Dart Adams talks about his book with Danish rapper Sleiman
Questions and answers
Boston writer says Instead we got badwhich he co-wrote with the artist, is off the beaten track.
For many years, journalist and Boston contributor Dart Adams has made a name for himself as a chronicler not only of Boston culture, but also of the hip hop community from coast to coast. For his latest project, however, he has turned his attention a little further from home, to the sordid but, he hopes, inspiring story of a Danish rapper whose rise to life infamy from gang to stardom made him a sensation overseas.
For Instead, We Got Bad: A True Story of Survival and Perseverance, released this week via Penguin imprint Kingston Imperial, Adams has collaborated with artist Sleiman to share his story with the world, from his humble roots as a Lebanese immigrant, to his youth spent with the fearsome Bloodz gang, and onwards. to his public break with organized crime and resurgence as a chart-topping performer. He now finds fans online in the United States, who connect with his work despite the language barrier (and who may also know him from his legal row with American rapper 6ix9ine).
To report and write the book, an update to a previous Sleiman memoir published in Danish in 2012, Adams spent months getting to know the rapper through phone calls and WhatsApp chats. Despite their very different upbringings, Adams says he found many similarities between Sleiman’s life and that of his experiences in Boston.
“I’m just fascinated by his life story and all the things he survived and had to go through,” Adams says. “It largely echoes what the first and second generation immigrants I knew growing up in Boston faced: coming to a completely different culture, being a Muslim in a white country, balancing the worlds of your family and street life, dealing with the police, the school-prison pipeline, racism, xenophobia.
We sat down to discuss why he thinks Sleiman’s story is one American audiences need to hear.
who, exactly, is Sleiman? And how influential is he right now?
Sleiman is a Muslim immigrant, a Palestinian refugee who left Lebanon as a child with his family and emigrated to Denmark. It’s big business in Europe, infamous since he was a teenager for creating one of the biggest gangs on the continent and then leaving it alive, which is insane. Then he became a businessman and an entrepreneur outside of that – a legit guy – and got into the music business and started making hits.
He was always considered a gangster and he always wanted to change people’s perception of him. When you’re infamous, it takes a while to get people to see you as something other than a villain or a criminal and to take you seriously, and to face the scrutiny and carve out their own space. It took him years of making music for people to say, “Okay, he’s legit. He is now one of the most popular and listened to Dutch-language rappers on YouTube and streaming platforms, and he is hugely influential as someone who came to Denmark with nothing and, despite all the strikes against him , has become a source of inspiration for a generation of Arab youth and the MENA diaspora. Even once you’re in the system, it’s not the end. You can actually take control of your life and transform it. You don’t have to be what people think you are.
How is his story different? What will the American public get out of it?
Most books about people with his past follow the same script. It’s usually a story of refugees, it’s a story of violence and perseverance and so on, but it’s rarely about someone with Sleiman’s background: a kid who grew up in hip hop culture. , entered the world of entertainment and became an icon in this way. It’s very rare.
Also, a North American audience usually has no idea that there is a gang problem in Denmark. Or that, for example, behind the cannabis industry in Amsterdam, where it’s still illegal, there was an underground black market that the gangs were all fighting for. He breaks it all down in the book.
Tell me about the title, Instead we got bad. What are they talking about?
When he came to Denmark as a child, the language he learned was violence. He learned that from his father, something happens to his mother, and he faces a lot of adversity from his own community. To deal with it, he has to become a different person. To survive in an environment infested with gangs, racist and xenophobic people, police brutality, the mentality was that he had to become mean to feel a modicum of protection. He was still in survival mode.
It’s also a story we’ve heard from a lot of American hip hop artists.
His story really mirrors the stories we know. There are other memoirs from people like Rick Ross or Gucci Mane, and they all share similar stories to Sleiman’s. I want his book to be in the same category. In fact, if you look on Amazon, the book is in “survival biographies” and I’m like, “Why can’t this be with rap books?” Most of the time, because he’s Arabic and he’s from the MENA community, publishers won’t even accept a book like this because they think there’s no audience. for that. So it’s big just to get that out. Again, I think this will resonate with people from all walks of life who have seen adversity shape their lives. It’s a universal story for me.
Does it surprise you that his music is making its way abroad?
If you go to YouTube, you’ll find plenty of reaction videos to his songs or videos. In the age of streaming, people listen to a lot of music that’s not in English: they listen to K-pop, J-pop and Afrobeats. They listen to music from France, Nigeria, Senegal, everywhere. So Sleiman has millions of views, and comments are coming in from Croatia, from the United States, from Lebanon. It kind of exploded there.
Has he always seen hip-hop as a way to bring his story to an international audience?
Yeah, that’s why he wanted the book to be optional in North America. When you have a unique story like this, it can resonate with so many people and make them feel like they’re not alone in the world. I think of Muslim kids who grew up in the inner city, and there are plenty of them in places like Michigan, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. They are important communities, but they were not represented. Look what happened when Ms. Marvel came out of. People were very excited because they finally got to see themselves on screen. Whenever you try to pitch a book, the first thing they ask for is mock titles because they want to evaluate how it will perform, but there was nothing to compare it to. It was like, good luck. This is why this book is so important.