Narcy (aka The Narcicyst, aka Yassin Alsalman) has been writing, recording and producing music for 15 years. Born in Dubai to Iraqi parents, Narcy moved to Montreal at a young age and would go on to spend much of his life immigrating back and forth between Canada and the United Arab Emirates and Dubai before settling down in Montreal and hitting the studio to pursue a career in hip hop.
Since then, Narcy has released three full length albums, an EP and several singles. He’s also dipped his toes into both the acting and journalism worlds, and his upcoming album, World War Free Now is available for pre-order on iTunes (release date 5/26 via TuneCore). As a TuneCore Publishing Administration Artist, his song “Hamdullilah” was recently placed in the blockbuster feature film Furious 7. Narcy also used TuneCore’s preferred Instant Mastering technology, LANDR, to master World War Free Now! He was kind enough to discuss all of this with us in the interview below. To get more familiar with Narcy, stream his new track, “Free”, here.
Tell us a little bit about when you first knew you wanted to create music.
Narcy: I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact moment. But watching Michael Jackson in the late 80s and early 90s just kill it with the videos and songs. He had this delicate balance of a message with incredible harmonies. It was a universe on its own. That made me want to create.
Then the subversive nature of comic books and how that is connected to hip hop. Emcees like Doom and Yasiin Bey, Black Thought to Chuck D. The ability to invite you into an experience through words, moved me. It taught me to express myself freely.
I think I knew I wanted to make music when I heard Enter the 36 Chambers by Wu-Tang Clan. It made me feel unique having that with me in Abu Dhabi in ’96. It was a mind blowing album experience.
How have you used your personal experiences as an immigrant and the way people from the Arab community are viewed and treated to communicate a message in your lyrics? Do you consider yourself a ‘political’ artist?
I get asked this all the time. I think it’s important to acknowledge there is an imbalance in social power and positioning for the ‘immigrant’ or what public narrative addressed as a brown mass. I am not a political artist. Politics is made to divide people into groups. Music is made to tap into the emotional and spiritual essence of life; in its simplest and complex experiences.
To keep it simple; my social identity as an “arab-X” is politicized. There are so many presuppositions about where we are from, who we are, what our intentions are. Like we are one giant pulsating people. The diversity that we have in ALL communities, our differences are our only commonalities. I am not a political artist, I am a person that has been politicized publicly. It is bound to seep into my music. It’s a part of my life.
How important is the idea of the ‘independent spirit’ within the Arab hip hop community?
As someone who grew up between two sides of the world divided, I had to find a sense of independence. Everything from the brutal regimes at ‘home’ and the hidden hands from where I live, North America – made me want to disassociate. So when I started making music, I always wanted to be independent. The rise of Arab hip hop came with the digital era. It gave us access and the ability to connect and work. Independence went hand in hand with the internet and access. Therefore, Arab Hip-Hop is an independent movement, despite the commercial manipulation of the music through television in the East.
As an independent artist, how have your marketing strategies developed both in terms of career growth and changes within the industry? What platforms do you feel give artists like yourself the best opportunities?
I had to realize quick that I am battling a grander narrative and ‘image’ that I can’t counter by being myself. I saw a lot of things backstage, in offices, in meetings, that made me realize our experience is new; no one knows how to really ‘market’ our experience without corrupting it. The cultural currency of what we do has to be as much in our control as the financial currency it creates.
Being seen as an Arab artist helps with press, since our countries are always in the news. If you rap about it, they will cover it. If you don’t, they won’t. I had to find out who I was, who Yassin is, why do I make music, what do I want to share from my day to day with people. I made my brand about who I am and how it relates to you, being that we are one community of human beings.
Honesty was my first strategy, with myself and my audience. Then there are literal roll out strategies, with content and interactive art projects with listeners online. When I released Leap of Faith for example, we set up an open source blog and asked people to share their leaps in life. People told us about death, life, the highs and the lows – it was beautiful.
Find out who you are. Then use social media, Twitter, Instagram, to really share your life artistically. Set your boundaries and go.
Tell us a bit about your production process. How has LANDR impacted the way you approach finalizing your music?
LANDR has been great to find out what you want to do with your sounds. It gives you an immediate version of your song that you can design for a specific space. You want to go to a club and drop the new song you recorded? Hit the high mix and take it with you. I think it’s a technology that is going to grow and become more intuitive, the future is going to be a breeze for these kids!
Landing a placement in Furious 7 has to feel good! How has the success of this movie impacted your career and fan base?
I’m very aware of the hype so I stayed away from a lot of the press around the film when it dropped. When I finally found out, someone tweeted at me and said “Is this @TheNarcicyst in the #Furious7 soundtrack?’ I knew it was in. The connection with Abu Dhabi being where I grew up, and the film being a tribute to a friend of all involved, Paul Walker, it was a beautiful moment. “Hamdulillah” is my most personal song to date, before World War Free Now. It felt like the stamp to introduce the new album. The fan base grew and I had a tremendous amount of feedback online. All thanks to TuneCore!
What kind of role has TuneCore played your musical journey thus far?
I think I started using TuneCore when it first popped up. I didn’t want to use any CD duplication sites or websites that don’t aggregate your work. TuneCore was a game changer because you upload your work and there you are, everywhere. It’s a good way to get into the necessary channels, but its up to the artist to really push for people to know about the project.
It has brought me a steady stream of income that helped fund my music further and build my business. It helps an artist sustain their career, track their audience by country, age, etc. Then finally, I got the Furious 7 placement through TuneCore. That was a huge look that came from being in their roster of indies. They have a hands on, not a hands in, approach to artists.
Tell us more about your upcoming album. Both from a lyrical and production standpoint, what can longtime and new fans expect?
World War Free Now is a literal and philosophical Idea. I am saying to the public, NO MORE WAR. I am saying, we are currently fighting a societal war, internationally, for our ultimate freedom and equality. I believe this has been happening for years, before the Arab spring even. Lastly, I am saying, this is an album free of war. At the beginning of the album, we leave war behind us. We accept the injustice to never be justified. By ‘we’, I mean me. Haha. It’s an alternate perspective on my past and future.
It’s probably my most succinct lyrical project. I spent a lot of time crafting the bars like Willy Wonka. I rewrote verses and chiseled them down for months. The music is very lush. There are moments on the album where there are no lyrics. I wanted the music to speak as much as the lyrics. It’s a short dense record. I wanted to make a listening album, something you can drive with on loop and decipher more and more as you go. A long burner.
I am not interested in rapping only anymore. Hip-Hop culture for me has always been a savior to culture in general because of its ability to transcend space and its’ ability to blend several cultural spaces. I want to sing, I want to produce, I want to express feeling, not opinion. So this is an introduction to that.
More on Narcy:
Photography & Art by Hassan Hajjaj