This Muslim rapper slings halal country fried steak and hip-hop life lessons


Hip-hop is more than just a music genre.

For some it's a way of life, and for others it's a source of business acumen — something which many of the world's leading entrepreneurs, including Dr. Dre, Jay Z and Nas, can testify.

For Singapore's godfather of hip-hop Sheikh Haikel, the world of rap has also taught him a few basic principles for career success.

The 41-year old calls himself one of Asia's first rappers after co-founding the group Construction Sight in the early 90s, which helped push hip-hop into his country's mainstream consciousness. Subsequent ventures in film, television and radio have made Sheikh Haikel a force of nature in regional entertainment, while additional projects in education, sports management and food, have further diversified his career.

Sheikh Haikel

Here's what the NYU-educated artist says are a few tenets of hip-hop culture that have guided his 26-year stint in the public eye:

Keeping it real

Staying true to your roots and community is key to success, Sheikh Haikel said. "I am the product of my people and everything I do is centered around them."

A Muslim of Arab heritage, he recently launched FatPapas, a halal outlet of the Asia-wide franchise Fatboy's Burger Bar in downtown Singapore to make his favorite dish available to Islam's followers.

"I love Fatboy's country fried steak, but my wife, for example, has never tried it because it wasn't halal. So for the past seven years, we've been working to make a halal version of Fatboys so my non-Muslim and Muslim friends can now sit at the same table."

FatPapas is the latest entrant in the island-nation's competitive halal market but Haikel, who calls himself an eater rather than a foodie, is confident on demand. "We found the replacement for pork. Usually, when brands make a halal version of their product, it doesn't taste the same but ours does."

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A 'ride or die' mentality

Haikel says his career has gone through ups and downs, including parental rejection and empty bank accounts, but he attributed his survival and ongoing success to family, friends and a circle of trusted advisers.

Investing in good people, who are loyal, is key for any entrepreneur, he said.

But the commitment goes both ways.

"I am loyal to my people, I don't screw anyone over," he explained, using the example of his sports talent management agency. "If one of my athletes wants $1,000 for an Instagram post, and the client only gives me $1,020, then the athlete still gets his $1,000."

Doing right by people and running a business honestly may delay success, but it's a guaranteed result, he said.