It’s not often you see an artist rapping while holding an acoustic guitar. But at the same time, we do seem to be categorizing more and more local musicians as hybridists of style these days; as even beyond categorizing. But we think there are few in the game right now doing the amalgamation of genres more gracefully than singer/guitarist/emcee Nadim Azzam. His particular achievement, as you’ll hear on his newest songs, is forging a singular voice within the web of the various vibes he can lay down within a single track. The ingredients of folk and hip-hop are mixed into the same stew, along with pop, funk, and indie rock. You might call it “fusion,” but the Ann Arbor-based Azzam sees it more simply…
“I think of myself first as a songwriter and lyricist, so everything musically is there to support the words,” said Azzam. “In my mind, writing the guitar part & making the beat are the same process, just using different tools.” In a way, he’s like a folk singer/songwriter who happens to approach his arrangements like a hip-hop producer. The guitar, at that point, over the beat he’s conjured, becomes just another sample. Speaking of sampling, let’s stream a bit of Azzam’s recent EP, Here’s To Changes, Vol 1
Azzam will be performing at The Ark in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, November 26, part their Artist Spotlight Series, and doubling as a Thanksgiving Food Drive for Food Gatherers. This will be a free show, but attendees can enter by bringing non-perishable and canned food items for donations (or, in place of that, consider cash donations for the Ann Arbor based volunteer nonprofit organization.
Azzam has been on the local music scene since his college days, but started making music long before that. At 23, he can already look back on some notable achievements, such as a slot as an opener on tour with Matisyahu, along with several high profile regional appearances, like at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. At the moment, with a band of close knit collaborators, he’s working on his next release, which will be out in 2020.
It’s easy for us to get fixated on the commingling of genres that you specialize in now, but who’s been a consistent source of inspiration for you? And what have you been listening to as you work on the new album?
Nadim Azzam: Kendrick Lamar, Daniel Caesar, Mac Miller, XXXTentacion, Saba. I’m really into the whole contemporary R&B chill electronic/Hip-Hop production. FKJ & Rex Orange County are also huge inspirations for me – in terms of connecting modern production with live instrumentation & jazz chords. While working on this album I’ve been listening to a lot of John Coltrane, Isaiah Rashad, Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi. Those artists capture the essence of coupling main-stream and approachable easy-listening with thought-provoking and therapeutic lyrics. That’s my goal.
What distinguishes the upcoming album from Changes V. 1, and what you’re looking forward to in 2020?
Nadim Azzam: This is the first time I really feel like the music I’m creating represents me accurately. It combines the guitar-based songwriting I’ve built my previous projects on with live instrumentation and Hip-Hop production. It’s a really fun blend of styles. I’ve always felt my previous recordings could only capture one element or genre of what I’m into, and this finally feels like something I can point to and say “This is what I do, this is who I am.”
How would you describe it? Or what makes it stand out for you?
Nadim Azzam: Modern production, Lo-Fi/Downtempo Electronic/R&B/Neo-Soul/Hip-Hop vibes. I’m really proud of the lyrical content on this project too. There’s an idea from the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma that everything in life is a mirror to point you back to yourself, as a means of knowing yourself on a deeper level. I want my music to do that for anyone who’s looking for it. For those that just want fun sonically pleasing music, there’s that element to it as well. But for me personally, it’s always been deeper than that. Another huge difference for me is that I feel like I’ve finally learned how to use my voice. I discovered that I was pushing with my voice to sound energetic and powerful, but the reality was that it sounded strained and as a result, less powerful. With this project, I’m singing and rapping in a lower range, utilizing more falsetto for the high singing parts, and overall relaxing the delivery with my voice.
This is also for a great cause. Can you talk about how, yes, you are a performing and recording artist, but you’ve also got your eyes and heart open to advocacy issues and social causes, and what this show, beyond the music, means to you?
Nadim Azzam: I’m grateful to be able to play instruments and write my own music, and I feel obligated to use whatever opportunities I have to improve the world that allowed me to exist and make mistakes and grow. There are a lot of people who have never had a fraction of the privileges I was born with, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that and give back to the society that birthed me. I didn’t build the roads or the schools or hospitals. I didn’t write the books & lectures that shaped my mind. I didn’t build the Internet that allows me to learn about virtually anything at any time, and I certainly didn’t create the primarily Black American art forms that allow me to express my emotions and life experience. I had no influence on being born white-passing in America, in a stable home, with parents that loved me, financially taken care of, in a place where I don’t have to worry about bombs dropping on me everyday. In the short-term, it’s about contributing NOW – not in some imagined future I may or may not get to.
The Ark’s Artist Showcase
Tues., Nov 26 – A Thanksgiving Donation Drive for Food Gatherers
FREE with donations of non-perishable food items and canned food (or with cash donation)
316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor | 734-761-1800