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A whirlwind of creativity, Wilmington’s Jamila Mustafa continues to find new media worlds to conquer

Working with MTV and now SiriusXM, Jamila Mustafa has been named one of the Most Influential People of African Descent Under 40 by the United Nations. Photo by Michael Nicholls-Pierce

Calling what Wilmington’s Jamila Mustafa is building a “media empire” might be premature, but people have been comparing her to Oprah for years. Praise swirls around this Cab Calloway School of the Arts and Delaware State University (DSU) alum as her career skyrockets.

Last summer, President Joe Biden penned a letter to the 28-year-old MTV host, saying she represented “the most talented, most tolerant, the most educated generation in history,” and lauding her for using her “voice and talent to inspire future generations.”

That was before Mustafa became a producer on MTV’s Sound Up on Snapchat, which she also hosts, in addition to hosting MTV’s Fresh Out Live. Before that, she hosted MTV’s 2020 pre-shows for the Video Music Awards (and the post-show) and the Europe Music Awards, which reaches more than 180 countries.

And before that, she struck a deal with SiriusXM to deliver commentary on hip-hop music, news and culture, as the host of Jamila’s Jams! The show broadcasts live on Mondays at noon, with semi-weekly replays and limited archives on the Sirius app.

That gig made her both the youngest host and only Black female anchor on the Volume channel. In addition to Method Man and Jimmy Jam, Mustafa joins a roster with the likes of music royalty Simon Le Bon, Scott Ian, Ahmet Zappa, original MTV VJ Mark Goodman, and legendary rock journalist Lisa Robinson. 

Roger Coletti, Volume’s executive producer and MTV, VH1 and CMT programming veteran, announced the show’s February 2021 debut, saying, “It’s our latest chapter featuring a fresh new voice.”

From a Girl to a Lady

Mustafa’s upbringing fostered the self-discipline and dedication that drives her continuing success. Her father, Wilmington Superintendent of Recreation Rashid Mustafa, is a grandmaster in Goju Tai-Jitsu.

“Goju is a Japanese term that means hard and soft,” says Rashid Mustafa, “so there’s a balance, like yin and yang. Jamila went through hard training — I trained my daughters to be warriors. [But] my wife and I realized it was time to encourage her to be more well-rounded and the pageant world did that.”

Mustafa with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at a Hawaiian luau. Photo courtesy Jamila Mustafa

Mustafa went on to win Miss Middletown and Miss Teen Essence, which included a one-year DSU scholarship. After enrolling, she won the Miss DSU crown, and that, in turn, resulted in a relationship with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) community that would prove fruitful later.

Other successes came early to Mustafa. The multi-talented youngster was dancing competitively, auditioning for movies, and hosting Fox29’s Philadelphia Eagles Kids Club all as a middle schooler. She received a 2011 Wilmington Award for the Arts from Mayor James Baker when she was just 17.

Her mother, Andrea, supported her daughter’s vision. She quit the banking industry to work nights so she could drive the budding star to auditions.

But Mustafa admits she was more focused on her creative success than her books, and she struggled academically in high school. “Sometimes things suffer, and unfortunately, it was my grades,” she says. Eventually she realized, “in order to even participate in activities, I needed a certain GPA.”

To kids who may have their own struggles, she advises, “Every kid blossoms at different times. Give yourself grace.”

Once the pageant scholarship put a DSU education in her sights, she was determined to harness her study skills and “make the best of it.” And she did, graduating from DSU in 2015.

The HBCU connection began to pay off even before graduation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored 10 HBCU students, including Mustafa, to attend the 2014 Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit in Fort Lauderdale. She brought her video equipment and interviewed the speakers, leaving quite an impression on the summit leadership.

Six years later, the deputy director of the Gates Foundation asked Mustafa to address the 2020 graduates of Bennett College. Her grandmother’s alma mater, this Greensboro, N.C., HBCU counts Maya Angelou and Phylicia Rashad as past keynote speakers. Not only was Mustafa the youngest-ever commencement speaker, she also produced the video-based event.

Battling Ciara — Twice

Since her college days, Mustafa has been on a career trajectory that has understandably elicited the Oprah comparisons. She’s got the interviewing skills and energy down pat, and the philanthropic side, too.

“I’m a host that might do a split,” she says. In fact, she has taken on Ciara in a dance battle. (Twice, technically. Once when hosting MTV’s TRL Top 10 in 2019 and once on Cab’s stage in sixth grade.)

She adds, “I produce my shows, creative direction – you name it. I shoot and I edit every day.”

All the while, she stays connected to the young people she can inspire. The international HBCU advocate founded HBCU 2 Hollywood, a higher education speaking tour that highlights the importance of education, health and purpose while raising scholarship funds for students.

And as her fame spreads, opportunity continues to knock. Last year, the Ladybug Festival, touted as the nation’s largest celebration of women in music, tapped Mustafa as host and creative director for the pandemic-driven virtual edition of the annual event.

Festival co-founder Gayle Dillman says, “As the emcee for the festival, she brought such an incredible professional level of energy. She is showing young women how to be it all and do it well. She really elevated our event.”

Sirius Comes Calling

Mustafa is currently the host of MTV’s Fresh Out Live and a producer and host of MTV’s Sound Up on Snapchat. Photo courtesy Jamila Mustafa

The SiriusXM offer came in June — in the midst of the pandemic. Though it was an empire-building opportunity, she didn’t rush to the airwaves. “Podcasting is different,” she says, “and I needed to study.”

“To me,” she adds, “podcasting is the simplest form of human expression. Throughout history, before podcasting, it was radio, storytellers. Comedians tell stories in their standup.”

Since her February debut, she has interviewed singer Kelly Rowland, rapper Waka Flocka Flame, filmmaker Director X, and Netflix’s Last Chance U basketball star Deshaun Highler. Coincidentally, rapper G-Eazy was her first guest on Jamila’s Jams! after being her first interview on MTV’s Fresh Out Live.

One-time MTV co-host and friend Sway Calloway, who has called Mustafa “one of the most authoritative voices of her generation” also appeared on her first episode.

In addition to interviewing guests, she takes listener calls, and her opinions on music have gained respect. Pandora now publishes a weekly playlist of songs Mustafa mentions each Monday, which can include both well-known and emerging artists.

This proud Delaware native also frequently name-checks the First State and its artists. Out of a hundred music submissions, she chose to highlight Wilmingtonian Drizz’s rap track “Bomb” on the program, and Smyrna-raised Farees Kaleemah created the show’s theme song.

Delaware Proud

“I’m lucky to be from Delaware. From Delaware and in Delaware, you can do it,” she says. “And Wilmington really is a ‘place to be somebody.’ Everyone poured into me so I could be somebody, and everybody is somebody. Wilmington is buzzing as a whole. It’s really exciting; every time I come home there’s something new.”

Her favorite interviews include actress Salma Hayek, whose on- and off-camera observations of Mustafa left an imprint, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose professional hospitality in Hawaii extended into a luau. Her chat with Lil Wayne, on a yacht in Miami, touched on memories of his late friend Kobe Bryant.

One MTV interview became especially memorable: that of Pop Smoke, who was killed four months after Mustafa personally sought out the rapper to appear on TRL Top 10.

“He was a man of few words, but the interview was so vibrant,” she says. “He told me about things he was excited about. And he performed live, which I think was his first TV performance. I’m blessed to have just been a part of it, but I would exchange that moment absolutely to have him here.”

In five years, she sees herself hosting a prime time talk show, and starring in a box office hit or series, perhaps creating and directing.

It’s clear that she is smart and driven, but Mustafa is also stylish…and incredibly warm. She says that even more important to her than a pageant crown was the Miss Congeniality awards she won.

Dillman recalls Mustafa’s Ladybug work: “She’s wearing leather and dancing, and it’s a hundred degrees out. That’s how dedicated she was to what she was doing. And she’s really nice, too.”

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