Evan Nabavian is the premier Farsi rap scholar.
The Iranian American community is usually a comic footnote, epitomized by our cameo in Clueless where Cher points us out to Tai and says, “That’s the Persian Mafia. You can’t hang with them unless you own a BMW.” I’m not going to lie; that’s the most succinct and accurate depiction of Persians anyone needs. The Shahnameh is mostly background noise.
But Omid Walizadeh of LA serves the Iranian diaspora well when he remixes decades of Persian music, which he has dutifully culled despite Islamist purges. He released Modern Persian Speech Sounds in 2013—a conflagration of LA beat scene sensibilities and Pahlavi-era Persian ardor—and he just released a sequel with his mix for Discostan Radio, a monthly Middle Eastern showcase on Dublab. Omid is no dilettante—his pedigree dates back to the heyday of underground LA hip-hop when he was a fixture at Project Blowed and The Good Life Cafe. His credits include Freestyle Fellowship, Busdriver, Aceyalone, and Murs.
Beat tapes that mine a far-flung country’s sounds have become their own subgenre, probably starting with Madlib’s Beat Konducta in India. Other memorable excursions are Oh No in Ethiopia, Alchemist in the Soviet Union, Alchemist in Israel, and Hubert Daviz in Romania (a personal favorite).Malik Abdul-Rahmaan of Paxico Records just did Malaysia. The producer who seeks out foreign wax and tapes can be the gormless tourist collecting Eastern curios, the prodigal son discovering his heritage, or just the relentless crate digger seeking untapped sounds.
Omid presents himself as the second, but he’s really all three. Omid’s mixes are special because he never lets homage get in the way of dope beats. My parents will disown me for saying it, but Persian folk music is less interesting than what Omid does with it. And Omid is incredible. His anachronistic drums and taut loops hit in unexpected ways, like he’s challenging himself to avoid anything that sounds obvious or plain, which is perhaps the ethos of the LA underground. He cuts apart the flowery, ornate melodies to disorienting effect. Sometimes, he just warps the source material, sounding more like King Tubby than Knxwledge or Kutmah.
My mom would not tolerate Modern Persian Speech Sounds because its opening track butchers Iranian classical music with jagged vocal samples and bludgeoning drums. But she was receptive to Omid’s new mix when I inflicted it on her in the car. The Discostan mix starts with a Farsi rendition of Brahms’ “Lullaby,” which threw her off, though she didn’t mind the hi-hats and claps Omid had added. She identified track two as Seventies pop star Googoosh—mom has a lot of opinions on Googoosh—and track three as bandari, music from Iran’s southern ports. She couldn’t identify anything else because we had arrived at our Iranian synagogue, where piety and waxed eyebrows go together like rice and ghormeh sabzi.