January issue 2012
Interview: Adil Omar
“Take the risk of thinking for yourself and much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come your way.” A quote by Christopher Hitchens posted by Adil Omar on his Facebook page proves that he is a thinking individual. The 20-year-old rapper/singer/songwriter’s lyrics confirm his abrasive intensity: his rap singles — more than a dozen now — are either deeply personal or irreverently political. Adil Omar emcees in a black shalwar kameez with L.A.-based rapper Xzibit in his latest single ‘Off the Handle,’ which was released in May 2011. His talent is pretty evident and the collaboration world-class. In ‘L.A.: Islamabad,’ they belt out with audacious hip-hop decadence.
Newsline spoke to Adil Omar just a day after he had returned from Dubai to Islamabad, after completing the final stages of recording his debut album The Mushroom Cloud Effect, to be released sometime in 2012.
What was your first experience of music that inspired you to become a rapper?
I don’t really know. I just remember listening to a lot of the Wu-Tang Clan, Everlast, Tupac and Dr Dre as a kid and feeling that it was something I wanted to be a part of, so I eventually started writing when I was about nine. Then, when I was 13, I started playing around with Adobe Audition after installing it, trying to figure out whether I had the talent to do something beyond just writing. At first I didn’t, obviously, but I stayed hungry and worked at it.
What are the themes and subject matter of your rhymes?
I can’t answer that either. Whatever goes on in my head and whatever I’m in the mood for; it could be dark, personal feelings or just plain old fun and entertainment. I don’t typecast myself or milk anything specific; I just do what I feel like doing. If I feel like writing a song about riding a unicorn I’d do that, same goes for if I feel like writing something that would be therapeutic for me as well as get an emotional reaction.
What kind of culture do you foster in your music?
None, really. I’ll obviously make culture references here and there to Pakistan because I’ve grown up here and I live here but, like I said, I wouldn’t turn it into a gimmick. The only agenda I have and the only ideology I preach is the good universal message of individuality. Be yourself, be unique, embrace who you are, take the risk of being yourself and thinking for yourself. Wow, I sound more like a punk rocker now. I do have a lot of punk influence in my ideas though, I won’t deny that.
How did you hook up with your fellow collaborators, Xzibit and Block McCloud?
The Xzibit collaboration happened through Fredwreck Nassar (the producer for myself, Xzibit, Snoop, Britney and Justin Bieber), who I met through B-Real of Cypress Hill back in 2008. When I confirmed Fredwreck as the producer for the first single of my album and we were discussing the track, the idea of Xzibit came up and he was then introduced to my work. I liked his music and it felt like the right thing to do. It wasn’t like me branching out to a total stranger. We have a lot of the same friends, are part of the same network and there’s mutual respect for each other’s work as it’s the same edgy hardcore rap music. As far as Block McCloud goes, we both did a feature on SickSteen’s single ‘First Strike’ for his album Apocalypse. Apart from that we haven’t interacted too much but he seems like a nice guy and I’m definitely a fan of his work. Other prominent collaborators on my album are B-Real of Cypress Hill, DJ Lethal of Limp Bizkit, Everlast and Kool G Rap. B-Real’s been a good friend and a big support to my career for years now. Everlast has also been a huge influence and a support; we did a song for the album called ‘Hand Over Your Guns.’ DJ Lethal has been one of my favorite producers for a long time and we did a few songs for my album and one for his. Kool G Rap is one of my favourite rappers of all time and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I mean, he influenced everyone from Tupac to Eminem. I reached out to him about a collaboration called ‘Summertime’ which has a pretty interesting topic, not what you would think by looking at the title. All these guys have been a huge help in not only helping me out on my project, but also letting me have some shine on theirs, as well as showing love and support.
Where did you film ‘Paki Rambo’ and who are the kids featured in the video? Do you think irreverence is a suitable reaction to violence in society?
‘Paki Rambo’ was filmed in Islamabad, at friends’ houses, the Jinnah Super market and what-not. The kid in the video was Hasan Bruun Akhtar, the little brother of Aisha Linnea Akhtar who co-directed the video with Shahbaz Shigri. Hasan also plays one of the lead characters in Gol Chakkar, the upcoming feature film for which ‘Paki Rambo’ is the soundtrack. It’s funny, everybody in Pakistan seemed to have an issue with the language and borderline sexual content in the video, but hardly anybody complained about the violence, despite a scene showing Hasan Bruun, who is only 13, in a bloody fight scene. Goes to show what our priorities are.
‘Daddy’s Eyes’ is touching. Does music help to deal with tragedy?
In terms of writing, of course, it’s a release. Releasing a song that personal can make you feel a bit exposed though, but as long as it helps your audience cope with whatever they might be feeling, then it’s worth it and you’ve served your purpose as an artist.
Something you’d like to say about the upcoming The Mushroom Cloud Effect?
Nobody is doing what I’m doing. I’m not saying that in a cocky sense and I’m not saying I’m better than anybody, but even in the future, people will always remember that The Mushroom Cloud Effect was unlike anything else of its time.
Have people in Pakistan objected to some of the language in your music?
All the time, but I don’t cater to them nor am I apologetic for anything. If you can look past the language and see the context, then you have a brain and I’ll consider your opinion. If you can’t, then you’re stupid and I don’t cater to you. You’re not in my target audience and it’s no loss to me. I don’t believe words are bad, I believe the context can be good or bad, but words themselves are harmless.
Your songs feature Islamabad constantly; do you like it that way?
Islamabad is where I’ve grown up and lived my entire life so far, so definitely.
How many tattoos do you sport?
At the moment I just have one tattoo by Mister Cartoon but I should be seeing him again for more. I plan on getting a few in the near future, why not.
What are your plans for 2012?
I’m negotiating with promoters for a Mushroom Cloud Effect tour; should be pretty epic!
This interview was originally published in the Annual 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “The Dreamer, the Believer.”
Other “Rising Stars” profiled in the Annual 2012:
The writer is a former assistant editor at Newsline