“You wanna sing about the hunger & the trap with us
but then we go to the funerals alone
at the shoe you share in the madness & then
we live with the rage on our own
But since you love it so much
take my sun-kissed skin & oppression
my childhood friend in a cell doing 7
take the little brother that I won't ever watch grow
on the concrete floor is where they left him
take the wounds that won't ever heal
life after the studio session”
Those are the words of Mustafa, a poet, filmmaker, activist, and songwriter who brings a new weight to the phrase "music with a message."
Born to Sudanese parents, Mustafa Ahmed was raised in North America's first public housing building. Seemingly mindful beyond his years, Ahmed's poetic voice resonated with his community in Regent Park, from an early age. In 2014, Ahmed released an EP of his poetry, which lead him to open for Jhene Aiko and work with many other talented artists.
A few years later, the infectious resonance of Ahmed's words continued on their magnetic path, leading him to co-write "Attention," a song from The Weeknd's 2016 Album, Starboy. Soon afterwards, Drake shared one of Ahmed's poems on his Instagram page. In 2018, Ahmed released Remember Me, Toronto, a short film about gun violence that captures various people and rappers from his community having honest, difficult conversations about loss. The film features both Drake and the voice of Ahmed's good friend Smoke Dawg, who was murdered in 2018. He tells Complex in reference to the film, "When you get lost to gun violence, there's a stigma. There’s a narrative in the media that insinuates that the victims deserved to die." Like much of Ahmed's work, the film has a brutally humanizing impact. Last year, he even collaborated with Valentino, through which his poems were sewn into the designs of 25 pieces in the women's fall 2019 collection. Ahmed used this opportunity to share his perspective on and spread black love.
Now, the 23 year old activist uses yet another artistic channel to share a powerful message. Through his debut single, "Stay Alive," Ahmed tenderly sings about the pains of gun violence. Produced by James Blake and Frank Dukes, the tune is accompanied by a fingerpicked guitar, with gentle background vocals and percussion. Though Ahmed's vocals are rather soft, his lyrics speak volumes. The chorus begins, "All of these traps, and all of these street signs / None of them will be yours or mine," alluding to the feared gentrification of his community. He continues, "And if they take it all away / Our freedom and our hearts and that glow in your face / I'll remind you who were before it changed /…I'll be your empire / Just stay alive." The debut single, injected with both realism and hope, is also accompanied by a music video featuring Ahmed in Regent Park with other members of his community.
Upon announcing the song's release, Ahmed wrote, "Rest In Peace to the friends I've lost, long life to the ones still living, nothing in vain, Regent Park forever." Ahmed's work carries with it an air of timelessness, universality, and humanization. The integrity behind his words compels all of his works to vibrate with veracity. The narrative of "Stay Alive" takes on multiple meanings in today's climate and we are thankful to Mustafa Ahmed for using his platform to share that message.
Watch the music video for "Stay Alive" below: