "It's all about God first," he says. "It ain't about preaching. It's about knowing what's real." His conversion to Islam led him to wrestle seriously for the first time with the implications of selling crack to his community.

"Allah says you can't be judged for what you weren't aware of," Hus comments. "I thought I was doing right as a youth. That's what all the older people I came up under did to make money. You get dope at hoop or be catching long bombs or sell dope. There's not a lot of opportunity here. But once you become a man, you get aware of what you doing. It's not an excuse now that you're aware of it."

The ambivalence Hus developed toward his primary source of income is documented on Dope, Guns and Religion, which despite its celebration of the hustling lifestyle is threaded with contradictory feelings born of his spiritual awakening: "But at the same time I barely touch packages/ ’Cause I believe pushing poison is for savages/ But then again, this shit got advantages/ How could I live if my pockets is Somalian?" As these lines from "Rainman" illustrate, Husalah has tapped into Bay Area rap's 2Pac-inspired tradition of the "conscious thug," using the dope dealer or pimp persona to articulate the dilemmas faced by black high school dropouts — more of whom, by their late 20s, are incarcerated (34 percent) than employed (30 percent), according to the same New York Times article. But where 2Pac was a conscious rapper who adopted the thug persona, partly from his on-screen success in Juice, partly as a way to get his message across, Husalah is a thug rapper who achieved consciousness, seeking a way out of the dope game even as he remained ensnared by its financial rewards.


Though he scaled back his activities, Husalah was unable to resist what seemed like a quick job for a big payoff in 2001 and arranged to help ferry "a large amount of cocaine" from Chicago to Cali. "That was a decision I made," he explains today. "It wasn't out of ignorance. It was out of a sense of desperation or hopelessness. I felt like I had no other choice."

"Some dude ratted me out; we were being watched the whole time," he continues. "I caught a federal conspiracy charge in Chicago. There was another guy driving the car, but they said I was the one who coordinated, flew him out there to pick something up, to take something around. With the feds, you got to take the charge and do your time. You can't win."

Nonetheless, after posting bail Hus returned to the Bay, hiding out for the next 18 months. "I wasn't really on the run because it was an out-of-state case and they didn't know where I was," he explains. "I'm, like, 'I'm not surrendering until they pick me up.' In the meantime, the grand jury indicted me, and I was snatched up by the task force in Pittsburg.

"I didn't have no criminal record. I'd been to juvenile hall, but this was my first time going to jail and I'm looking at 10 years."

Bailed out again, Hus would spend another three years fighting the case in court before eventually agreeing to plead guilty to possession and intent in exchange for the feds dropping the weightier conspiracy charge. Sentencing him to 53 months in February, the judge granted Husalah a six-month stay to get his musical affairs in order before entering the Federal Correctional Institute in Sheridan, Ore.

"My whole thing now is making music," says Husalah, who, in addition to completing his parts for the upcoming Mob Figaz album, has been hard at work finishing a half dozen projects, including a rock album, The Unusual Suspects; a dancehall disc with Jacka as the Shower Posse; and Harsh Reality, the full-length he was making when his legal woes began. "Plus, I figure I'll still be able to work in there, because in the federal system it's a lot more open. I'm pretty sure I'll have a mini ADAT recorder. There'll be new product." With the group’s business partnership, MobFigaz, LLC, continuing in his absence, Husalah has no fear of losing his musical profits. “I know they’re gonna keep it rockin',” he says. “We gonna make sure our check is in the mail.”

“Husalah is a phenomenal artist,” says Mistah F.A.B., who featured a farewell interview with Hus on the most recent installment of his new WILD 94 show. “He’s very intelligent and his character and charisma leave an impression on people. It’s unfortunate he has to go to jail for his past mistakes, but his stock will rise for doing his time and we’ll be waiting for him when he gets back. It’s going to be a learning experience.”

Husalah, it seems, agrees. “If Allah made me go through what I had to go through, there's a reason. I'm a better person. I learned what not to do. The statistics show it's death or jail for a street nigga, so for me it happened to be jail. I feel like it's a blessing that I'm breathing, I'm healthy."

"When you look at the whole situation, I had a lot of fun," he concludes philosophically. "I rocked a lot of models, rode a lot of rims, dropped a lot of tops, popped a lot of bottles, all that bullshit, so I'm trying to see what I'll evolve into now. I might be heavily religious. I might be into different types of music. Whatever it is, I'm gonna stay a real nigga, keeping this mob shit rocking. I'm gonna lay down and do my time. Then get right back and make money like I never left."


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