Rapper/actor Mustafa Shakir is known for his acting chops, having his breakout role as The Bushmaster in Season 2 of the acclaimed Luke Cage series and Jet Black in the Cowboy Bebop live adaptation. On the music side of things, he has been putting out some excellent offerings like his 2019 project Masterpeace Theater. His latest release A Harlem Boi Biopic, continues Mustafa’s story-driven music with a focus on his tumultuous youth in Harlem.  The entire project is produced by Goldfingz.


“Without Your Love” sets the project off with an anthemic guitar-driven soundscape with a pervasive vocal sample and punchy drums. Here, Mustafa proceeds to break down any form of preconceived notions you might have about him. he sure doesn’t mince his words and makes it clear from the jump that he is not just a run-the-mill asinine emcee you are used to and no one should ever conflate his Hollywood success with his core integrity. “Tape #1” is a short 2-way discourse between Mustafa and his mind that threads the project together. Over a solemn jazzy sax and pianos, the narrator questions Mustafa’s motives for making the project and reminds him to give listeners the true, unadulterated version of himself and not to compromise his inner essence. “Sugar Hill Freestyle” is a nostalgic-filled piece that continues Mustafa’s vivid storytelling that aims to bring listeners into his world. Over the melancholic piano and crunchy boom-bap drums, he retorts “Sometimes I just sit and day dream, sepia colored memory, soundtrack , C.R.E.A.M/Bismillah A-rahmani rahim, contraband in my hand but I’m still on my deen” as he breaks down his dual nature. This is followed by “Tape #2”, another reflective interlude where Mustafa divulges his true intentions for what he wants to achieve with this project.


“The Uptown 1” starts off with that famous dialogue from the cult classic film The Education of Sonny Carson and proceeds with Mustafa going back in time as he unravels the many events and characters that shaped him. Backed by a scenic and nostalgia-inducing backdrop made up of melancholic strings, jazzy textures and percussion-driven grooves, Mustafa’s vivid lyricism transports listeners back to a time before the internet and social media. The poignant lyrics break down the street politics of Harlem as a whole and serve as a guiding course for out-of-towners. “Memba” is a soulful and summer-tinged track ripe with lush keys, heartwarming samples and soft drums that Mustaf uses to paint a picture of the good times and various hip-hop-related memories that coloured his childhood. He sure knows how to trigger long-lost memories with lines like “Salt-n-Pepa pushing P before the chi/We was deep watching faithfully” and  Regardless of the struggle, fresh leaves, Lino lemon yellow, still blowing bubbles from the trouble” where he reminds us that the daily struggles couldn’t hold us down  “Just A Soul” flips a classic Nina Simone sample to good effect and the result is a cinematic and emotion-rich piece that sees Mustafa in his element as he pours his heart on wax. He sounds unapologetic and candid as he gives listeners a graphic description of his life’s inner struggles as a young black man trying to make his way in an unforgiving world. “Tape #3” centers on Mustafa reflecting on a childhood friend and it sets the stage for the next track. “Sick” is a profound and insightful track about personal loss, loyalty and street codes between two brothers who vow to watch each other’s back. Over the melancholic strings and keys, Mustafa delivers an emotional performance ripe with pain and regret as he couldn’t prevent what was to be and had to live with the loss of his childhood friend to the jaws of the streets.


“Bad Guy” is an anthemic cut where Mustafa addresses the naysayers and detractors over a moody vocal-sample-driven soundscape. Armed with his laidback drawl and a bravado demeanour he asserts his status with lines like And that’s really no cap, I’m the realist ever since real is back/I’ma finish this scrimmage and then it’s a wrap/No limits on the business, Percy Mills in the trap/Hold up, I told him, settle down homie, You and your cronies nothing but some Thug Yogi’s”. The track is also littered with samples from Brian De Palma’s cult classic flick Scarface which serves as the hook in between the verses. On “His Eyes” Mustafa recruits Grammy-winning neo-soul singer India Arie who is the first feature on the entire project. The track explores the daily struggles through the eyes of the black man who despite insurmountable odds often finds a way to make it out in one piece. Mustafa’s lyrics are masterfully crafted to give listeners a detailed view as follows “Ask him why he do it, he tell you, for the love/30 years plus, it’s really in his blood/Agony of defeat, tote the metaphors and such/dragged him from the streets, he vowed to never lose touch”. India Arie ties it up with her sultry and commanding melodic performance ripe with uplifting and encouraging lyrics. “70s Baby” is another anthemic jam with auto-biographical lyrics that explore 4 decades of his life and the numerous changes that made him who he is today. “Tape #4” concludes this part of the project and reflects on what Mustafa has given us thus far and it also asks how he celebrates his wins to which he replies with a solemn tone of contentment.


“MIA” has an upbeat summer uplifting track that sees Mustafa far from the craziness in Harlem as he heads out to Miami to enjoy the sun, fine women, and fresh breeze and rejuvenate his inner chi at the same time. This is followed by the solemn and introspective “Hang On” featuring D1. Here, Mustafa and D1 pen open letters to their unborn seeds, reassuring them that there will always be hard times but they can count on them to be by their side. Mustafa views it from a rueful position as he asks for forgiveness for the days he was away on the grind while D1 sends out adulation and hopes his seed becomes a better person than he was. The project closes out with “Tape #5”, where Mustafa collates all the stories and decisions he made and ultimately has to decide if he is the hero or villain of the story. The 16-track body of work is verbose, insightful, and nostalgic and will surely leave listeners with a lot to ponder on but ultimately show them a different artistic side to the man known as Mustafa Shafir.



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