Shayan Afridi uses the logo above as the physical representation of “Samsa.” PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAYAN AFRIDI

Shayan Afridi is known by his professors as a senior honors English major, but his thousands of SoundCloud followers know him as the rapper “Samsa.”

Afridi, a Pakistani Muslim, grew up in Bayside, Queens. Over the last two years, he has released over 20 rap and hip-hop tracks on his SoundCloud, and has culminated nearly 9,000 followers. He has been working on some new music in the past five months while simultaneously finishing up his final year of college, working on his honors thesis on South Asian-American rap in the post-Trump era.

Five years ago, Afridi was creating what he described as “silly songs and poetry.” He used to perform his work at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Manhattan on Mondays. On Halloween 2016, he released a song called “tinder samurai,” which is about online dating and those who are interested in it. Only five months later, the song has nearly 260,000 listens on SoundCloud.

“The music scene that I’ve managed to dip my toes into, namely lo-fi hip-hop, has been super kind about embracing my voice and cartoony writing style, and I’ve managed to amass a healthy and fervently loyal following,” Afridi said.

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Afridi said his interest in rap music was inspired by the Reagan era. Two things became important to the artist: social protest and negotiation of identity.

“I’ve always been interested in the cultural power that rap music carried; from its conception in the West Bronx to its employment in the Reagan era,” he said. “I’m excited to continue wielding rap music as a tool for political critique and as a way to negotiate my cultural identity and the way that others might perceive me as a Pakistani Muslim.”

He also used to write criticisms on various rap topics on the website for his record label, Off The Jump.

The rapper is currently collaborating on an EP with North Carolina rapper THIAGO about cultural identity in the post-Trump era. Some of the songs have already been uploaded on Afridi’s SoundCloud, and each is named after a Desi or Portuguese dessert like kulfi.

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“Each song is a digestible slice of life from both my and THIAGO’s respective cultural experiences and we wanted to reflect that in the song titles,” Afridi said. “The whole thing is really an honest depiction about the subtle, funny ways that the election has changed our personal lives, the way our families interact with politics and our cultural identifications.”

As part of his honors thesis, the rap artist will give a presentation at the SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference about how South Asian-American rappers are negotiating identity with rap music in the post-Trump era on April 21 at the Suffolk County Community College Ammerman Campus in Selden. He said he will be performing “burfi,” one of the songs he made with THIAGO.

“The talk is titled ‘Strategic Essentialisms: How South Asian American rappers negotiate identity in the Trump Era,’ and it’s about the specific cultural strategies these rappers [and I] use to renegotiate identities past canned stereotypes of the ‘immigrant,’ the ‘threat to be expelled,’ the ‘model minority’ and the ‘emasculated male,’” Afridi said.

Afridi hopes that he can inspire more artists to share their experiences from the post-Trump era and engage in the current political climate.

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