What is it like being Brown and Muslim, and living in a country that does not want you? Emmy award winning actor Riz Ahmed, mostly known for his performances in the television show The Night Of, and films like Rogue One and Venom, recently released The Long Goodbye, a hip-hop album dealing with the grief of a breakup, but one between you and your country. The line “I spit my truth and it’s brown” from the track “Fast Lava” perfectly encompasses the heart of this album because Ahmed does not hold back. The record not only discusses the history of his community, but also addresses the experience of being a Muslim Pakistani person in Britain today.
The first song “The Breakup (Shikwa)” is a painful track that documents the history and legacy of colonialism, starting from when the British gained control of India, to a post-Brexit Britain. Set to Qawwali vocals in the background, the brutally honest lyrics of this track showcase the trauma of going through oppression, exploitation and an attempt at recovery, all framed as a toxic relationship with “Brittney.”
The album then moves onto more fast paced songs, like “Toba Tek Singh,” which has an angrier and more resentful Ahmed rapping about how his now ex “…ain’t shit without me.” Other upbeat tracks like “Mogambo” and “Deal With It” have Ahmed showcasing his more humorous and cocky side, rapping about how the “Feds all stare, go beep-beep / Stopping me ‘cause they all want selfies”—an experience Ahmed has spoken about in interviews; of being stopped and searched at airports by people who also happen to recognize him and are his fans.
An inherent theme of the album is Ahmed talking about a feeling of displacement and not knowing where he belongs, which the spoken word piece “Where You From” is dedicated to. Ahmed speaks to the experience of being Muslim and of South Asian descent; a community of people whose roots come from India, and help “built the West,” but do not feel welcome in either place. He says, not necessarily from a place of despondence, that “Maybe I’m from everywhere but nowhere / No man’s land, between the trenches.”
The song “Can I Live” once again depicts a more confident Ahmed, as he talks about growing up in a place where there wasn’t anyone who looks like him “on the telly,” but how things have changed and “now we 24/7.” The song also addresses the plights faced by Muslims around the world today, referencing the struggles of the Rohingya and Uighur communities.
The album also includes multiple interludes in the form of voicemails from close friends and family, who advise Ahmed on how to deal with this break up. The record ends with the optimistic and catchy song, “Karma,” where Ahmed addresses the fact that he has now reached a lot of success and fame in his life despite going through so much discrimination, rapping “They turned us into servants ’til we learned to hate our face / But now my face is everywhere so look who won the race.”
The album is also accompanied by a harrowing short film of the same title. Directed by Aneil Karia, the film depicts a regular Pakistani Muslim family in the suburbs of Britain preparing for a wedding, who are suddenly being rounded up and shot in the streets by a white nationalist group. While The Long Goodbye is definitely not the first time Ahmed’s music has dealt with issues of politics and identity, it is arguably his most unapologetic and honest work yet.