In the late '80s, Boston was turning out boy bands.

You had New Edition and New Kids on the Block — and producer Maurice Starr, who was the force behind both of those groups, was trying for a third. In 1988, he pulled his son and two other boys from Roxbury to form Perfect Gentlemen. But that group didn’t find the success of the other bands.

Its lead singer, then known as 12 year-old Tyrone Sutton, said if he could talk to his younger self, he would tell that child to “keep dreaming.”

“And also: Don't allow this moment in your life to define you,” he told GBH’s Morning Edition. “A lot of times what we find is like, if you have a moment of so-called glory and it happens at a time in your life — one moment that may be six months or a year — the rest of your life is spent chasing that moment of glory, trying to get back to it, or finding outlets that will allow you to talk about it and elaborate on it. So I would say keep dreaming, because that's where new self-discovery comes, and you find that you're capable of more than just singing and dancing.”

His early success led to some other disappointments, he said, like when he went out to Los Angeles to write for Dr. Dre happened to not write his best rap that day. After his music career fizzled, he found himself on the streets selling drugs to make a living, but that wouldn’t last, either. Adbur-Rahman says, however, that his short-lived fame may have been a blessing.

If his music career continued, he says “I do believe I would have been dead or in jail, involved in drugs, something violent. But I think that is when God started to actively engage in my life is going out to L.A., being with Dr. Dre, and failing. Ultimately, that was one of the greatest blessings in my life.”

Years later, as a young adult, he realized he wanted more. That's when he decided to convert to Islam.

“I was in a position where, as a young Black man, you constantly had to live on your toes, so you have to pretend like you know it all,” he said. “And I remember my first time going to Mecca and feeling like a child, because I felt like I could get rid of all of these false facades, this pseudo-machismo. And so for me, it was embracing the fact that I don't know it all, and it's OK.”

He changed his name to Taymullah Abdur-Rahman. And as he was redefining masculinity for himself, he was also doing that for hundreds of men in prison through the Massachusetts Department of Correction, where he worked as a Muslim chaplain for 10 years.

A book cover showing a man in profile, his beard overlaid with an illustration of buildings.
Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman's book, "American Imam."

He now spends his time convening youth and community members around restorative justice through his organization, Spentem.

Abdur-Rahman details his evolution in the memoir "American Imam: From Pop Stardom to Prison Abolition." Though it's a new release, he began writing the book back in 2008.

“I was basing it on just the idea that I used to be in the music business, now I'm Muslim,” Abdur-Rahman said. “But I wasn't able to get it off the ground. And that was a good thing, because over the next 10 years, I started meeting people outside of my worldview, and I was able to shift my intellectual position and change a lot of how I believe. And really, I wanted to make a book about that aspect of my life.”

His experience feels especially pertinent now, in a time where religious hate is on the rise. In his book, he writes about the interfaith connections he’s made with Jewish and Christian people, and talks about the need to be tolerant.

He also squares that with having experienced life as a Black man first. That’s something he thinks of when he looks at the war in Gaza, he said.

“I would say as a Black man in America, there's always a very thin-veiled marginalization going on. Every day you step outside, I know my identity is disruptive,” he said. “So what that allows me to do is to really hone in and empathize with other people all over the world who have that same veil of oppression, some of it more overt than others, but it's always there.

“People who are in these regions just so happened to be Muslim, along with being whatever ethnicity they are in, but the political climate is causing them to be in these positions where they may do extreme things,” he added. “And we're not justifying it, but we're saying it's more of the politics behind it. Some people weaponize Islam, that's true, but we can't say that Islam is a religion that condones violence or advocates violence. So what we want to do is look at people's overall condition. And usually we find in these places they're being oppressed not only by their own regimes, but possibly by other outside powers as well.”

Abdur-Rahman will be launching his book at the Harvard Club this Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Tickets and more details are at