“I believe in the law of attraction,” Amir tells me last Tuesday over Jameson Gingers. “You can will anything you want into a reality.” We’re sitting in glowing red booth at The Dime on Fairfax, where just few days ago, Amir carried the dance floor at the Labeling Men one-year anniversary party, playfully demanding that the DJ, his friend, Theophilus Martins, play “Single Ladies” – his song.
“You want a Bugatti?” he poses. “You obsess over it? You’ll get it. It’s impossible not to get it.” Amir speaks with the sincerity and charisma one would expect from the son of a minister. “Everything in my life that I’ve wanted and obsessed over – I’ve gotten it.”
I tell Amir that I’m envious. I feel this often throughout our interview. Amir inspires a great envy in me. Envy of his age (24), envy of his drive, envy of his talent, and, above all, envy of his positive outlook. I don’t use the word “authentic” often, but in our short time together, Amir shows me that this is more than an abstract character trait. At the Labeling Men party, eyeing him owning the dance floor, I ask his roommate if he’s always this upbeat. “He is,” his roommate tells me without a pause.
On Tuesday, Labeling Men art director Eric Fulcher and I spot Amir before we arrive at The Dime. He’s at the Dope store, surrounded by a crowd, sipping a promotional anti-hangover drink. “I wouldn’t pay for it,” he says, offering me a sip, “but I’ll drink it for free.” I ask him about his day in the studio, putting the finishing touches on his debut EP, Medium Rare. As he does often when I ask him questions, he releases a big smile, spreads his arms, looks up as if to express gratitude to the universe. “It was great,” he beams. “You know when you imagine something creative to go a certain way,” he says. “And it actually ends up better?” I tell him I’m unfamiliar with such an experience, but that it must be nice. Again, envy boils.
On the short walk to The Dime, Amir stops to talk to 5 or 6 people. Step, “hey,” step, “hey.” Amir says that when he first moved to California at 18 with dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder, he made friends by going to the skate park and talking to people. And Amir can talk.
Over one drink at The Dime, Amir and I talk about Jerry Maguire, Amir’s unwitting career as an actor slash comedian, his mom catching him cutting middle school, his astrological sign (he’s a Pisces: “we have a mysterious thing going on”), the Nation of Islam, Kanye West leaving the first class line at the airport, Malcolm X’s autobiography, and how school kills free thinking and turns us all into factory workers. They call him AmirSaysNothing.
I ask Amir about his moniker. He says he was gossiping with someone at a party and goes, “you didn’t hear it from me.” His friend responds: “yeah, yeah, Amir says nothing.” He liked the sound of it – the rhythm, the playfulness, the irony. So he made it his Instagram handle. When it came time to make his rap name, he didn’t want to be just Amir (“I’m not Prince”). And he didn’t want to take the typical rapper route (Big Amir, Lil’ Amir, Yung Amir). He liked AmirSaysNothing because it was different. “And just before I officially used it, I had this feeling,” he tells me. “I was afraid. And that’s how I knew I should use it. Because it was uncomfortable.” In fact, Amir came to rap for similar reasons. “I always knew I wanted to be a rapper,” he tells me. “But I was afraid. It just seemed like such a long shot.”
Amir grew up with hip-hop in his blood. He remembers driving around with his dad listening to Tribe Called Quest when he was 5 years old. “You were a cool kid,” I say. “I had cool parents,” he retorts, recalling his father dancing to Tupac’s Greatest Hits in the living room. But Amir’s father was more than just a hip-hop fan – he was the minister of Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, Malcolm X’s former mosque, where he was deemed the “Hip-Hop Minister.” When Tupac died, his father organized the “Hip-Hop Day of Atonement,” a service meant for rap fans to “atone for the self-destructive, genocidal lifestyle” that killed Shakur.
Amir explains that in the 90s, the “political, pro-black, supercharged sect of hip-hop went hand in hand with the Nation.” And he grew up in the heart of it. His father’s status allowed young Amir to cross paths with Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, and Biz Markie. And Amir remains connected to this variety of hip-hop – positive, relatable, working class music – as opposed to the glossy gangster fantasy that has permeated the recent scene. Amir aptly explains that the current state of hip-hop is all about Thursday-Saturday, which is fun, but he’s more interested in something that sticks with you, something you can share with your kids one day.
Despite living in California and possessing undeniable Cali vibes, Amir considers himself East Coast rapper. Accordingly, his favorite hip-hop outfits include Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, Biggie, Guru, Redman, Method Man, Wu-Tang, and, least and certainly not least, Atmosphere (our conversation is filled with many an Atmosphere performance). “I rep the East Coast. I’m an East Coast person. I have True East tattooed on the side of my arm.” And you can hear it in his raps, in which his voice transforms from warm and laid back to something more frenetic – “I’m in your face. I yell.” On the East Coast, he explains, people relate to each other differently. When you meet someone on the East Coast, he tells me, it’s like, “I’m gonna touch you. I’m gonna talk to you. I’m gonna borderline insult you when I meet you,” he laughs. “But it’s all love.”
Amir delivered his first freestyle when he was 16 years old. “I’m not sure if it was good,” he tells me, “but it came out way better than I ever expected, and I was hooked.” For years, Amir saw freestyling mainly as a way to pass time with friends, as a party trick, as a way to get girls. And he hasn’t stopped. He told me his friend said to him recently: “I love hanging out with you, but sometimes I just don’t want to listen to you rapping.” Amir didn’t write his first rap until 2011. “When you freestyle, it’s word after word firing out of your head,” he explains. “You’re almost entirely leaving it up to your subconscious.” He found the transition to writing challenging. At first his raps were clunky, coming out in awkward sentences, but eventually he got the hang of it.
During the time Amir spent hosting a comedy show, he found himself more interested writing raps. He was writing in the car on the way and as soon as the show was over. “Comedy I just fell into,” he tells me, “but rapping was my passion.” And when his close friend Carissa passed away (Medium Rare drops on her birthday), it put everything in perspective. He thought, “why are you wasting all your fucking time?” When his comedy show ended, he saw it as the universe finally opening up to him to go for his music. “And I haven’t looked back. Full-speed ahead. It’s taught me to tell others – whatever’s your long-shot, go for it.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amir thinks negativity is a waste of time. “The fact that people like my music at all is gratifying enough.” He thinks lots of people fail to take time to be appreciative. “If you’re a musician and you’ve got a show at some random bar – you’ve got a show, man!” he smiles, arms wide, preaching again. “People want to see you! Somebody thought you were good enough to put in front of other people.”
“Go home with a fucking smile on your face.”
Finally, my envy dissipates, and I go home with a smile on mine.
AmirSaysNothing's EP, Medium Rare, drops today. Listen to it here first.
Interview and photographs by Anna Dorn