Munye Mohamed, better known as Shine, stands on the basketball court in Portland's Riverton Park public housing project where he grew up on Tuesday. His latest YouTube video garnered more than a million views in its first week. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Somali-American rapper and poet Munye Mohamed, better known as Shine, remembers rattling around the city, with his high school cronies, in a beat-up Hyundai Elantra.

They’d have great times, making up rhymes, recording them on their phones as they drove.

“Because we didn’t have a studio,” Shine said.

A decade on, things are different.

Shine now records his songs in real recording studios and can be seen driving a Rolls Royce in his latest music video. It’s a rental, but the song still snagged over a million views in its first five days on YouTube this month.

Shine’s life and career are on the rise but he’s also had his share of struggles. Born in war-torn Somalia, he grew up in a gritty public housing project. Shine found success with poetry in high school but then ran afoul of the law as a young man. His legal troubles behind him now, the father of three is focused on showing his children, as well as his community, that dreams are worth chasing.

“I want to spread the word that they’re worth more than money,” Shine said. “And it’s not really about fame.”

Shine came to the United States when he was five. By the time he was 10, his family had settled in Portland’s impoverished and densely-packed Riverton Park. Shine said he has fond memories of playing basketball with his friends on the asphalt court at the bottom of the hill.

At Portland High School, he discovered poetry and a love for writing. It brought him notoriety and friends. It’s also how he got his nickname.

“People started calling me Moon the Poet,” Shine said. “Poetry is the same feeling as rap. It’s expressing.”

Moon, short for Munye, turned into Moon Shine, which was then shortened to just Shine.

Somali-American rapper and poet Munye Mohamed (from left) Ayub Hersi and Tanade Muse goof around at the basketball court in Portland’s Riverton Park public housing project, where they all grew up, on Tuesday. The trio collaborate on music together and jokingly style themselves after Somali pirates. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

In 2011, he competed in the state’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Besting thousands, he made it to the regional finals. A few months later, however, he was arrested for breaking into cars in a movie theater parking lot. It was just the start. Over the next few years he had other misdemeanor scrapes with the law for theft and drugs.

Out of trouble since 2019, Shine said those days are behind him now. He draws lyrical and motivational inspiration from his time in trouble.

“A lot of people will judge you on your past,” he said. “But your history can make you a better person.”

Shine started his indie music career in 2015, releasing a trippy, spoken word piece on YouTube called “Pray for Me.”

Filmed entirely in Riverton Park, it starts with: “Never let your mistakes ruin your future but look toward the future with your mistakes to see what you have learned.”

After that first track, Shine released almost a dozen more over the next five years, racking up hundreds of thousands of views, and almost 10,000 followers, on YouTube.

But this month, he got even hotter.

Released on April 1, his latest track “Aspirations” snagged shoutouts on Instagram from established hip-hop stars Fat Joe, Jadakiss and Lil Reese.

Five days later, the song hit a million views. By this week, it totalled just under 1.5 million. The track’s lyrics continue with Shine’s positive themes of looking ahead and striving for a better future.

“When you’re down feeling low, I just want you to know that most people’s lives aren’t as great as they show,” he raps. “So, when you’re down feeling hopeless, know that nobody’s perfect.”

The “Aspirations” video was filmed last November in New York. Shine sank thousands of dollars of his own money into the project, hiring a professional director while renting a fleet of high-end cars, including a white Rolls Royce.

Childhood friend and fellow hip-hop musician Tanade Muse isn’t surprised by Shine’s success.

Somali-American rapper and poet Munye Mohamed (center) poses for a pictures with childhood friends Ayub Hersi (left) and Tanade Muse in Portland on Tuesday. Mohamed’s latest YouTube video has gotten over a million views since the start of the month. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“He’s always been a hardworking poet. It was just a matter of time before he blew up,” said Muse, better known as Fetty 2-Times.

Fetty said he loves seeing someone from Riverton Park get a taste of success. It gives him hope and suspects it does the same for others.

“We’re all just neighborhood cats,” he said. “He works so hard — this is just the beginning. He’s going to make it out of the hood.”

Portland folk singer Jenny Van West first met Shine at an open mic she hosted a few years back at Mayo Street Arts. Van West became a fan right away, even before he was making slick music videos.

“He can make great recordings and videos, of course,” she said, “but it’s his words that get straight into my heart.”

Despite his rocketing success online, Shine said he’s keeping his day job in a laboratory, for now, and concentrating on getting his first full-length album out by fall. In the future, he hopes to keep doing his kids, and his neighborhood, proud.

“I want people, especially my community, to know anything is possible — anything you put your mind to,” Shine said. “Never let anyone tell you who you can, or can’t, be.”

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.