When Smoke Rises
On his debut solo album, the Toronto artist formerly known as Mustafa the Poet confronts grief and dispossession over understated production with folk-music overtones.
When Smoke Rises is Mustafa Ahmed’s first full-length album as a solo artist, but it’s just the latest volume in his growing library of dispatches from Toronto’s Regent Park neighborhood. Ahmed, a founding member of rap collective Halal Gang, used to be known as Mustafa the Poet, having gained recognition for his earnest spoken-word verse at just 12 years old. These days, he is tight with Drake and FKA twigs; he’s narrated a Valentino ad and written songs for Usher and Camila Cabello.
But the topics that marked his poetry as a young teen—violence, death, grief—have remained constant in his artistic output, and they stay central on When Smoke Rises, named in honor of Smoke Dawg, a fellow Halal Gang member who was murdered in 2018.
Mustafa: When Smoke Rises Album Review