Muamin Collective
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Muamin Collective

Cleveland, OH | Established. Jan 01, 2003 | INDIE

Cleveland, OH | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2003
Band Hip Hop Jazz




"Talking in a dark corner with Muamin Collective"

The asphalt gives off a heat in the post-meridian midsummer sun, the kind that beats onto the gravel of the open parking lot at 63rd and St. Clair that doubles as Muamin Collective’s stage, the kind that blasts onto the industrial garage doors behind them.

“We gonna do this next joint,” introduces Aaron “aLIVE” Snorton. “I got from my friend Bim Thomas.”

It’s 2009 at Compound Fest, a month after they've released World B. Free and someone in the audience already calls out for “Grandiose,” cut nine.

“It was outside, right in the middle of the hood,” says Snorton four years later. “When we were coming up, we did a lot in the punk rock realm. And having those venues and having people be open to that kind of thing helped the scene here too. That’s street music.”


Josiah “Zion” Quarles inhales a drag shortly before Muamin Collective takes the stage, the kind of drag that plays checks and balances to the energy of retelling a decade of history from a tucked away corner behind Now That’s Class.

“Our biggest fans are people that come here,” says Snorton. He’s only a few feet away but he leans forward on the makeshift wooden benches so you can hear his voice over the buzz of a shaky radiator. Quarles exhales.

They’ll go on sometime around midnight and a few songs in Quarles will break into a moment of prose — “The ugly, the gutter, the beautiful,” he’ll chant — and someone in the back of the room will rally, shouting CLEVELAND. Moments of silence are rare at a hip-hop show; this happens to be one of them. And he’ll launch into “Inna City,” a song that, on the album version of So Blue It’s Black, features Lamont Bim Thomas.

Bim won’t be at the show, Snorton says earlier that day at a Gordon Square coffee shop, because he gave him a ride to the airport yesterday, seeing him off as he made his way to Austin for a gig with his band Obnox. When Snorton isn’t DJing like he did the night before, when he isn’t waking up at 6 a.m. to ear train and plot chords like he was before meeting at the coffee shop, when he isn’t working with Quarles on Muamin projects like he will later that night, he’s collaborating with friends like Thomas. Chopping up Anthrax, Comets on Fire, Pere Ubu.

Snorton sips Chai coffee only a cross light away from Guide to Kulchur, the new book store and zine co-op owned by Rafeeq Washington (“The J Dilla of Cleveland literature, always putting out something new,” Snorton laughs.), the man responsible for reuniting Snorton and Quarles at the Kilolo Arts Media Lab, a loft space on St. Clair in the old Zygote Press building.

The two would first meet at church camp when Snorton was 15, Quarles 14. Snorton would have a Saul Williams book, Quarles would happen to be into Williams at the time. It would turn into tapping out beats with pencils against bunk beds, freestyling at night in the quarters. Snorton was the hip-hop aficionado, Quarles would say, while he was the son of a gospel singer tagging along to his mother’s choir rehearsals, sneaking tapes and learning the disciples of The Roots and Method Man from a willing older cousin every day before summer track practice.

“What I lacked in hip-hop cultural knowledge, I had excess in history, poetry, novels. I had people around me that were feeding me that. I looked at it literary, I looked at it Etheridge Knight, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alex Haley,” says Quarles. “I always came at it from a denser perspective. I’m really just starting to feel comfortable.”

Snorton had been making beats for two years by that summer, starting at 13, “when Wu-Tang first came out.” He would grow to love jazz, appreciate Art Blakey, Max Roach, Stanley Cowell, admire the younger New York scene of Robert Glasper, Roy Hargrove. It would lead to the instances that shined with a golden-brimmed nostalgia on World B. Free and went on to offer shades of melancholy and somber on So Blue It’s Black – the hazy backbeats of “What’s the Use,” the spacey percussion of “Capital Gains.”

“That ideology of African music in the sense of purposefulness,” says Snorton of Black. “We wanted something that was going to last.”

Muamin began collaborating with live bands, performing with musicians such as Neil Chastain. Back at Now That’s Class, Quarles speaks of collectives like the Soulquarians, the late ‘90s alt-hip-hop montage of artists like Questlove, Erykah Badu, Common, and Snorton’s hero Hargrove, whose work was steeped in arrangements.

“There’s something about instrumentation, something in the tone, in the vibration, that speaks in a certain kind of way. The root of hip-hop was always about this record, and these sounds, and making something new and fresh but not discounting what was already there. I always gravitated towards that. There’s a certain kind of soul,” Quarles says. “There’s something about a guitar, there’s something about a trumpet, there’s something about a violin. It’s human and I always want that to be central. Going back and forth, creating beats from sampled chops of live instruments and then reinterpreting the beats created with live instruments, that’s the kind of synthesis the ethic of hip-hop is all about.”

Over the years, Snorton and Quarles spent late nights working at the old MODA night club, taking side jobs while they created music together.

“Josiah’s writing is just so vivid, so descriptive,” Snorton starts to sing a hushed version of the hook of “Inna City” across the table. “Where the sun shines for three months a year / most nights are like reruns of Cheers. Everyone I know in Cleveland can relate to that. That’s the one thing Josiah can do. For a long time, us just trying to stay artists, we took a lot of odd jobs, making certain sacrifices. And Josiah, he’s that guys that always has three jobs. That’s why he can get over to the next person, just relate to anyone. Here’s right in there, that Cleveland blue collar mentality.”

Snorton points west, toward the door, mapping out where Cleveland is Dying once stood. At West 98th and Lorain, an old, unused storefront was converted to an underground space that Snorton describes as a co-op. Four DJs, two beat makers, turntables everywhere; where the city’s hip-hop experimentalists and new kids alike could come to test the waters.

“Seeing Keyel and those guys, from that initial interest in hip-hop to now seeing how they came up, they actually started a movement. There’s a whole clique of kids that are just gravitating towards them,” says Snorton. “And it’s cool, now cats like Keyel and other heads around here can come out and feel relaxed and not feel like they have to do this radio bullshit. They can actually be themselves, be artists.”

It’s near set time at Now That’s Class and they’ll play to a wall-to-wall audience. In the morning, Snorton will probably wake up at 6 a.m. and scour records. Quarles will probably continue his progeny of poetry, penning their next album, one tentatively titled Race Music.

“When I started writing, everything was very black and white to me. And I’ve gotten wiser; I realize it’s not exactly the case. But there are still things in your gut that are horrible. There are still things that give you shivers down your spine,” says Quarles. “I have, over the course of time, made my politics more personal. A lot of time you feel you’re preaching to the choir. Everybody who wants to hear that, comes to hear that. The people who you might want to hear that, aren’t going to listen to you. You have to find your own way to say the things you want, to say things in a way that gets heard.” - Nikki Delamotte for Weapons of Mass Creation

"Review of Muamin Collective's SO BLUE IT'S BLACK"

“When will the blues leave?” ~ Ornette Coleman

Reflect on that. Close your eyes and think back to the moment that love jumped out your window took a piece of you with it. Inevitably, it cuts through the insulation of our day-to-day and reminds each of us exactly what we have to lose. Intuition pulls us close to what is most evident within ourselves in order to survive, but one must NEVER ignore the blues. One can never acquire a complete understanding of love without getting in tune with the blues. They birth change and reveal scars while sneering proudly back at the world saying, “I’m not dead yet, so back off.”

The words of Josiah Quarles (ZiON) and the sonic palette of beatsmith Aaron Snorton (aLiVE) have seized the attention of listeners both foreign and domestic. Each release since their debut Industry Standard has demonstrated immense growth and gathered the attention of artists like Blu, Finale, and the late great Javon Colemen (J-1) whose Starship no. 27 compilation vol. 1 & 2 (Insect Records) featured aLiVE. A brief tribute “Jone 4theHomie” provides a moment of reflection with nodding meditation for a gifted Cleveland native who is truly gone too soon.

Every track exhibits a pearled wisdom of pressure and time. From the shadowy invocation of “Too Dirty” to the synthesized astro funk of “Fare Trade Future,” aLiVE’s inimitable production and ZiON’s irrepressible wordplay invoke the spirit of golden era without the burdening yawn of unnecessary nostalgia. Featuring guest appearances by Jack Burton, Holy (of Keyel), and Bim Thomas, this self-released album is available exclusively at Fans of Rhymesayers, Stones Throw, and Tres Records will wish just as much as I do that someone would put out a physical copy of this. It’s enough to make you wonder, when exactly will THESE blues leave? - Elijah Vazquez for Cellar Door Cleveland

"Review of Muamin Collective's World B. Free"

". . . you know what, just listen to how the beat pops in 'Ponzi Scheme'. Like the first syllable of the word, it's the sound equivalent of the collapse of Wall Street." - Black Heart Cleveland

"wHereMYpeoPLes@?! Review"

In the same way Kanye and Common put Chicago on the map, OutKast awoke the South or Bone Thugs N Harmony introduced their multi-syllabic, sing-song flavor to rep the 216 some years ago, the trio known as MuAmin Collective - Josiah Quarles (ZiON) & Aaron Snorton (aLIVE) and DjONIT - is at the cusp of defining the Cleveland hip-hop sound.

MuAmin still embraces and espouses the anger and frustration of earlier artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A., with the organic funkiness of A Tribe Called Quest wrapped in a nice Cleveland candy-coated shell. Self-described as "no grills or frills, just real talk," their style combines street prophet rants, socially conscious slambook poetry and that conversation you have with your homeboys after having waaaay too much to drink. The strongpoint is that the two emcees have the chemistry of a point guard and forward that have played together for a few seasons; they play well off each other verbally and stylistically.

The production is as fearless as it is experimental. With plenty of head nodding beats that recall the brilliance of J-Dilla, it ignores the standard formula in favor of obscure jazz riffs, punk rock yelps or a well-placed rock guitar lick, chopped and diced so fine you won't be able to recognize the original recipe. And yet the flavor is undeniable. 2008 should have good things in store for this collective. -

Clarence D. Meriweather - Cleveland Free Times - Clarence D. Meriweather

"Muamin Collective vs. Industry Standard"

Industry Standard is a blast of the dope shit, the kind of stuff I will play for everyone I see, recommend to anyone who wants me to tell them what I think will be hot. The Muamin Collective conducts themselves with well written lyrics layered over tightly produced tracks. "White Tea" is one of the best tracks on Industry Standard, and this is not about an alternative to green tea, but rather about, in the words of Caron Wheeler, having to survive living in the light.

Forget it, the rest of the songs... no, the entire album is an instant classic, I feel it. It has that gritty yet carefully selected production that I like, where the samples are obscured but not to the point where you can't nod your head. It is the "beats, rhymes & life" philosophy of words complimenting the music, and vice versa, while looking at the world from a personal perspective, not one filled with false hopes and dreams. If Blueprint or Slug were produced by 9th Wonder, they would all scratch their heads and go "damn, that Muamin Collective is nice". At least these guys use different snares (a/k/a "take that shit to The Breaks".). - John Book of Cleanfeed Records

"Muamin Collective & GZA at the Grog Shop"

These guys had some of the most amazing energy I've ever seen, with great beats and spirit. They rocked the crowd and I'm looking forward to seeing Muamin Collective again. - Now This Sound is Brave

"Muamin Collective - World B Free"

"They're artists, and don't give a damn about your genre limitations. . ." - Pink Eye Magazine

"Band of the Week"

Meet the Band: Zion (vocals) and ALive (keyboards, production)

Campfire Kids: The two met at church camp one summer over ten years ago. "We were bunk mates, and one night we were up talking, and he had Saul Williams's The Seventh Octave, and I thought that was sweet, and the next thing you know, we were freestyling," recalls Zion. "We really hit it off."

The Annual Christmas Show: The first time the guys put on a holiday show, they simply intended to "do something big for when people come home." "We had been hanging out with [the local indie act] This Moment in Black History, doing DIY shows on the West Side. We wanted to bring that idea of mixed bills to the East side," says Zion. "We did the first one, and it was great. The turnout was amazing, and we have just kept doing it every year. We try to keep it fresh and keep bringing in new acts. But it's also people you can rely on who will put on a good show." This year's lineup features an eclectic group of locals, including R.A. Washington + The Family Dollar, KEYE, Epic, LMNTL and Dangerous Colors.

Why You Should Hear Them: The songs on the group's new album, So Blue, It's Black, alternate between soulful tracks with jazzy beats ("MoMeta Blues") and hard-hitting rants directed toward the youth of today ("Too Dirty"). "This is different from our past efforts," says Zion. "It's a little darker. There's always been that frustration there but it was always balanced by youthful exuberance. I'm just older now so the songs are a little more brooding. It's got a different tenor to it."

Where You Can Hear Them:

Where You Can See Them: Muamin Collective headlines the "Red, Black & Green Christmas" concert that takes place at 8 p.m Saturday, Dec. 22 at the Grog Shop. — Jeff Niesel
- Scene Magazine

"Only one way to go and that's up"

...The MuAmin Collective is genuine hiphop from the beginning to the end. Record labels should rush to sign this talented group. And to think I almost forgot what REAL hiphop sounded like... - Roberta M. Rosa Founder /Mija Magazine

"A Red, Black, and Green Christmas"

By Vince Grzegorek

At tonight's Red, Black, and Green Christmas, the MuAmin Collective plans to "afro out" the holidays with fellow Cleveland spitboxers Poetic Republic, Leroi Da Moor, and LMNTL.

And expect the duo to fill your Christmas stocking with a few musical packages as they join punkers This Moment in Black History onstage.

"We're going to bring the show some extra-special gifts: Hip-hop, punk rock, and stockings stuffed with fascist pigs," says bandmate Josiah.

"We're going to keep it cheery, but we can't leave out the satire."

After countless performances together, MuAmin and TMIBH have perfected their brand of politically charged hip-hop paired with socially-charged punk, which TMIBH delivers under its trademark knockoff of the state flag.

"They have the red-black-and-green Ohio flag, and I figured we'd freak it that way," says Josiah. "Christmas got the red and green already, so we threw the black in there."

Expect an array of out-of-the-box holiday tunes: The tentative set list ranges from James Brown's "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year" to Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas."

"If I had my choice, I'd do 'Christmas in Hollis' by Run-DMC," says Chris Kulscar, TMIBH's singer.

"That's the best Christmas song ever."

Get your freak on at 9 tonight at the Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard in Cleveland Heights. Tickets are $7 ($5 in advance). Call 216-321-5588 or visit - Cleveland Scene Magazine

"Muamin Collective works with Live band on new album"

The local hip-hop act MuAmin Collective has been doing its thing around the city and beyond over the span of more than ten years. During some of the performances, the duo of emcee Josiah "Zion" Quarles and producer Aaron "aLIVE" Snorton occasionally rock with a live band. This planted the seed for their latest project, a entire live album with a four-piece band entitled DIG, which the band celebrates with a performance at 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Euclid Tavern.

"This one was a little bit different than everything else," says Quarles. "We had done a random hit back in the day at Compound Fest, which was mostly like a punk festival, and we did it for a couple years. We were pretty much the only hip-hop act. The third time we did the festival, we kinda wanted to spice it up. We talked to Neil Chastain [percussion] and Jake Wynne [trumpet], and they were down to play over aLIVE's beats and it worked out really good. So we were like, 'Let's see if we can do some more work.' Neil had a trio, and we started working with them a bit. Just hashing out some of the songs, mostly 'World B. Free' songs. We probably played about three or four gigs like that."

Through a mutual colleague, keyboardist Eli Hanley ended up coming into the fold after sitting with the group during a performance at NEOCycle. Mike McNamara on guitar rounded out the group's lineup.

"It was really about picking out the songs that we felt could be enhanced by using a live band," Quarles says. "It was a lot of trial and error, but we rounded out about eight songs we thought were really tight. We had also been working on some new stuff. We've got maybe half an album ready now, but in the process of working on that we had this song named 'DIG' that was half finished but I really liked it. I wanted the beat to be something different. aLIVE had another beat that had a soul sample on it and I wasn't sure if it was going to sound right without the soul sample. My brother Jungle Jim is in a group called LMNTL and he sings a little bit. He was sitting in on a session, and i asked him to sing the soul notes. He did and I said 'That's perfect!'"

"DIG" is the one brand new song.

"We did the recording at Paul Maccarrone's Zombie Proof studios," says Quarles. "It's all on tape. This was different because we didn't have a lot of time. We can usually marinate on stuff but working with gigging musicians, time is of the essence and everyone is on different schedules, so we had to lay out the whole thing in one session. We came back and did some mixing and Jake came in and laid some horns in because he couldn't make it to the session. Most of it was one take as far as the band was concerned. With the vocals, we had a little bit more time to mess with them."

For producer Aaron "aLIVE" Snorton, the transition to working with a live band was an easy one.

"There was an adjustment, but it was basically about communicating with the instrumentalists," Snorton says. "Sometimes the beat would be a little fast and I'd have to get them to slow it down. Just stuff like that. Josiah was tied into that too, but only to a certain point. He knew that he could put it off on me and I'd get it together because it was my production."

Saturday's release party will be part of the Cleveland Foundation's Uptown Saturday Nights series, and the group has something special planned for the show.

"We're going to do the whole album and we've got some other stuff that we're going to do." Quarles says. "Maybe 2 or 3 more songs. We've got [a song called] 'Off the Grid,' which is kinda like jazz-fusion. They're some young cats that I met who've played with other people but they're trying to get their own thing off the ground. Then there's RA Washington's project, Mourning [A] BLKstar, and I'm a big fan of that. " - Scene Magazine

"Hear the infectious new track 'DiG' by Cleveland's MuAmin Collective"

Cleveland hip-hop duo Muamin Collective offer an ode to getting below the surface on the title track of their recent live album, "Dig." The follow-up to 2014's "So Blue It's Black" brings in a live band and collaborators for a fresh spin on previously released favorites ("So Meta," "Inna City," among others). "Dig," the album's sole original track, is an irresistibly catchy showcase of the chemistry between producer Aaron "aLIVE" Snorton and lyricist Josiah "Zion" Quarles.

The song's new video by Cleveland filmmaker Nat Cherry is set on the sunny back patio of concert venue Now That's Class, 11213 Detroit Ave. Cleveland. Muamin will perform there at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22, as part of the 10th anniversary of the annual Red, Black and Green Christmas concert. Fresh Produce, Mourning a BLKstar, Bang Messiah and Stoke fill out the lineup.

"Dig" may be infectious and sunny on the surface, but Quarles notes that it's meant to be a warning about "being dismissive and myopic."
"'Dig' is about understanding the context, the history, that informs our shared realties," he says. "These may be personal, political or cultural. I prefer we peel some of these layers back and better understand the ground we stand on. What you don't know very well can hurt you."

Local rapper James "Jungle Jim" Quarles, brother of Josiah Quarles, also contributed a verse to the song.
"When he recorded it, it was electric," says Josiah Quarles. "The band was hanging out in the studio and everyone's jaw just dropped. I heard him singing where the vocal sample had been in the beat, and I was like, 'That's it!'"

The album marks a longtime musical partnership with local Neil Chastain and his regular collaborators, Mike McNamara and Eli Hanley, who Muamin began working with after performing at Compound Fest. The trio, drawing from their jazz influence, provided backing instrumentation for the album. Jacob Wynne also added horns to multiple songs.

"I always wanted to be a rock star, and what's a rock star without a band?" jokes Quarles. "After one rehearsal, Eli was like, 'Yo that right there was an album,' and we all looked at each other with knowing smiles. A couple months later, we got together at Paul Mac's studio and went to tape."

When they began recording, they wanted to retain the feeling of their live shows. They performed each song in one take with minimal post-production.

"Aaron's beats are always so musical that they often are seamless transitions," says Quarles. "The biggest thing in putting together the album was to try to make it a balanced representation of our catalogue, while allowing room for the band to improvise and shine. I think we struck that balance." -


Muamin Collective:

acompilationofthingstocome - 2003 (Limited)

Industry Standard - 2005 (Digital & Limited)

wHereMYpeopLes@?! - 2007 (Digital & Limited)

World B. Free - 2009 (Fare Trade Records)

soBlue itsBlack - 2012 (in)sect Records

DiG - 2016 (ABSNFC)

Hues Brothers - 2017 (Fare Trade Records)


FALL07 (limited)

WIN08 (limited)

SUM08 (limited)

Major Works- 2009 (Cleveland Tapes)

5aLive - 2010 (Cleveland Tapes)



"We're on some rust belt-buckle and boot strap, all hand claps and bare knuckles, Dusty 45's, rusty factories, and blustery winters. . ."

Muamin Collective started as a concept - rapid fire critical thought over beats. Simple? Not as easy as it is said, but over the last 10 years what started as a concept has become praxis. A-Live is a scientist with the MPC, and ZiON is visionary in the crafting of song. Adding to the mix the two have recently collaborated with friend and (incredible) drummer Neil Chastain, Guitarist Mike McNamara and Jacob Wynne (Trumpet) and the prodigious Eli Hanley (Keys/synth bass), putting together a live band to interpret Muamin's catalog, and take the live show up another notch. The fruits of their labor are evident in the 8 song EP DiG (2016) released on ABSNFC (Amsterdam).

Aaron and Josiah were childhood friends growing up on Cleveland's east side, banging on lunch tables and freestyling late into the night. After Highschool they lost touch, but fate would reconnect them a few years later at a party held in mutual friend and Muamin co-founder R.A. Washington's studio space. The two quickly realized they were totally consumed by music, Listening to it, digging for it, and finally crafting it themselves. the rest is history. . . or at least discography

2003's Industry Standard was a blueprint, 2005's wheremypeoples@?! a model, but 2008's World Be Free is a trip thru nostalgia and future.

Their fourth studio album, SO BLUE IT'S BLACK (2012), is their most mature and consistent effort with dense narratives, imagery and wordplay over beats that range from the brooding synth of "Inna City", to the soul chops of "Wind", to the astro funk of "FareTradeFuture". The album was originally independently released, but picked up by (in)sect records (Austin, TX).

Accept this offering as a Gift for the muse, the Red, Black and Blues and the green between. Give these vibrations a home of Understanding, Cee US and know it's OnEWaY and that's UP

Band Members