Atlanta rapper Phay, sets out to kill Islamophobia using honest storytelling through Hip Hop
Debates about what Hip Hop is missing from its newcomers are more frequent now than they’ve ever been. With the trippy synths and A-B rhyme of TRAP increasing in popularity, Hip Hop’s current climate is arguably that of one long song; lacking the originality of its founding fathers yet more fostering of the eclectic sounds of its many new contributors. It’s easier to find ten songs that sound similar than it is to find a completely unique sound. That is until now. Cue Faris Mousa, commonly known under his rap moniker- Phay.
Introspective, timely and authentic, Phay’s claim to fame is built on honesty. Born to two Palestinian refugees who migrated to America to escape the poverty stricken country of Jordan, the 26-year-old ATL transplant is a first generation Arab-American; riddled with the pressures of making his hard working parents proud.
Many parents would be proud. Graduating valedictorian from Georgia State University, with a dual degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice, Phay breezed through school under the pretense that he’d be a lawyer- simply to make his parents happy. His heart however belongs to music, and while standing in front of fifty thousand people in the Georgia Dome, credited as the smartest person in your graduating class would have been a life altering accomplishment to many, Phay had bigger dreams.
“I told my parents I’m gonna do these two majors so I could be a lawyer but that was a long shot- I was definitely bull shitting. But they sent me a note two weeks before graduation saying “you have the highest GPA in the whole school”. And I don’t “look” like a valedictorian so the graduation director is like “do you know what this means?” And I’m like “I Guess” I just didn’t give a fuck. I really wanna win a Grammy. That’s when I’ll start bragging about shit. ”
Not looking the part is a theme in Phay’s narrative, as center stage in front of his graduating class isn’t the only place the rapper could be deemed unfit. Amongst a tumultuous political climate in which Immigration and race relations are heavily centered debates, Phay’s point of view is more important now than it could ever be.
“I grow a beard everybody got a problem with it, white boy grow a beard and he a model with it.” –
A racial anomaly in the sphere of Hip Hop, his lyricism and purpose far surpass the unwarranted stereotypes against Arab Americans. When you press play on his music you don’t care that he doesn’t fit the traditional idea of what a rapper “should” look like. Instead you’re entranced by his clever use of pun and frenetic cadence. Fully aware of his skill, Phay doesn’t want to be known as “the Arab rapper” yet acknowledges the reality that he’s an atypical representation of rap.
“You just have to understand your place as a visitor [in Hip Hop]. Eminem did a great job at that. Mac Miller does a great job. As a visitor in Hip Hop especially as a white person in Hip Hop, you need to understand your privilege. Like Lil Dicky…I don’t think he understands his privilege as a white man.”
“I wear my hat for a reason. I have flowing hair and I don’t want to be like one of those..“he’s a rapper and he’s not even Black.” That shit pisses me off. You have to understand as a visitor in Hip Hop.. it was founded upon the the plight and struggle of African Americans. So I hate being like a gimmick. I look racially ambiguous with my hat on (I’m of African descent; I’m Afro-Arabian)..so I wear it because I don’t want an edge over anybody based off of physical appearance. I want it off of merit and skill and quality of music.”
That won’t be a problem. Spewing tales of progression and triumph over multifaceted instrumentals with just enough Southern flair, Phay has carved out a space in Hip Hop that’s just his own, maintaining positive messages amongst lines of uptempo rhyme and an unwavering thirst for success.
The song that made me a fan was his September 11th release “US”, an ode to his father, that overtly discussed his family’s transition to the Unites States. The song touched tens of thousands of listeners, many whom related to his first had account of being first generation American. Having only returned to music one year ago, Phay had no expectations of the song receiving the level of notoriety that it did.
“It’s usually the records that you work so hard on that get the least amount of shine. So at this point I’m just making records and not having any expectations. I just want the right people to hear them. People like me who grew up first generation to hear ‘em and just Americans in general to just understand how privileged we are. Shit’s f*cked up..there’s sexism and racism don’t get me wrong but there’s a reason immigrants come here. There’s still more opportunity here than there is in a third world country. I wrote about my dad..it was very patriotic. I wanted to be careful with how I came across.”
“Whenever DJ Booth got a hold of it and wrote about it, it was so emotional for me. Like my grandpa doesn’t know the 1st thing about Hip Hop (God rest his soul he passed a few years ago) and he was living through that image, and he’s living on my favorite blog through their journalism. People were hitting me up like I’m Native American and it touched me this way.. and I’m from East Africa and it touched me that way.. It was just so amazing that the song did exactly what I wanted it to. I wanted a sense of belonging a sense of unity without sounding too preachy.”
“US” is just a taste of what we can expect to hear on MAMA; Phay’s highly anticipated upcoming album slated for release on Christmas day. MAMA can be defined as a perfectly curated catalogue of hope; for those that are searching for a sense of belonging beyond traditional ideas of work and race. MAMA highlights an admirable versatility from the emcee, using a variety of sounds from organ accompanied gospel to sassy synths.
Boasting features from Young Dro, Fat Trel & Kelechi, MAMA will be distributed under the legendary imprint of Ghazi Shami- Empire Distribution.
“Two days before I was supposed to release MAMA, I got a call from Empire Distribution and they want to digitally distribute the album.”
“I’m excited about people hearing a story that as a 1st generation is my story, your story millions of other Americans stories. I’m excited for people finding hope in my music. I want people to listen to my shit and be like “I don’t wanna be this banker, I don’t wanna be this chemist. I wanna paint, I wanna write books.” I think we’re very underrepresented (as 1st generation) in the arts. The only reason I came back is because I felt this burden of being a pioneer. A lot of my brand is bigger than me. My whole brand is based off of my mama.. and everybody else’s mama. That’s where we get our culture from..our moms that migrated to this country. I want people to hear “US” and feel like you felt. I wanna try and stop Islamophobia. I want people to see me and be like “Oh that’s Phay. He’s an Arab-Muslim but he’s not scary. He seems happy he makes music that’s happy.” I wanna change the status quo.
A catalyst for the resurgence of first generation Americans is needed, and Phay may be the change we’ve been waiting for. With all eyes on him, he blurs the lines of color, race and creed; and gives us the one thing that unites us all…beautiful music.
PHAY:“Only in America can an Arab kid lead a 30 piece Baptist choir in his house. Only in America”