Hakeem Eli’juwon is arguably the hardest working rapper in Tulsa’s music scene. He began to release music on a myspace platform in 2009. He also has music on datpiff.com where he released 17 mixtapes. Combining that work with Soundcloud and other streaming platforms, Hakeem has released over 30 projects, not including his singles.
“My stepdad taught me about hip hop, and then as I was growing up listening, the game was changing,” Hakeem said. “I went from learning hip hop into adapting it to the new age lyricism with my insight.”
Hakeem’s first rap persona was EZ. Then he added Yung Lyfe to the end of it when he noticed that he was often the youngest person in the crowd of people he hung around. Yung Lyfe transformed into a creative group and brand for Hakeem. His current rap name, Hakeem Eli’juwon, began in 2011.
“I was listening to a rap song and from my step pops and his homeboy said something about Hakeem Olajuwon and I always thought it sounded like he said my name in a way,” Hakeem said.
The rapper’s top five includes Curren$y, Pimp C, Soulja Slim, Tupac and Lil phat. Lil Boosie and Eminem also have held spots in his list from time to time. Three of the 5 artists are from Louisiana and have that special sound that Hakeem draws inspiration from.
“They are more like the foundation of my style,” Hakeem said. “Louisiana influenced me more than anything. I just love Louisiana sound, and the music that they make, the slang and everything. I was always so fascinated by Louisia, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and street culture.”
When looking for beats and producers he lets his soul move him.
Before there was Hakeem Eli’juwon, EZ or Yung Lyfe there was Elijah Pigg. A young boy growing up in west Tulsa whose mother was on drugs and whose dad was “in the streets.” So at the age of 10 he was adopted by his younger brother’s dad. He says that his father taught him almost everything he knows.
“It was a very eye opening situation, it was traumatizing, and it was also uplifting,” Hakeem said. “The best thing for me was to be taken care of by people that had a little more stability, because the instability was showing in my actions.”
Hakeem describes a synopsis of his upbringing best in his mixtape Lost Innocence, on the track “It Is What It Is,”
“6th grade I was into bitches, 7th grade got into violence, 8th was all about the smoking, 9th I finally learned how to flip, 10th grade was hitting licks, incarcerated in 11th, 12th grade I had to miss… Growing up in the projects, then moving up to rich, right back to the gutter, tryna get back out again.”
Around 9th grade is when Hakeem began selling drugs, which evolved into hitting licks and everything that came with it. He soon got expelled from school in 10th grade and went to a different one. Then he went to juvenile detention for a couple months.
“I got out of there and then I went to the Tulsa Boys Home,” Hakeem said. “I got out and since I got held back I was still in the 11th grade, and I was playing football again at Nathan Hale. Then I dropped out, so that’s why I say I missed 12th grade.” He later obtained his GED.
The hard times that Hakeem went through is why each lyric he spits is truthful to its core, no bullshit. Even some of his most raw hits like in his mixtape Cold Hearted are personal to his story, to his background.
Hakeem made 200 songs while he was in the Tulsa Boys Home. His experience in the facility and with making music is part of the reason he met St. Domonick, who arrived at the Boys home after Hakeem had already left.
“We started rapping together when I came up there to visit one of the staff members,” Hakeem said. “I gave him blank CDs with instrumentals and introduced him to Curren$y.”
Hakeem and St. Domonick have two projects together, #WWDNA and UGK.
Another local rapper that Hakeem is close to is Young DV. They went to school at Owasso together where DV was three grades above Hakeem. They both played football, and Hakeem would listen to DV freestyle on the sidelines.
He hopes that people gain inspiration, focus, understanding, and insight when they listen to his music.
Hakeem is part African American and Native American. His native heritage is Choctaw.
“It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time because they cursed our name in this country but it’s a blessing to be able to say that I am [Native American] because the culture and the heritage in this country is always going to prevail whether they want it to or not. Whether they want to end its reign or not, we still prevail and we’re still rising back to our former glory.”
When he isn’t writing and recording music, or working, Hakeem boxes at the Engine Room. He got into the sport teaching his younger brother how to fight and they both joined the gym.
Make sure to attend Hakeem’s next performance at Dreamland Festival on Saturday, September 17. He will be doing a combined set with St. Domonick on the Holberton Tulsa outdoor stage. Get your tickets at dreamlandtulsa.com.