“Wait what? You run a hip hop magazine?! You? Yes I dooo… And guess what today my baby I Am Hip Hop Magazine turns 8. (Rishma Dhali­w­al,  June 26th 2020).”

Hav­ing seen that it was the I Am Hip Hop Magazine’s (IAHH) birth­day, I wanted to mark it with some­thing. This is because the magazine is a won­der­ful and inspired cre­ation. And also, the edit­or, Rishma Dhali­w­al, has been so extraordin­ar­ily kind, ded­ic­ated and a delight to work with. When I saw the com­ment above, pos­ted on Face­book, it triggered a whole load of thoughts and ques­tions for me, and an even great­er desire to put these in print. So I approached Rishma for an inter­view, want­ing to tap into her eth­os and vis­ion in her own words.

Her quote made me laugh, because, being a Jew­ish woman writ­ing for a hip hop magazine, I’m also met with all kind of responses. But aside from humour, it raises more ser­i­ous con­cerns. It touches on mat­ters of ste­reo­types, gender, eth­ni­city, and racism, which come in all forms and guises. Issues of iden­tity are con­fus­ing, espe­cially in this era, where pur­ity of race is almost obsol­ete and heav­ily diluted, and gender is flu­id. For Rishma, these are chal­lenges she is faced with con­stantly.

Rishma describes her­self as an Indi­an woman from Lon­don with a mixed reli­gious back­ground. Cat­egor­isa­tion is hard, and we both won­der why it is neces­sary. As Akala says, “lately, I’ve been con­fused by the boxes, because to me, they only breed con­flict”. But it does seem per­tin­ent because it comes up so often, and edu­ca­tion is key. For Rishma, much of the com­ments are born through ignor­ance rather than malice: “Many people assume I am male. I used to cor­rect them all the time. People used to say ‘hey bro’, all the time, but it doesn’t both­er me any­more “. But des­pite changes and pro­gress, Rishma does admit that there is still miso­gyny in the genre, and that needs to be addressed: “We can’t just slip it under the car­pet”.

That the magazine has reached its 8th year is test­a­ment to the sheer hard work from both Rishma, and Gata Malandra, who helped to set the pro­ject up. When chat­ting about the lock down, Rishma spoke with stal­wart determ­in­a­tion : “Things are going to be thrown at us all in life. We have to deal with it. We will make it”. From hav­ing worked with Rishma for a few years now, and from the inter­view, I find her to be insight­ful, and strong. The notion, ‘we will make it”, test­i­fies to her chas­ing her dreams. She does not give up. For example, when she wants an inter­view with an artist, she per­severes, even when she is block­aded. This is often when IAHH is seen as too small a pub­lic­a­tion for some PR people to be inter­ested. She keeps on and thinks “Why not us!”. When it comes to her ‘baby’, IAHH, Rishma Dhali­w­al is a dog with a bone, yearn­ing to push it as far for­ward as pos­sible.

Per­son­ally, I star­ted off writ­ing for IAHH magazine around five years ago. I had been writ­ing for anoth­er online magazine, pro­mot­ing unsigned acts. But I began intro­du­cing hip hop artists and impli­citly, it felt unwel­come. I came across IAHH and was fas­cin­ated by it. The fact that it was run by two women was the exact anti­thes­is of what I expec­ted. It intrigued me, amazed me, and showed up my own cul­tur­al bias by hav­ing those con­cep­tions and assump­tions. Instantly I was drawn to them. They were dif­fer­ent. Their eth­os was dif­fer­ent. I saw that it was not just a music magazine. It also had poetry, a writers corner, edu­ca­tion, and oth­er sec­tions. This was a move­ment, a whole cul­ture, not just one part of it. It was everything I was look­ing for.

The team feel to me like a fam­ily. This, Rishma is happy to hear, because she always wanted IAHH to be a col­lect­ive. They have nur­tured my needs through­out the years. Some­times I can’t write for long peri­ods and have only been met with empathy. Their com­pas­sion makes me want to give back, and this inter­view feels like I can do some­thing. Until I spoke with Rishma I did not know just how much work she has to do on a daily basis. Quite simply, her work rate is amaz­ing. She tells me she has 50 sub­mis­sions a day of new music and this is on top of her day time work. I don’t know how she does it, though she does state that she has “an amaz­ing team”.

The his­tory of the magazine dates back to when Rishma was study­ing in uni­ver­sity. Her thes­is was on how hip hop acted as a social move­ment for black Amer­ica. Here she was influ­enced by the more politi­cised hip hop bands such as Dead Prez. She spent some time in Amer­ica and con­nec­ted with a man who ran the Nation­al Hip Hop Con­ven­tion. Once Rishma saw this real pos­sib­il­ity of a link between music and a polit­ic­al move­ment, she was blown away. She saw that “Hip hop had this poten­tial for change with­in it”.

It was dur­ing the Lon­don riots that Rishma finally wanted to do some­thing pos­it­ive with some urgency. This is where she, coupled with Gata Malandra star­ted a char­ity, No Bounds. This is a pro­ject to inspire dis­af­fected young people, ex offend­ers, and so on, using the cul­ture of hip hop as a tool to break the cycle, through music and rap ther­apy. This reminds me of a quote from the legendary poet, Ben­jamin Zephaniah: ”Don’t like poetry? But rap is Street poetry, so that is a fal­lacy”.

No Bounds gave birth to IAHH Magazine. 8 years ago the first issue was launched. Its eth­os is around empower­ing people. It takes hip hop back to its roots. They act­ively try to give a voice to the voice­less. It doesn’t pri­or­it­ise big acts already pushed for­ward into the main­stream, but those who have smal­ler expos­ure. Lowkey in his song, “voice of the voice­less”, says that very voice is one of “social imbal­ance “. This, Rishma is seek­ing to rec­ti­fy in her own way, on a plat­form that both strives, and deserves, to be big­ger.

She says that hip hop is a cul­ture. Rap is part of it, but only a piece. As oth­ers have said, rap is some­thing that you do, hip hop is some­thing you live. So, Rishma makes clear, “if some dance says some­thing, we will fea­ture it, if poetry says some­thing, we will fea­ture it, if a story says some­thing, we will fea­ture it”. Hip hop as a way of life looks to elev­ate tal­en­ted people with no for­um. Rishma has laid out what she wants to achieve, devel­op­ment of a way of life, and change, with edu­ca­tion as a tool. Of course there is still work to do. Money and fin­ance is always an issue. Rishma’s dream is to be able to do this all full-time. With her tenacity, I don’t doubt her. Already IAHH has around 2 mil­lion vis­it­ors a year. But the more expos­ure the bet­ter, in order to turn this dream into a real­ity.

I ask Rishma about her most mem­or­able moments. Meet­ing Dead Prez, one of her early intro­duc­tions to politi­cised, con­scious hip hop, stands out. Some­times groups you meet are dif­fer­ent to their recor­ded image and val­ues they pro­ject. To Rishma, Dead Prez were true to them­selves, they were “intel­li­gent, beau­ti­ful, people”. Also, meet­ing a mem­ber of A Tribe Called Quest she found to be an amaz­ing exper­i­ence. I ask her what she is listen­ing to now. She men­tions a new artist called Otis Mensah, from Shef­field, and his song ‘Breath of Life’, among oth­ers. She describes her­self as a lyr­ic per­son. The words have to stand out and touch you. Like Lauryn Hill once said, “Hip hop star­ted off in the heart “.

What Rishma Dhali­w­al val­ues in her music is integ­rity. She loves it when there is no dis­par­ity between the record­ing and the real iden­tity of the artist face to face. After inter­view­ing Rishma I too, am not dis­ap­poin­ted. What she val­ues, what she says, she her­self dis­plays. She is an amaz­ing per­son, who has giv­en so much to her cause, and still has so much to give. She tells me of lying in bed at night with everything whirr­ing through her mind that she has to do for ‘I Am Hip Hop’. Her work is exhaust­ing. But she does it. And she loves her ‘baby’. She has giv­en birth to a won­der­ful thing. I can only think of the words of The legendary writer, Maya Angelou, to apply to Rishma:

“I think a num­ber of lead­ers are, wheth­er you like it or not, are in the hip hop gen­er­a­tion. And when they do under­stand enough, they’ll do won­ders. I count on them”

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Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor is a Lon­don based writer whose Interests are based primar­ily on music and art and also the philo­sophies and polit­ics that accom­pany them. In addi­tion she has an Msc in psy­cho­logy, has worked as a ther­ap­ist, and paints abstract art pieces.

About Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor is a London based writer whose Interests are based primarily on music and art and also the philosophies and politics that accompany them. In addition she has an Msc in psychology, has worked as a therapist, and paints abstract art pieces.