By Farrah Hamid
July 21st, 2009
To many in Iran looking for hope at a difficult and tumultuous time, hip-hopper YAS has been one of the most distinct voices of leadership and inspiration for the country’s youth. On the global music stage, YAS is becoming a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop, as the world’s first legitimate Iranian rapper. In this Profile interview with elan, YAS discusses the motivations and challenges that drive him and his unique style (he raps only in Persian), and his view on the perceptions of young Muslims around the globe today.
Q. What made you want to become a rapper?
My father would bring me CD’s from his travels and among them was TUPAC. I loved the energy, the beats and the sound of his music. I became interested in what Tupac had to say, because he sang with such strong emotions. There was so much on my mind growing up because I too had a real hard life. I thought, “Why not do this in Persian?” I chose rap because it called out to me the most, and because I thought it was the best way to tell a full story in one song. That was my main interest—to tell a story with a message.
Q. What have been the biggest challenges in your career so far?
At first, the biggest challenge was for people to take me and rap music seriously, and accept it as one of the main genres of music in Iran. Thankfully, that has happened. Of course, it was always important for me to get my music heard by everyone and not just be an underground musician. I tried very hard to get permission to release my music, and finally I was able to release a few of my rap songs, a first for Iran. But sometimes it takes months or over a year to get permissions, so the song and the message often become dated. This is why many artists choose to remain underground.
Another challenge is the state of the music industry. After working so hard and spending your own money, financially it never pays off. We realize this, so we do it just for the love of the music. But when you see how others have it all – the success of getting your music heard by everyone and the money—you think it would be nice to experience that one day.
Q. Your lyrics are inspiring and thought-provoking. What are the various forces that motivate you to write?
I walk the streets, look at people and pay attention to everyone around me. When I feel strongly about a subject, I write. I don’t write just for the sake of writing, it has to mean something to me, which is why I may not give a song out for a while until I am completely happy with it. I write day and night, everywhere I go I have pieces of paper or my book to make notes on.
Q. What project are you currently working on?
I have gone back and forth with the idea of releasing a full album. So far all my songs are singles, which I prefer because rap music usually involves a timely subject that has to get out immediately. By the time a full album is released, either each song doesn’t get the attention it needs or too much time has elapsed for that topic. I am in the process of recording and releasing a couple of songs soon. You’ll have to come back and visit me on my site to hear them.
Q. Who is your biggest inspiration, in music and in life?
My father, who passed away 8 years ago, and my family, who I have been taking care of ever since. The people in my life and my fans who write to me daily, all of whom I try to answer to my best capability. My music inspiration started with Tupac, but there are many more out there that inspire and energize me.
Q. What was your first job?
I would follow my dad around at a very young age and try and help him in whatever work he had at the time, mostly in sales. It seems like I have been working my whole life in some way or another. At 17, after my father’s death, I began to take care of my whole family – mother, brother, and triplet sisters.
Q. Complete this sentence: On weekend mornings, the first thing I do is ________?
Go to Beheshte Zahra (cemetery) to visit my father’s grave and sit and talk to him.
Q. Other than your own music, what is the soundtrack to your life?
Maybe “Pain” or “Life Goes on”
Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Muslim youth today?
In my travels, I think the image of Muslims is that they are not peaceful or that they are backwards, but this is not the truth. People should come to Iran and see our youth directly. Many may be surprised to see how similar we are to youth in other cultures. We are proud people with a proud identity and culture. More people have to see this modern generation firsthand, and judge for themselves. This is not about religion or politics – in the end we are all human beings.
Photo by Sara Rahbar