Maimonna Yousef, better known as MUMU FRESH, is originally from Baltimore and is one of DMV’s finest in the hip hop music world. She has worked with numerous names in hip hop for years and is currently on tour with Common for the “Let Love Tour” she also has a project coming out with DJ Jazzy Jeff.
DCL: Mumu’s new music release is a single triad (three) that includes the songs “Bitterness,” “Let’s Eat,” and “Chasing Rainbows” for the latest installment of the “Chasing Goosebumps” series EP called, “The Healing”. Can you tell me about the song, “Bitterness”?
Mumu: It’s a song that speaks to black women. It’s a song that’s very personal for me. I think if you’ve been through enough in your life, you’ll get to the point where you look at yourself and feel the journey. You might even get to the point where you say to yourself, “damn, I’m a little bitter about a few things that’s going on”. You could be having a hard time grinning and bearing something that you could before. It gets to the point where you can’t swallow it any longer and can’t just pretend like it’s okay when it’s not. It’s about finding a healthy process to deal with those emotions. You might not be able to stop struggles you encounter, but we can change how we view them. We allow ourselves to suffer from experiences when we relive them, harbor them, and don’t take time to heal and process.
Anytime you go through a traumatic experience you need to take time to heal and a lot of the times we take things on the chin and keep it moving. I know I do. “Bitterness” deals with acknowledging your pain and that can be a hard thing, speaking for myself. I think about conversations I’ve had with other Black women. It’s a hard thing to even admit you’re hurt. We’re always saying things like “oh, I’m not trippin”, “oh, whatever”, “oh, we’re good”, and keep it moving.
When do we take that moment to say, “hey, that really hurt me”, “that was offensive” “I feel violated, undervalued or not appreciated”. It’s about taking the time to examine what happened and what can I do to stand in my truth, my power, and my own self-value whether you value me or not.
“Bitterness” is also about conversations I had with myself and fellow writers while in the studio talking and before I came to the playlist, I knew there were concepts I really wanted to cover. It’s important to me that Black music, in particular, is very content-driven. It used to be, but then it got to the point where we were only allowed to talk about the club and maybe a few broken relationships. I wrote for a publishing company so I know the songs that they accept and the ones they don’t. You can try to write a content-driven song about personal development, but they won’t accept it/buy it from you.
So I was like, we need this kind of music. It’s self-help for the hood. If you go to self-help conferences, you’re not going to see many people of color there, and we are some of the main people that need healing from generations of post-traumatic stress disorder. We need to heal from everything we’ve had to deal with since we were brought to this country in chains. So letting go is also about what your mother and grandmother encountered as well. When a woman is born, she has all her eggs. Imagine you have all these experiences in your DNA when you give birth. We carry that ancestral memory. We can determine how much we’re going to let that distort who we are. One of the lines I enjoyed in “Bitterness” is, “don’t just go through it, grow through it.” That was a whole conversation about taking these things as lessons and becoming better on the other side.
Don’t get bitter, get better. I posted this on my IG, talking about the making of the song. Hundreds of Black women, in particular, commented on it like, “that’s a hard one”. Black women are expected to not be hurt by some of the things that are said or done to us. Do you know how many times I’ve heard, “oh, you’re strong, you got it.” Like, really?!
DCL: The thing I love about your music and something I feel people should really understand is that your style is a marriage of so many different genres. It’s almost like you go to church, but it’s not gospel.
Mumu: LOL. Before I decided I was going to be independent no matter what, I tried to go about music the industry way by making popular or radio-friendly songs, and I was dying. I felt like, I’d rather do anything than do this. I felt like I was auctioning off my child, that’s how it felt. I was like, I’d rather not do music if I have to do it like this.
DCL: How do you feel about the state of women in hip hop?
Mumu: I feel like we are in the best place that we’ve been since the 90’s. There’s so much diversity in the content of women who are in the game. Women who are independent, business owners, all while being creative. There used to be this cookie-cutter thing where you couldn’t even get in because there were so many gate keepers. Unless you looked a certain way, or rapped a preferred way, or were overly sexualized, it wasn’t being heard. I get that some women are taking their sexuality back and saying that’s their own version of empowerment, but I do feel for a lot of women, it’s not their choice. A lot of women feel like they have to do it, and I’ve been in board meetings where they make it really clear that you won’t be successful if you don’t.
DCL: Have you felt pressured personally in your career? Have you struggled with that internally?
Mumu: Absolutely. I grew up Muslim. It was probably even more of a struggle for me because it tore away from how I was raised and who I really was. Before my mother converted to Islam, she was a Holiness Christian. So for me to be sprawled out naked on somebody’s album cover – I’m one of those people who cares about what my Mama thinks. I come from one of those families that when you walk out in the world, you represent your family. That definitely wasn’t something I was trying to do especially when I have so much more to say. My body is not even the greatest part of me. Let’s have a conversation, do you know what I’m saying? How about my mind?
I struggled to a certain degree, but I made the commitment to become independent even while offers were being presented to me. These companies couldn’t imagine how you could be successful as a woman and not be naked at the same time. But men don’t have to do that. You would never tell a man that he’s not going to be successful if he’s not naked.
(DCL) And honestly, you exude sexual appeal without needing to do all of those things and that’s the most dope part about you.
Mumu: See, because sensuality and sexuality are two different things. Sensuality is something that you exude. That “Oshun” energy with confidence and ownership of your body. Saying “I own my body, nobody else does, and I won’t sell it for any amount of money.” That comes with a certain amount of Lioness prowess. That’s the vibe I have on stage when you own that moment.
Mumu: It’s just who I am. I would be doing this if I couldn’t sing because that’s who I am. If I was working at a hair salon I’d be like, “listen y’all…”, I would deliver the same message. I used to work at Urban Outfitters practicing activism. I feel a purpose to inspire, uplift and inform. Personal development is such a big thing to me because imagine if everybody just worked on themselves. There would be no need for a superman to come save the world. Activists often tell me how drained they are because they’re out here trying to save people. You can’t pour from an empty cup. The first person you need to activate is you before you can go out in the streets to be an activist. Do the internal work first. Deal with your kids, your mom, your spouse. Deal with your people.
DCL: I remember a convo you shared about talking to Erykah Badu when it comes to pouring into yourself so you could be a better parent. How has your experience been in terms of motherhood and bringing your son along on your musical journey?
Mumu: I love being a mother so much. If I wasn’t so busy, I have a bunch more right now. I love being a mother and bringing my son with me. I love him being a part of the journey. I love getting him hipped to the game out here. He knows about all my business deals and he helps read over all of my contracts. I really want him to understand certain things early because there were a lot of things that I had to learn as an adult. I truly believe that it’s not necessary for every generation to start over and telling your kids, well, you figure it out, I had to. That’s not necessary, let’s figure it out together. Let’s travel to different countries. I got an opportunity to see how other cultures would deal with their children. They’re not kicking them out the nest and telling them to figure it out on their own. They’re walking through it – they are a team and a community. That’s how I want to treat my son. I enjoy him as a person and as a friend. Him being on the road allowed me to teach him and get to know him.
A good friend of mine was having a hard time with her daughter. She was like, “I don’t even know her anymore, she’s becoming a teenager, and she’s just wildin’ out”. I told her to take a couple of trips with her daughter internationally. You will create a bond that you didn’t have before. Let her lead the trip. Give her the tickets. Let her choose what adventure y’all are going to be on, don’t even plan it. They were gone for about a month. She wrote me back like, “Yo, I didn’t realize how dope my daughter was. I learned so much about her.” I feel the same way about my son. I learned so much about him as an actual person.
DCL: It’s so dope because there are a lot of people who will tell you that you cannot combine both worlds.
Mumu: I love when people try to tell me things I can’t do. They would tell me, “you’re going to have to stop doing music “or “if you keep doing music, you’re irresponsible” or, “someone else must be raising your child for you”. I was like, “NOPE. You don’t decide my destiny”. Sometimes people ask me, “Is it tough?” and I’m like, “Of course it’s tough, but a lot of things are tough”. Such is life. You get it done though. You enjoy the moments that you can, and I try my best not to look at it like a struggle. When I was giving birth to him, I sang at Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe’s wedding and as a gift she hired a hypno-birthing coach for me. I was so young and panicked like, “I can’t give birth to a whole human!”
One thing that hypno-birthing taught me that I always took with me was not to look at pain as pain. It hurts because you look at it as pain. You have an idea associated with pain as being wrong. Look at it as pressure. When you feel your body expanding, don’t think, oh it hurts. Think to yourself, “this is my purpose. I’m supposed to expand.” Thinking “this has to happen so the next phase can happen.” We look at pain like we’re not supposed to have pain. Like this unwanted guest saying, “why me?” Pain is a part of life. Pain is pressure.
When I started to apply this theory to other situations in my life, I realized it was pressure.
DCL: How do you feel about the political climate in the US? Where do you stand on this topic?
Mumu: I don’t know how black people should look at it. Me and my mom always have this debate because she has a memory of black people moving as a unit, and I feel like that has dwindled since the time that she remembers. When Black businesses thrived more with hospitals, schools, etc. Do we even have black hospitals anymore? We only have a few black banks in the country. My mom remembers a different time. I don’t know if we should be saying what all black people should be doing. Everyone is not on the same flow or energy. We aren’t looking at things the same way.
I am of the mindset of ownership, not inclusion. Sure, inclusion is great, but if you don’t own anything, you have to keep asking someone to include you. If you own something, you can include yourself. Then you don’t have to keep begging someone and saying “hey, please value me.”
So I think it’s important for people of color and marginalized groups to focus on ownership and build our own things like towns and schools. I’ve homeschooled my son his entire life. I think it’s important that his predominant influence be from someone who really loves him and really wants him to win. I don’t want him to sit in the classroom with someone who doesn’t care whether he wins or not or who doesn’t even believe that he can succeed. Or who believes that he’s innately inferior. You can’t teach my child and you believe he is innately inferior!
I remember when I first took him out of school, (his name is Messiah) his kindergarten teacher didn’t like the idea of calling a Black boy “Messiah”, so she would call him “Messy”. I told the teacher, “Before I move furniture in this classroom, you don’t tear my son’s name and purpose apart just because it doesn’t fit into your racist ideas of what the “messiah” would look like. “Please call my son by his name, or we will have real problems in here.” Something as small as that, that you take a child’s name from being anointed to being a mess, and you call him this name every day and expect him not to be a mess? Those little things psychologically, they matter. So it’s very important to me that my child stays in an environment where not just people who love him are around, but they also expect him to win. That’s what I mean by ownership. Don’t keep begging teachers to love your children. Build a school and hire teachers who love your children. I am of the mindset of ownership.
DCL: What is this upcoming project with Jazzy Jeff, “Goosebumps”?
Mumu: “Goosebumps” is a project where DJ Jazzy Jeff brings together 50 to 100 amazing artists and create music that give you goosebumps. It doesn’t matter what genre it is; it makes you feel alive. He always chooses a lead artist for these projects. Glenn Lewis was the lead artist on the last project, and I am the lead artist on this project. “Goosebumps” is a healing, and I feel like we definitely are in need of that healing. The whole record is in that lane with vibes of healing. It’s going to come out in parts, and the first part released August 23rd. It will continue to be released over the next couple of months, and we will have visuals to accompany it. There will be stories to go along with it so I’m really excited about this project!
Along with the “Let Love” tour where Mumu Fresh performed with Common on August 14th of this year at Warner Theatre, she also has an upcoming performance showing on BET’s “Black Girls Rock!”, which airs on September 8th, 2019 at 8 pm ET. You don’t want to miss this!
Moni Pearson, also known as La Doodlebug of La Doodlebug Media LLC, is a DC Life Magazine contributor and radio show personality in “The World Sucks” on RippedRadioNetwork.com.