By Sonya Rehman
For mainstream hip-hop fans used to hearing lyrics about East-West rivalries and other American concerns, Adil Omar rhymes in unfamiliar territory.
The Islamabad, Pakistan, native gives a shout-out to cricketer Shahid Afridi and riffs on his country’s traffic jams and weather (“You wonder why I’m cocky, ‘cos I stay burning hotter than a summer in Karachi”). His lyrics are punctuated by shouts of “Islamabad, get up! L.A., get up!” He also plays up his outsider status (“I’m a foreign damnation at your borderline waitin’,” from “Paki Rambo”), while mocking the globalization that facilitated his rise (his song “Ten Thousand” ends with a skinny vanilla latte order).
The 21-year-old got his big break in 2008, when Cypress Hill rapper B-Real came across his music online and invited him to Los Angeles to collaborate on his album “The Harvest.” Two years later, Mr. Omar released a track online, “Incredible,” and followed it with another single, “Off the Handle,” featuring L.A. rapper Xzibit and produced by Fredwreck, who is known for his work with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
Mr. Omar is now working on “The Mushroom Cloud Effect,” an album slated for release this year that will feature Westerners such as Xzibit, Everlast and B-Real as well as Pakistani singer-actress Meesha Shafi.
He spoke with the Journal about Pakistan’s hip-hop scene, working with Xzibit and what he listens to in his down time.
How did you get started in hip-hop?
I’ve been writing since I was nine and recording since I was 13. I don’t remember how I started exactly, but it’s always something I wanted to do and be a part of. I grew up listening to everything, but hip-hop is what spoke to me most and what I enjoyed writing most.
Who are your musical influences?
Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails, Everlast, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, House of Pain, Cypress Hill, Kool G Rap, Big Pun, Tupac, Eminem, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, Dr. Dre, the Beatles, N.W.A., the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Wu-Tang Clan, Motorhead, Gang Starr, Nas, Rakim, Ice Cube.
Why do you rap in English rather than Urdu?
I grew up with English as my first language. I was educated in British and American schools and born to a mother who grew up in the U.K. and only spoke English with me. I’m pretty whitewashed. I do love my culture, but me rapping in Urdu would sound forced. I’d rather leave that to good Urdu and Punjabi MCs. I also work in English because I write in English and I’d rather reach a wider audience than limit myself just to Pakistan and India.
What’s the hip-hop scene like in Pakistan?
It still hasn’t really developed. There’s some promise, but a lot of garbage too. I don’t say this with some sort of elitist attitude. It’s cool that kids have dreams, but if you’re in it for the glory and not putting in the hard work and sacrifice, then step out. If you can’t be yourself, then step out.
How did your collaboration with B-Real come together?
[We] either chatted online, or he discovered me through MySpace four years ago, I don’t really remember. He told me he was working on a mix tape that was almost complete, and that if I came out on a specific date I could be on it. Of course I didn’t hesitate, so I stayed in touch and went out to L.A. myself to record the track [“Takeover”] for him.
I don’t like the song we did. I sound really nervous and hadn’t really tapped into my own identity yet, but it opened a lot of doors for me. B-Real introduced me to a lot of people who ended up helping me over the years in terms of putting me on projects, promoting me online. B-Real and I have maintained a friendship over the years and done other songs together as well, one of which will be on “The Mushroom Cloud Effect.”
During the early stages of my album, I already had plans for Fredwreck to produce the first single with a video shot by Matt Alonzo. I initially met Fredwreck through B-Real back in 2008 and stayed in contact with him over the years. He also gave me a lot of friendly advice, and we’d hang out whenever we’d overlap in Dubai. When we started discussing the single and brainstorming, the idea of getting Xzibit on it to generate some buzz came up. Fredwreck and Xzibit have been close friends and have been working together for over a decade, so he connected us, we booked a studio session in L.A., and it evolved from there.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up “The Mushroom Cloud Effect” and “Star Power,” another single and video I’m in the middle of shooting. After the album’s done I’ll go on tour and start focusing on two projects I’m releasing in 2013: a collaboration album also titled “50 Feet Tall” with fellow rapper Hard Target, now managed by Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, as well as a project with Greydon Square titled “Serpents of Eden.”
Who do you listen to today?
When I’m not working on or listening to my own stuff, I listen to a lot of the music I enjoyed growing up: Nine Inch Nails, Everlast, Johnny Cash.
The Wall Street Journal – Scene Asia