By Cameron Wall
Najib Omar, or Sufi Hamilton, is a hip-hop artist based in Manassas. He has self-released two albums—The Hole You’re In and Signs That Mock Me in 2015 and 2016, respectively—but he’s been making music since he was 16, previously under his initials NJO, and occasionally releases one-off singles on his SoundCloud.
We spoke to Sufi Hamilton about his songwriting process, inspiration, collaborating with other artists and his experience as a first-generation American.
How long have you been making music?
I’ve been rapping as a hobby since I was 10, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 16, when I stopped taking basketball seriously [and stopped pursuing an] athletic scholarship. Sixteen is also when I started making beats, which I picked up unexpectedly fast and might be the only reason I continued rapping. If I had to ask producers for beats, I would probably consider another career path.
What is the songwriting process for you?
My process varies from song to song, honestly. Some come from a melody I get stuck in my head; some come after I’ve made the beat and get inspired by that. Hell, I’ve written songs after watching a movie. Usually coffee is involved more times than not.
What or who inspires you?
A lot of my music is introspective and draws from internal conflicts. I have a lot of irrational thoughts, and I think it makes for great content. As far as artists, I’d say the two who have had the biggest impact on me are Kanye West and Morrissey. I’m inspired by so many others from countless genres, but they definitely did it for me.
How would you describe your sound?
I think my sound is original and very eclectic but always honest—inconveniently honest at times. I draw from almost every genre to make my music, but I still think it’s hip hop.
In “Not Getting Stoned,” you discuss your upbringing. What was it like growing up as a first-generation American?
I think growing up a first-generation American gave me a weird, alternative perspective on culture. I never felt quite American enough or African enough, like I never totally fit in anywhere. I was fortunate enough to have very close cousins going through the same thing, so that helped a lot. I think being a first-generation American gave me really unique lens to view life through, and I think it’s apparent in my songs.
Which song are you most proud of? Which is your personal favorite?
The song I’m most proud of is probably “Not Getting Stoned” because my family loved it and I wrote it in like 20 minutes without second-guessing a single word. [It] didn’t feel like I was writing a song, more like yapping about my life to a stranger on a plane or something; it was effortless. My favorite might be “Somebody to Bother,” though. [It’s] fire.
Do you perform live?
I try to perform at open mics and things of that sort. [I’m] always on the [lookout] for somewhere to play.
What is it like collaborating with other artists, like (NoVA-based hip-hop artists) Hęęm Zę Lonër or Safe Travel? Does your songwriting process change when you collaborate?
I collaborate with those two often because they’re like-minded people. They value originality, which is rare to find locally, but on top of that, they’re really talented. The process behind working with them is usually me making a record that I could picture them on, whether it’s playing up to their talents or pushing them out of their comfort zones, which a lot of people don’t do.
What made you decide to go by Sufi Hamilton as a moniker?
I was called Jeezy by my friends and cousins for the longest time. A Young Jeezy song came out in, like, ’08 that had the words “Jeezy Hamilton,” so naturally, the name grew into that. When I first started making music, I went by my initials to play it safe but got tired of it and almost changed it to Jeezy Hamilton, but I decided on Sufi to honor my late grandpa.