Dorm-dweller, fledgling artist Musti raps revolution, career

He is nestled in the corner of an all-toomessy Toronto dorm room, pen on paper, eyes flickering left and right and back left again. His mind is moving faster than his hand can write, and the lines of scrawled lyrics start to blur together. He stops.

Mustafa Idris, stage name Musti, is fairly new to the rap industry. His musical projects date back to the eighth grade. He distributed makeshift mixes through Facebook Messenger. Now, his discography consists of two whole songs. Two full releases. Barely five minutes of sound make up Musti’s oeuvre.

Regardless, he is on his way to being Sudan’s prodigal son of rap. One glance at his collaborations signals a career more promising than a mere pair of songs would suggest. He features on “A 24/9 Experience,” a collaborative Sudanese-produced, Sudanese-recorded and Sudanese-distributed album, place Musti in the same musical echelon as Aidyproof (a friend of the famed Dreamville Records) and Grammy-nominated Sudanese-American phenomenon Bas. In short, Musti’s partners in song represent some of Sudan’s best. For the 20-year-old from Khartoum, a short but bold discography is proof he, too, belongs among this illustrious cohort.

Musti spoke intimately of the unity of his artistic circles. “It’s a brotherhood,” he told me when asked what making that album meant. “There’s a certain understanding between Sudanese artists and Sudanese people that connects us. It doesn’t matter where we ended up, our roads look real similar.” That musical diaspora that he references, that expansive, intertwining road, is what inspired all 17 tracks in “A 24/9 Experience.” Headed by Aidyproof, a producer and recording artist from Sudan who has collaborated with rapper J. Cole, the album offered the artists’ distinct contemplations on the ongoing Sudanese revolution—sometimes allegorical in nature, sometimes right on the nose.

Musti made it clear that conditions back home were dire: “Sudan was stuck in this deep struggle, phone lines were cut off, there was no internet, people weren’t coming in and out of the country.” This album gave artists who felt their home being ripped from them the chance to speak out.

“It felt like the best way to put my footprint on the revolution,” affirmed Musti.

The young rapper, as well as the 17 other artists who came together for “24/9,” centered their Sudanese identity in a way that, at least musically, was totally unprecedented. Bas, the popular artist known for tracks “Costa Rica” and “Tribe,” rapped about “spending your uloof,” an allusion to his home country’s quickly depleting currency. The album represented a shift in both audience and artist. Musti, Bas and their collaborators weren’t worried about commercial success or Western influence when creating “24/9.” Instead, they raised a fist for their home.

To Musti, it is precisely this national pride that makes the album, and its artists, so special. “Sometimes you see musicians leave their hometown only to forget where they came from. Sudan isn’t like that. The journey from there to success in North America isn’t easy at all, so it makes sense that everybody who crossed over wouldn’t forget” he mused.

Even as a current resident of Canada, this idea of a difficult, trans-Atlantic path to success is something Mustafa continues to grapple with. Having lived in Toronto for nearly two years now, Musti juggles two daunting tasks: navigating his musical career and performing the quotidian duties of a college student. Although he now calls some of the fledgling stars of rap his coworkers, his life is not one of luxury. It’s one of hours huddled alone, a far cry from the prototypical partying college routine.

These empty hours in his dorm room turned into minute-long Instagram videos, in which Musti would freestyle over a popular beat and share the composition with his nearly 2,000 followers. It is with these short clips that Musti began building a fanbase.

“I wasn’t really doing it for clout, or so people could share it. I just would think up these ideas and would want to put them somewhere. I could never have imagined the kind of support that I got back. It was crazy,” Musti reflected.

These videos would be shared across dozens of Instagram accounts. The most popular of them attracted close to 5,000 views. In spite of often grainy visual and subpar audio quality, Musti’s talent was crystal clear. He was a rising star, but it wasn’t until the release of his first single that he broke into the upper echelons of rap.

“Decisions,” which found a place on “24/9,” represented a significant departure from those dorm-room Instagram videos. He stood up, as both a musical artist and commentator. This was three minutes and two verses of unquestionable rap prowess.

Musti’s music is punchy, boastful and fast-paced, a brash burst of rhymes and metaphors that seems to shift between the gangster rap of the early 2000s and the trap music that dominated the following decade. Between his braggadocious lines, however, is intention. In “Decisions,” Musti explains that his passion and success don’t exist in a vacuum. He creates for Sudan, for his home. He explained, “The arrogance is necessary. I’m not being cocky, but I understand that this field is crowded. An artist can’t succeed without confidence, especially an artist that isn’t American.”

Despite his purported arrogance in song, talking to Musti, his humility is apparent. He was hesitant to speak on his musical process, and was quick to compliment his fellow artists before himself. The kid from Sudan isn’t cocky, but his music can be. He isn’t loud, but his music sure is. He might not even crave celebrity, but his music found it.

The line between commercial success and peer respect is blurry. The former hasn’t caught up to college student/rap prince Musti, but for him, it’s never been a priority. “Man, I work at Walmart, I don’t really care how many streams I’m getting,” he laughed. “I do this because I love it, and if the other people around me love it too. I can’t ask for much more.”

To be represented by a young artist who wears his home on his sleeve, I’d like to think Sudan swells with pride.

“A 24/9 Experience” can be found on Spotify.

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