Samir Nomani: On the Transcendency of Hip-Hop

Samir’s love for Hip-Hop music started at a young age.  Now, as Board Vice President of Music In Common, he works to empower communities through the power of music.

My love for hip-hop started in elementary school. I was visiting my next door neighbor and heard music with a kind of style I’ve never heard before. It was my friend’s older brother listening to Eminem’s “Without Me.” Since then, I was sucked into every different realm of hip-hop you can imagine.  I voraciously consumed as much music as I could, spending a great deal of time listening to Linkin Park, Eminem, 50 Cent, Game, DMX, Xzibit, Obie Trice, and many more. My clothes and swagger changed, too. I saw Eminem gesturing like a true rockstar in his “Sing for the Moment” music video, and so I started to wear doo rags to school, Nike sweatbands, and silky jumpsuits like my idols. Oh, and I knew I was really cool in my beloved black-leather zip-up Iverson’s. I remember listening to 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Trying” and the “8 Mile” soundtrack religiously, and I also can’t forget the look on my mom’s face as I listened to the explicit versions I convinced her to get for me. My first live concert ever was 50 Cent at the Coliseum in Morgantown, WVa., where Pusha T and No Malice were opening under their retired group, “Clipse.” My mom’s face wasn’t too relaxed then, too, especially when 50 Cent asked us to put our middle fingers up (and I did). 

With my overflowing love for hip-hop music, I thought I’d also take a go at the craft. I used to battle kids at recess in the 5th grade, but I quickly realized that it was hard for me to make fun of people, so I kept to freestyle ciphers instead of battle rapping. Since 5th grade, I’ve been wholly immersed in songwriting, free-styling, recording, and studying the greats. At the end of 5th grade, I moved to Massachusetts and it was there that I started learning towards more underground, lyric based hip-hop as opposed to more melodic and rhythmic hip-hop. I would listen to the likes of Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, Mos Def, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Wu Tang, and many more. Underground hip-hop, what I call hip-hop of the Titans, helped me to begin to start questioning the nature of my reality. 

Hip-hop and its street poetry stimulated in me the realization that what was absolute in my psyche was not absolute, that there is another side of the soul, something more timeless, something more ethereal, and that music could take you there as an “aeronaut of the spirit.” The artistic imagery and lyrical suggestiveness of hip-hop flooded my young, malleable mind with new concepts, suggesting a way of seeing the world beyond normal limits. Listening to and absorbing themes on existentialism, spirituality, politics, religion and more allowed me to learn outside of the classroom–not as a collection of mere facts, but as a Platonic revolution of the spirit. It’s like the Mark Twain line, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” 

I ended up graduating high school in Massachusetts and attended the College of the Holy Cross there, where I studied philosophy. My philosophy professor once told me that “philosophy often expresses itself best in art,” and that line has stuck with me since. In college, I still wrote very frequently and recorded when I could get the chance, but I still felt as if I had no real musical community. While in college, I joined Music In Common, a local, national, and international non-profit that empowers youths and communities against hate through dialogue and creative collaboration. I thought, “if only I had something like this,” and devoted myself to supporting a cause that would have surely changed my life. 

Presently, I am Board Vice President of Music In Common, and have been with the organization for almost four years. The founding of Music In Common was inspired by the life of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in Pakistan investigating the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid. Todd Mack, founder and executive director of MIC, was Danny’s dear friend and bandmate, and carries on Danny’s legacy of empowerment, compassion, and commitment to change through MIC and its programs. This year, we held a JAMMS (which stands for Journalism as Music, Multimedia and Songwriting) at the original site of the ‘69 Woodstock music festival in Bethel, NY. Seeing those cathartic moments, seeing the poetic creation of something that didn’t exist before, made me smile and think, “These could be the next young people to do what Woodstock did.” 

I knew I had an overflowing devotion to philosophy, and music as well, but I wasn’t sure how to integrate my two “yogas,” my two ways of realization. And then I found out that my hometown university, West Virginia University, had a new Music Industry program (Music Business). I enrolled right away, remembering what my professor told me on how “philosophy often expresses itself best in art.” I mean really, how many people will sit down and finish Plato’s Republic the same way they might finish The Matrix? Or V for Vendetta? Or Cruel Summer? There is a special beauty in the truths of poet-philosophers, unmatched by classical, analytical pursuits of truth. 

As a part of my education in the music business, I also was a member of Mon Hills Records, West Virginia’s own student run record label. I spent time as the associate manager of the legal and accounting department, as a social media assistant, and A&R manager. I’ve also worked part time as a marketing and research associate for Frisby & Associates, a public relations firm. Through my three years with Music In Common and my experience in public relations, I’ve gained unique insight into servicing communities and developing social entrepreneurship. I’ve also seen the nexus of music and philosophy in my one and a half years of experience as a mental health specialist, where I would often mix philosophy and music into the day as a way for patients to re-situate their psyches and come to lasting insights. 

Recently graduating from West Virginia University, I plan to manifest what I’ve always wanted to do, and that is to raise the independent, chaos inducing Titans of the hip-hop industry to the same level as the ruling Olympians of the majors. I’m not looking for a musical war per se, but for the birthing of a new world in hip-hop that would evolve from their synergy. It’s my vision to market, publicize, and promote musicians with artistic depth and brilliance in ways that will help them push through whatever gatekeepers the digital realm still has.

I want there to be a rupture in hip-hop, where repressed, archaic hip-hop energy floods the streets and awakens the community to their invisible bars. It’s not impossible. The world needs it. If they didn’t, you’d never have heard of Wu Tang or Mos Def, Kanye or Kendrick. Hip-hop heads and fans who say they are “down with the culture” need to perhaps question what the culture really is, who that culture is really serving and to whose expense. If the mythos of our culture is represented by otherwise good artists, who are slyly commanded by music executive-magicians, we will be lulled to sleep under their spell, “music because of business, not business because of music.” And when our children can finally stand, they will fall asleep, dancing offbeat to the primal rhythms of life. 

“Raise our sons, train them in the faith Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake Follow Jesus, listen and obey No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.” 

– Kanye West, Closed On Sunday, Jesus Is King 

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