Speaking with Sakinah (Straignth) and Zakiyyah (wiZdumb) Rahman of pop/R&B duo, Aint Afraid is an experience in itself. Even through a Zoom screen, the identical twins light up the room with their magnetic personalities, speaking confidently and swiftly and finishing each other’s sentences more times than not. Though they only started releasing music last year, the metro-Detroit based artists’ messages of positivity, love, and life’s fleeting nature have resonated with the masses. Last week, they released a short film, Cradle to the Grave, which includes three of their recent singles, “Crimson,” “Rock Bottom,” and “Basics,” and pays homage to pop icons like Missy Elliot while staying true to their wholesome and uplifting message.
“It’s clear as day when you see me that I’m a Muslim,” says Zakiyyah, pointing to her hijab. “And people will say, ‘I love your music but I’m not Muslim,’” adds Sakinah. “We’re always going to have to fight through our identities to reach people.” In a world that likes to put people in boxes, the girls explain that a lot of opportunities that are offered to them have to do with their identity. “We feel like that’s not the only realm we can reach… you don’t need to get us only for Muslim-related opportunities.” And while their faith serves as a thematic compass, Aint Afraid’s music is universally relatable.
Take, “Crimson,” the first song in Cradle to the Grave, a song that reflects on life’s inevitable end and what we do with our time here. The scene is set with the twins in costumes that nod at Missy’s iconic space-suit outfit from “The Rain” video. They’re looking down on an elderly man in a mansion who’s surrounded by fine things, but not a loved one in sight. The lyrics warn listeners of the danger of material things and the lust and ruin that often accompanies them: “Tell me will it be worth it in the end/We’ll be hurting/Probably screaming and bursting in tears/Can’t believe we waited ‘til the end to think/Can’t believe we never even changed our ways.”
“‘Crimson’ is all about; We’re all gonna die, and nothing except your skeleton is gonna come with you, so what are you prioritizing?” says Zakiyyah. For the girls, it’s clear that their priorities lie with family, spreading their message, and creating a space in the media for young people that look like them. They explain that, growing up, they didn’t have a role model – aside from their mother – who they could look up to and see themselves in. “I think that’s why it took us so long to begin this journey,” says Sakinah. “We felt like there was no space for us… until we realized we can make the space for ourselves.”
Making that space has been anything but easy. Throughout their lives, Sakinah and Zakiyyah have been told – in a variety of ways – that they can’t do what they want to do. Among these voices have been their college guidance counselor who said they can’t always be together and an opportunistic record label that told them they won’t be able to achieve what they want to achieve without them. “We don’t like that,” says Zakiyyah. “You can’t say that to me. People told us that we can’t ever work together in our life, we’re working together. They say you can’t be a Muslim artist, [we’re] Muslim artists. Then we have this label coming and saying ‘You can’t make it without us?’ Now I’m gonna absolutely go and do it without you.”
This sentiment is echoed in “Rock Bottom,” the second song in Cradle to the Grave. They repeat one simple line that exemplifies the duo’s approach to adversity: “Rock bottom might be hard but that’s where I got my start up/People let me down but I got me regardless.” Perched atop a rock on the California coast in monochromatic costumes, the pair look like they are made for this moment. They see-saw seamlessly between melody and harmony, evidence of a lifetime spent singing together. In so many ways, this video and this chapter of their career is just an extension of what the sisters have been doing their entire lives.
With a mother who grew up in a time where stars were discovered at gas stations and local diners, the girls say they have always been ready to perform anywhere and everywhere. “Performance came easy – it all came so easy,” says Zakiyyah. “We would perform in the middle of a Kroger or Walmart, we would just bust out.” These years of practice – improvised and otherwise – are realized in the pair’s ability to sing together without overpowering each other and move together as one fluid unit. This synchronicity is shown on “Basics,” a song that reminisces on the simplicity of childhood while reminding the listener that they can find that same peace at any age.
At the young age of 22, Aint Afraid’s journey is just beginning. But, even at the start of their careers, they possess a wisdom and patience that some people don’t find at any point in their lifetime. Their endless positivity and unwavering sense of direction will take them as far as they wish to go – and they’ll continue to inspire and uplift others on the way. “We know that we’re different, and [want to use] that as a way to show other people who are different – not only that look like us but are different in other ways – to know that there’s room for [all of] us,” says Zakiyyah.
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