Breaking the boundaries: Caliph’s newest album conveys life as a Black Muslim immigrant
“I’m a Black Muslim immigrant. These are three things you’re not supposed to be here in this country.”
Those are the words of Grammy-winning recording artist Caliph. Born in Senegal, Caliph released his newest album Immigrant of the Year on May 21. He went from losing his job because of DACA application delays to recording a Grammy-winning album. His newest album embodies his journey and his message: mental health is crucial, especially for immigrants.
“This is about the trauma we go through as immigrants and having to act like everything’s okay,” he said. What matters to him is “if this album can make [a] younger version of me or anyone going through mental health issues know that they can push through whatever they’re going through.”
At six years old, Caliph immigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts.“There were Cape Verdeans, Africans, Hispanics, and Portuguese [immigrants]— it was pretty much an immigrant community,” he said, “I felt at home.”
In sixth grade, Caliph said he won a scholarship to University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. But because of his immigration status, Caliph had no social security number. And because of his status, the opportunity fell through, he said.
Caliph said, “Seeing my parents and seeing how they reacted to that bothered me because they pretty much sacrificed their whole lives for me to be here and get an education.”
Soon, Caliph said he turned to his music as a way to improve his mental health and speak out. “There’s no one in hip hop that is representing what I just experienced or speaking to this pain I’m feeling,” he explained. “I found that music was my way to turn those things into something positive.”
In 2017, Caliph had DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA offers protection from deportation and work authorization for immigrants brought to the United States as children.
DACA recipients, or Dreamers, must apply for the program and reapply every two years. “When Trump got into office, I had to reapply for my DACA. And that usually takes two to three months. That year it took eight months. So for some of that time, I was back to being [undocumented],” Caliph explained.
He and his cousin both lost their jobs when they fell out of status. They struggled to make ends meet. “Our savings dwindled and we [were] having trouble paying our bills in the
winter time,” Caliph continued, “It was all these different experiences all at the same time — it felt like the world was going to cave in.”
Around that time, Doug Davis, a music industry executive and entertainment lawyer, reached out to Caliph on Twitter. Shortly thereafter Caliph said, “he sends me a message about this album and flies me out to Miami the next day.”
Caliph went to record vocals for the three-time Grammy award-winning album American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom. Caliph said, “I was supposed to do one verse on one song, but I ended up on six songs.”
Caliph shows no sign of slowing down his ascension as an artist. And his newest album affirms that he is filling gaps in the hip hop industry with every song that he writes and every immigrant experience he details.
When asked about what he’s excited for in the future, Caliph didn’t mention an award or audience metric. Instead, he said, “I’m excited about seeing people find more avenues to get mental health [support]. There’s a lot of stigma in our communities about that. But the ultimate goal is for our people to feel good about themselves and push through, and it all starts there.”