Rapper YAS is Iran’s Persian hip hop laureate. A disciple of Tupac and Rumi, YAS uses poetic imagery delivered through an impassioned, at times ferocious, flow to communicate uplifting rhymes about his culture and people. The 29-year-old Tehran native broke ground in Iran as the first rapper allowed by the deeply conservative Iranian government to release a few of his songs nationally. Pushing through censorship and stonewalling, he managed to get just three or four approved — and has since become one of the top rappers in the nation of 75 million.
Born Yaser Bakhtiari, YAS was first introduced hip-hop at age 16 through Tupac albums his father would bring him back from business trips abroad. Although at first he didn’t comprehend the late rap legend’s lyrics, he understood the passion and intensity within the music. YAS’s slow-burning, impassioned delivery does bear a strong resemblance to Tupac so much so that he’s even been dubbed “The Persian Tupac.” When young Yaser eventually translated Tupac’s lyrics into Farsi, he was inspired to create the same kind of music about Persian culture.
Cultural pride conveyed through high-minded poetic lyricism is a prominent characteristic of this Persian hip hop pioneer’s music. In the empowering track “Sarba e Vatan” (“Soldier”), YAS posits himself as a warrior for Persian hip hop:
Pain, paper, pen, goal — all have their mind set
Their aim, pushing forward — Persian rap
Listen, as long as you’re standing by me and my words
The beat will run to catch up to me and my voice
To sit — next to you
To capture — a star
I will — continue
This (my) voice — for you
That dances — with you
The pen — limps till sunlight
Yes, this was our lesson
So this moment. Stand up.
That in the culture of peace you were always the lead
Your words and shine — like a beam — I follow
How ironic that this was your biggest fear, Rumi
To attach your name to just one nation (place you within a border)
Now you’re gone and again enemies are plenty
Many on tanks and more on foot
But it’s written on the dirt in Ghooniyeh (Rumi’s final resting place) for all to see
That I too can be today’s Molana Rumi.
YAS rightly sees himself and his hip-hop peers as the torchbearers of Rumi’s legacy. ”Hip-hop began in America, but Iran has had one of the longest traditions of poetry of any in the world. Poetry is in our blood.”
Watch ”Sarba e Vatan” (“Soldier”):