Producer, multi-instrumentalist, and baritone rapper/singer Shafiq Husayn has contemporized and transmuted the funk of early-'70s Sly & the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder, bossa nova, avant-garde jazz, and Afro-beat, among other inspirations, all through a cosmopolitan hip-hop filter. One of the few musicians with bicoastal roots in early hip-hop, he ran with two of the form's most powerful organizations, Uncle Jamm's Army and the Zulu Nation, before he initiated his production career with Ice-T, heard most prominently on the Top 20, gold-selling album O.G. Original Gangster (1991). The next decade, as one-third of Sa-Ra, Husayn made progressive material for dozens of artists including Jurassic 5, John Legend, and Erykah Badu, and with The Hollywood Recordings (2007) and Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love (2009), he continued to advance R&B and rap well outside the tightening strictures of commercial channels. The same year that Sa-Ra issued their second album, Husayn released the equally remarkable solo set Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka. As his group wound down, he continued to record frequently with other artists like Bilal, Anderson .Paak, and also Robert Glasper Experiment, whose Black Radio (2012) won a Grammy for Best R&B Album. After an assortment of overtures amid more commissioned work, Husayn finally made his full solo return with the wide-scoped The Loop (2019).
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Shafiq Husayn moved around during his upbringing due to his step-father's involvement in the military. When he was three years old, his family relocated to Los Angeles, but he also spent lasting formative time in the Bronx, enabling tight musical bonds to be made on opposing sides of the country. On the West Coast, he went to the arena parties thrown by Uncle Jamm's Army, where he linked up with Ice-T; while on the East Coast, he carried records for DJ Afrika Islam and became a member of Afrika Bambaataa's Zulu Nation. Husayn's recorded debut was made in 1990 as a member of Nile Kings, who released the hard-hitting "Dropping Bombs" 12" through Ice-T's Epic-distributed Rhyme Syndicate label. Although the group soon split, Husayn — then known as SLJ, and eventually Slej tha Ruffedge — firmly established his production career. During the next several years, he worked closely with Ice-T and Rhyme Syndicate affiliates such as Donald D and King Tee, as well as Lord Finesse. He co-produced a large portion of Ice-T's number 15 pop hit O.G. Original Gangster, including the title track, and was subsequently behind the sound effects on Ice's explicit protest song with Body Count, "Cop Killer."