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Interviews

Bespoke to the floor, glamour allure.
Crossing my T's and I'm packing my O's
I hate to impose; I’m minding my own...

Those are a few lines from the viral rap Animal and it talks a bit about the rapper himself. A desi kid that got into Harvard with a full scholarship and is pursuing music - that’s his story in short. Did we forget to mention he is a doctor?

We had an interesting conversation with none other than Naman and he told us a lot about his upbringing and the kind of music he creates. Here is an excerpt of the interview in which he talked about that kind of grit, resilience and attitudes the Indian diaspora needs to have and pursue.

Miraal: So, tell us about yourself.

Naman: This will be the beginning to a face of me that I've always imagined more than I've been able to execute. So far, I've basically been in school. And I've been trying to make the case for myself as a musical artist because I come from an environment where the traditional professional route is valued and prized. And in the past few years, that's culminated into going at music aggressively and in an organized way. I've been able to meet Armand, and he's taken care of distribution and some of the other things about music that don't have to do with the music itself. The other half of my music is my producer, Kahani. And as a team, we're finally debuting and hoping to put out a really fantastic product for people to experience and feel.

Miraal: So tell us a little bit more about your background. You've been in school, what have you been studying? How did your entire journey into music get started?

Naman: So when I began studying, I studied biology. And I also studied South Asian Studies and it was a foray into a world of conversations, and also academization of things that I wasn't exposed to before. The first time that I caught wind of partition and at that time, thought of it as an explanation for a lot of the things that we see now, but then realized, that was only really the start of something far deeper and messier. It makes you realize just how difficult it might be to deal with some of the issues facing India, especially things like the Islamophobia that we're seeing there. So I'm studying biology and I apply to medical school and get into medical school. But simultaneously I'm in the Cambridge area, and I'm performing at open mics and doing poetry. That allowed me to meet people in the audience who are also brown, my age and exploring similar ideas. And they're attending Harvard. So I apply there. And I manage to get in with a full scholarship. And the that's significant because at that point, I'm able to say to my parents...

Miraal: I can do whatever the hell I can.

Naman: Yeah. And it’s not just Harvard. It's the fact that it's being paid for. They could have said no, but in this case, there's no way that you can necessarily say no. So I was able to do that. And that gave me the freedom to creatively explore the academia. If you're going to medical school or a technical route, your curriculum is made for you and you are going to be dealing with prescribed texts and curriculum.

On the other hand, you have more creative authority in choosing what you want to and being exposed to and to do the things that you want to. In addition to that, I'm building a robust relationship with Kahani, my producer and exploring the kind of sounds that we want to make. I'm satisfying the criteria for further education, but also developing myself as an artist. And I feel free to talk about it in this interview in particular, because we're in talking about the desi experience.

Miraal: Absolutely. And you don't have to worry about it. Parents, especially desi parents are always worried about the education aspect kids.

Naman: Exactly. And so there's no way to quell their qualms over something like that. There’s something that is very comforting and also patronizing about the sort of posture they take. They were a Diaspora; you came from a different country, you knew nothing about this one, perhaps you had some family links, and they gave you support. But overall, you really knew nothing, and you figured it out and found a way. So if you could do it, why are you now suddenly, so caught up in making sure that we have a secure way out for a good life?

I mean the good life is already here. And as far as we're in a place, where in contrast to the place that you left, because you were worried because of the Imperial relationships and the legacy of colonialism what that did in terms of opportunity, but we have it here. So if you could do it, I think you should share that kind of grit and resilience and attitudes you developed and practiced with us. And we can take it further. So my goal isn't to just have a family and a job.

Miraal: It’s a recurring theme. We've been talking to other desi people your age, and there's a bunch of kids out of Chicago, and they are standup comedians and artists and singers and performers and actors, facing the same issue. And they got together and produced the series called Code Switched. Why can’t we have the same experiences? We need to have our own set of experiences as well, being brown.

How did rap get started? Your genre is very specific. I went through your feed, and I don't see you do anything else except rap. How do you specialize in this? And of course, you write your own music, right? What is your reference team? Is there a back story to it? And how do we come into this genre?

Naman: I think the specificity of rap has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, the last stop on New York's transit train system. That's important because cities aren't confined necessarily just to their geographic location. When we look at transportation, it extends like a capillary network of sorts. That gave me, my brother and everybody else their exposure to the hip hop culture that was being generated in that crucible.

This was the time of Jay Z, 50 cent, Cassidy; this is what we're listening to and this is what we're trying to emulate. That’s the kind of the vibe that we're engulfed in. And part of that also has to do with the fact that I'm in a school where a great deal of students are white and the rest are colored folks. There are not many Indian kids. It's not like there's some overwhelming Indian diaspora culture that we're practicing. We're not speaking like Hindi or Guajarati, or anything like that. After school, I'm free styling with my friends. We're speaking a type of New York English, that's heavily black influenced. That’s the kind of style that I have been exposed to and practiced. Where I see myself the most is my elder brother. He downloads music off the internet and has a shared folder between us.

On one hand, there's Bollywood movies that we're renting from the Krishna store, down the street; the cassettes, watching those CDs, and VCDs of the music and listening to those. And then as far as music that we have control over, that we can play in the house, my brother is supplying that in the shared folder. That's where I go to tap into to feel really cool, because he's obviously older than I am and I look up to him. So this is coloring my imagination. And then when Jay Z does his duet with Punjabi MC, that's one of the greatest moments. And we have a senior team group, junior team group. Basically different performance groups for different age brackets.

Every year, there's two or three performance events where we're dancing and the year that song came out, everybody was dancing to that song. And Discman started getting popular when I was in high school, and I had a Sony CD player, listening to hip hop in the bus. Basically in my downtime, this is what I'm doing. And it's different from the music experience of today, because it's abundant and you take it for granted. But when I got that CD player and I had my headphones and I could burn a CD from my computer and choose what songs I want on that CD, it's a big deal. So you're selective about it and you also form friendships based on music that you guys find in common and then you're sharing music physically because you have to. So it's really a music heavy culture that I'm embedded in and that's why rap specifically is so important to me.

And I know the rap that I'm doing and that I will continue to get better at but it's also so cool that with rap we see that it's queered. We're still in like this gangster rap phase where we're all still wearing baggy jeans and baggy shirts and stuff. And then Kanye West comes out and he's wearing pink Polo and a backpack and you see that all of our clothing trends also follow along with that. He normalized a melody and a soul in hip hop, not that it was lacking before but even more so. And then you see Drake come and queer it further and now even Kodak brought back the Koonings. Rap is rap, but it also expands and grows so quickly. There's so much room for innovation and it's accommodating to different ideas that I never feel that I'm pigeon holed to just strap. And that's what's so exciting about it.

Miraal: Tell us more about your single. Is it Animal?

Naman: Animal was the single released last year. It was first single by me on Spotify. It’s supposed to have this in your face feel high energy.

Miraal: Oh, I loved it. I heard it and I loved it.

Naman: Thank you. So that was the first single and now we've released two singles from the project that's coming on the 12th. Wholesome, which has more of a groove, and Type O, which is just a hip hop song in my style. It's giving them a glimpse of what I'm trying to do. And then on the 12th what we have is the body of work that was made over the course of six to seven months. It's called Bloom and Blister, because quarantine happens. I'm isolated and I'm dealing with questions about these past years. I've had people that are no longer in my life and thoughts about where I'm headed. And I'm trying to synthesize different voices of my own. There’s one song that's super revealing in the album: Indigo. And that song was recorded in an episode of me basically crying for maybe four to five hours. And whenever I had breaks, I would record.

Whenever you download a mix tape, you knew that you weren't getting an album. In the mix tape, you're really just seeing this artist as they are exploring crazy things. And because they're more comfortable with their idiosyncrasies in these spaces, you might have a stronger sense of attachment or a more intimate engagement with the artists. So Bloom and Blister feels like that for me, because I didn't sit there and go against any of my initial impulses. And this isn't to say that anything that I thought of, I put out there. But it is to say that when I have an idea or an urge for some kind of sound that I want to make or some story that I wanted to push, I didn't think about popularity or if it works well with what other artists are doing. And I think it's a good way to work with the conversations occurring around you and therefore be modern, contemporary and fresh. So Bloom and Blister behaves like a mix tape in terms of its diversity and where I'm taking you in the different flavors of it and all.

Miraal: It's all emotion and it's all you because it was you during that period of time.

Naman: Exactly. Not going anywhere besides my best friend and my brother's place to do the production. He really understands where I'm coming from and he understands my voice. Even when I've developed this much of the song, he's able to add on to it and take it to where I'm seeing it headed or he's seeing it headed. So it's a tailored boutique experience around me. And that's what I think makes it super amazing.

Miraal: We wish you all the best on that. So what's the future of Naman the artist?

Naman: I've graduated my masters. Now it's full dedication to music and in the future, touring, single releases, more collaborations, various creative endeavors beyond music and being prolific.

Miraal: And brown people are more willing to work with other brown people. We all got to help each other. We got to push our pride further. And a lot of us aren’t mainstream. It's only because we're pushing each other and driving each other that we are able to do this.

Naman: That goes back to one of the motivations for wanting to take this risk is that we're coming from a place where culturally there are networks of someone else that helps you live and breathe. But for us, we want to create this hybrid culture. What is the network that we're embedded in? Because the network is is huge. And without that these things you don't just become an artist. You're meshed in like an inter Citation Machine.

Miraal: You got to stick to your tribe, and you got to let your tribe take you there. And none of us will make it if our tribe doesn't take us. It's very important for us to help each other. All of us have to do it. And so far, it's only happened because all of us have done it this way. Now, look, this year was phenomenal. There are so many Indians in the Grammys list. That happened because we pushed each other.

Miraal: So what are your plans? You're going to start working or just focus on music?

Naman: I've been able to create a situation where I can focus on music. That's what I want and plan to do. I know the ways that I want to innovate in music itself but then also, these new frontiers that you have to inhabit to make yourself relevant, is another side of it. That takes a great deal of time and thinking and I want to be able to do that. So for at least the next two years, it’ll just be that alone and I won't be occupying myself with anything else.

Miraal: Thank you Naman, for being on our show. It was lovely talking with you. And we wish you all the best for the album that's coming out now. And we hope to have you back on our show soon.

Naman: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure and delight to speak with you. I love Liveplex and everything you guys are doing, and I hope to be back soon.

The interview with Naman and many other desi celebrities are completely available on our website desis.live. More importantly, we are on Instagram too with all new content and the latest gossip from Bollywood. To be up to date on what we everyone are up to in tinsel town, don’t forget to follow us on insta. Our id is desilivegram. Catch up soon!

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