Mustafa Sheikh can still remember the damp smell of his middle-school classroom on rainy days. It wasn’t the typical scent of wet weather – that kind of earthy, metallic odor one would expect. Instead, it was the smell of soggy t-shirts and moist pants, sweat and skin. The classroom air was humid and hard to breathe. That smell never left the New Zealand native’s mind, and neither did the memories of his impoverished classmates who couldn’t afford raincoats or umbrellas, lunches or laundry detergent. As Sheikh grew older, his desire to affect change grew stronger. Years after those middle-school days, he graduated from Auckland University with a degree in honors chemistry – a subject so complex, even Google sometimes didn’t have the answers he sought. Luckily, science merely served as a catalyst – a metaphor at most – because Sheikh was interested in an alternate kind of alchemy: helping disadvantaged youth find and follow their dreams.
In 2017, burdened by student debt and in need of some quick cash, the then-22-year-old took a job at a local KFC. It was there that he conceived of his charity, Bread – an organization that assists disadvantaged children with career guidance, goal setting, and positive mindset building. Weeks later, powered by a combination of good karma and hard work, Bread’s first charity fundraising event was in full effect: 30 supercars – Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and the like – were being police-escorted down the main street in Auckland with a Bread emblem across each hood.
Throughout the years, the charity has contributed mentorship, gift drives, clothing donation, and so much more. Then, in 2020, when the dreaded lockdowns limited just about everything Bread – which comes from Brave, Eager and Determined – had built, Sheikh decided to use his love of music, specifically hip hop, to continue the cause and raise awareness. He released a rap under his pseudonym, Lil Mussie, about the struggles he’d seen firsthand. These days, in addition to making music with Kanye’s team, Sheikh is busy building Bread Studios, mini youth centers equipped with state-of-the-art recording technology that the kids can use for free.
SPIN spoke with Lil Mussie to further dive into what Bread is all about and how he plans to help disadvantaged children take over the world.
SPIN: How do Bread Studios work? Are they available to all children?
Lil Mussie: We built the first Bread Studios within an already existing youth shelter, so that studio is currently only available to children who are in the system. The other studio is inside Edwin Markham Middle School [in Los Angeles]. We’re hoping that these studios will be a beacon of hope for the many kids who have been abused, neglected, abandoned and disadvantaged. I wanted to create a space for these kids that feels disconnected from the rest of the world, a place where the problems they’re facing can be forgotten. All that matters within those walls is them investing in themselves, following their dreams, and creating something.
We also invested a lot of money to make the studios look brand new. We wanted to give these kids the highest quality stuff. I want the space to help them realize that they can reach their dreams. It’s all about breaking the cycle. Not only can the kids make music in the studios, they can exchange knowledge and creativity. They can even do podcasts and create videos on the computers. It’s such a powerful space, and it teaches kids the fundamentals of life. If they want to start a business, it’s the exact same thing as making a song. You start with an idea, you put it down on paper, you market it, you get the right people involved, you collaborate.
Between the Bread events and Instagram, it seems like there’s a lot of focus on supercars. Why supercars instead of showing some of the kids you’re helping?
Like the quality of the studios, the supercars are so important. I want the kids to see that these things are real, they are right in front of them, and they can have them too. I never want the kids to see themselves and suddenly think, “Do we live in poverty? Are we poor?” Some of these kids are facing significant problems, and they don’t yet notice the severity of things – they just want to play on the playground with their friends – so I don’t want to distort their reality by exposing them in any way. Yes, we’re helping, but I’d rather show how we’re raising all this money than who we’re raising it for.
How does the charity function? Where does the money raised go?
The supercar events are our main fundraising component. The drivers pay a fee to register their vehicles, and we use that money for student mentoring, clothing and uniform donations, police work like our annual Christmas giveaway, and constructing these studios. I don’t take a cut for myself. I’m not about to take food out of their mouths. We’ve also been lucky enough to have some really great sponsors, like Fender, Home Depot, and Focusrite, to name a few.
How can people get involved?
Attend the events, support the cause, and spread the word.