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'The Narcicyst': An Arab raging against the machine

"Hip hop is a school," says Yassin Alsalman, better known by his MC title of "the Narcicyst", or simple "Narcy", "it's a school that taught me a lot about myself outside of the school environment. I didn't have to pay for any books, I didn't have to listen to somebody lecture me, I chose who to listen to and it helped me build my career and my identity."

Now in his thirties, Narcy was born in the UAE to Iraqi parents who had fled from Basra several years earlier. As a child, he moved from the Middle East to Canada, where he grew up amongst a diverse immigrant population. Harbouring an interest in music from a young age, it wasn't until his second year at university studying for a Political Science degree that Narcy felt compelled to begin making music of his own – partly in response to the surge of public scrutiny on Arabs and Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York.

"[9/11] really sort of shook the core of how people perceive both Muslims and Arabs, and in general brown people," he tells me during a meeting preceding his performance at a concert in central London. "Not that it was anything new, but it definitely sort of blew the microscope up and made it a lot more specific about how we targeted people."

Disillusioned with Politics, Narcy switched to majoring in Communication Studies in an attempt to make sense of public discourse in the wake of the 2001 attacks. It was this discipline, ultimately, that both taught him how to produce sound and put him in contact with other like-minded individuals intent on making their voices heard through the medium of music. Most of all, his music was an attempt "to reconstruct an identity that was being hijacked", making use of "old Iraqi samples, old Iraqi drums, old Arabic samples" over which he would rap in angry, prosaic verses.

His 2009 track P.H.A.T.W.A, which attacks the racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims at airports for "security reasons", is a prime example of Narcy's directed and lyrical anger; in the preamble of the music video, he emphatically states to his friend that "Iraq is the new black". Indeed, Narcy is quick to point out the link between black sub-culture and musical genres such as hip hop and rap, which as he claims, are vehicles that were born out of the identity crisis suffered by African Americans: "Black America needed a voice to counter the voice that was countering them – it's just a culture that allows you, it created a template for people who needed to express themselves freely without having to defend themselves."

These days, however, Narcy says his music is "less reactive and more proactive"; he is more interested in drawing attention to the potential for hope and change in the world than angrily fighting back against the system in the way he used to. Ever the cynic, his outlook for the future nevertheless contains glimmers of optimism, especially when it comes to empowering people to take control of their own narratives and identities.

"As for the world, the world is going to go on," he intones pragmatically, "there's going to be misrule, there's going to be abuse of power, you're not going to be able to change that system… the only way to [change things] is to come together with a group of people and create."

And this is exactly what he has been doing; he has recently come together with a group of other artists and performers to form a collective who work together to draw attention to important issues and raise awareness about each other's work. As part of such collaborative processes, Narcy is due to publish a comic book, entitled World War Free after his recently released album and illustrated by Dubai-based illustrator Ashraf Ghori. It is this kind of artistic and intellectual cooperation that Narcy feels establishes the cornerstone of a potential new world order, one based not on arbitrary state borders and control but on international solidarity and a collective sense of humanity:

"As corny as it might be, I don't think we're from anywhere," he stresses. "I think we're from Earth, right – so starting to think about internationality. There's two levels to that: you could try to build a tribe and become landless and stateless; or you could really just start thinking open-mindedly and realising that there are borders that exist but those borders are just political and social. If we eliminate those borders between each other, mentally, creatively, then we start building an international community that collaborates and exists together and eventually that would be big enough where world governments won't be able to counter that identity."

It's a bold plan, and one that, he tells me, relies on the control and manipulation of information.

"I think the thing with my generation and the generation that came after me is that information to us is so fleeting – it's 140 characters, Snap Chat, Instagram – you just let go of it and it goes into the ether… it all becomes fleeting pieces of information. I think as a generation we have to step back and start re-analysing how we intake info and realising how to create media and learning how to create media and using it to its full capacity to start controlling our own narrative."

Taking control of the narrative, however, is no easy task, and Narcy is pragmatic about the necessity of working with, rather than against global corporate and capitalist culture – in order to ultimately undermine it from within.

"I think it's really important to embrace the way of the world and work within that to spread messages," he asserts. "So the next project we're doing is actually a pop-up shop that will travel around the world in different locations where we have merchandise that we sell that has the artwork of those artists and we take a percentage of that profit and give it to whatever cause we deem [worthy] for that time. But also people start wearing the messaging on their clothing and walk around, start having conversations with different people – so when you wear a "Same Shit Different Saddam" t-shirt you might get stopped by someone who asks what does that mean, and that sparks a 45-minute conversation with them… It's about hitting people on multiple platforms at once – punch them in the faces any time you can, but creatively, not with your fist."

Ultimately, however, this citizen of the world is aware that there are certain rules and constraints that must be abided by, but nevertheless optimistic about their ability to be subverted. "Look at [the world] like a game," he says conspiratorially, "you've got to plug yourself in to get to the next level."

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