When Los Angeles-based hip-hop artist ICON was two-years-old, his mother packed up her things and left her native Iran, moving him and his older brother to Anaheim, California in hopes to find a better life for their family.
Now well into adulthood as an emerging artist broadening his audience inside and outside of L.A. (including recently opening a show for fellow Cali-artist and recent Def Jam-signee Jhene Aiko), Icon is paying homage to his greatest influence who he coins a ‘running rebel’, his mother, with the track “Superwoman”; just in time for Mother’s Day.
ICON’s own rebellious nature, which he adapted from his mother, led him to choose the life of an artist even after receiving a degree from the University of California Santa Barbara. But this was nothing but natural, as he always sought a stage in his younger years, whether playing on the basketball team and rocking pep rallies in high school, or performing at shows on campus in college.
Thus far his hip-hop resume includes the Welcome 2 Fresh Coast, Volume 1 and 2 mixtapes released in 2009 and 2010, respectively; and the Welcome To Fresh Coast EP, he dropped last August. His music carries the free-and-easy southern Cali-vibe mixed with relatable chronicles of the struggles and excitement of going after his dream. Icon also released a four-part Welcome To Fresh Coast video series last year, with his EP serving as the soundtrack to the short film’s dramatics.
Even though his next project doesn’t have an exact date stamped on it, the violin-backed “Superwoman” will keep his fans satisfied. On the track, ICON guides us through a visual journey of his single mother’s bravery of being an immigrant raising two sons in a new country, and his gratitude for her selflessness. While downloading and listening to “Superwoman,” read on to get behind the music of ICON, his thoughts on being part of a new movement of California-based artists, and of course the biggest lessons from his greatest inspiration:
[DOWNLOAD: “SUPERWOMAN” EXCLUSIVELY HERE]
Hearts Converse: Of course you’re mother is the inspiration behind “Superwoman” but what made you go ahead and record and put out this track?
Icon: I think first and foremost, the simple idea, I love my mom. But I think that’s a key element to my story, is telling my mom’s story. Now I didn’t discuss her childhood. But I recognized her path since I’ve been born pretty much. And I break it all down on there. And there’s a lot of things she didn’t know I was hip to. When I addressed the fact that all she had was a couple hundred dollars on her when she moved out here, she was like ‘how’d you know that?’ And I’ve always been an observer and that’s sort of how that played out. I think she’ll love it; she loves it.
How has your mom influenced you on your own path and figuring out who you are and what you want in life?
For better or for worst, I pretty much am my mom. We might bump heads. We’re stubborn. But the stubbornness, proves to be a winning ingredient sometimes. Like the decision to ultimately pick up to move out here with two kids; it’s kind of against the odds. She didn’t want her kids raised in the society that’s out there, and anybody that has an idea of the Middle East in general, and particularly in Iran, there’s been protest throughout the region. But just a couple of years ago there were protests in Iran because people were tired of being held down and oppressed essentially. And my mom, I guess we gotta go deep if we talk about us, as far as religion is concerned, we’re spiritual. I feel like I have a very strong connection with God, but I don’t practice through one book, or one house of worship versus another. And in Iran you can be killed for it. And women pretty much have to wrap themselves up and my mom didn’t want all that, and she didn’t want her kids to be raised in that. She’s a young mother too and she was in her 20s and she was a running rebel. And so while the path I’m taking might not be the typical, traditional one, she trumped me making moves that she did at the age that she did it, and she decided that I want my kids to have the freedom to choose and to do what they want. I don’t know if there’s a greater way to tell about the influence, but she’s always been rebellious, and the moves that she made ultimately resulted in me being a rapper. Now how you like that?
Amazing back story. So growing up as a Persian- American — I know when some people’s family are from countries outside of America, at home they may keep some cultural traditions around, so that you know where you came from. But essentially you are American because you grew up here and that’s all you know. So what was that experience like for you?
Fortunately my whole family is just so open-minded and forward-thinking. Culturally I’m not necessarily Iranian or Persian enough for the community, but then again I’m not anything else when I go through the rest of the world you know, so it’s just kind of is what it is. So to say that I’m Persian-American, I’m very much that. And it’s weird because you kind of just have to walk this line, and I hear of a similar tale of a people who are bi-racial you know whenever they’re splitting. And this is going to sound stupid but I think it’s profound. There’s an episode of Fresh Prince, and I think everybody watched the Fresh Prince religiously, where Carlton wanted to get with a fraternity and he was getting sweated pretty hard by the fraternity because they said ‘you’re not black enough,’ and then Carlton came back and said ‘yea I came from a rich family, and this that and the other, but it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m black.’ And I think the thought kind of rings true for anything, any individual, like it doesn’t matter the path that I choose and the decisions that I make, essentially I’m just me. And it just is what it is, and when they break you down as a statistic, I mean you can’t disregard the fact that I was born in Iran, it just it is what is.
Cool. And so now let’s talk about the concept of ‘Fresh Coast’ because that’s how you describe your music and whole movement.
To me the whole idea of fresh is just a mindset. Some people find it through material. You can put on a fresh pair of sneakers and feel real fresh about yourself and that’s a cool feeling. And you can achieve something you’ve been working on for the last two months, like a project or something, and that can make you feel fresh. But it’s just the mindset and it’s mostly portrayed through the music as far as my whole perception of the way of fresh. And of course the coast concept, because we’re out here on the left side, the influence of the southern California culture and all that put together is pretty much the idea, influence, and inspiration behind the sound I create.
I noticed the Welcome To Fresh Coast EP has a laid-back feel and it wasn’t about over embellishing or living a crazy lifestyle or anything like that, so is that the lifestyle you identify with? Tell me more about what you represent through your music.
I sort of represent that which I know. I try to encourage growth and progression through positivity and you’re right. I am laid-back. My whole demeanor, the whole thing, is just kickback. I guess at times if you want to try to do the most, I think naturally I can be goofy when I’m in my element with my peoples and stuff like that but generally, to me, I focus on the art and I tell it through the art, and try to express everything through positive mindset and encouraging anyone who is listening to go get it. Whatever “it” means for them. I know that’s what I’m after.
Growing up in California, what kind of music did ICON listen to?
I was just fascinated by hip-hop. NWA was just going hard. And I mean everybody that graduated from NWA, so by the time I was able to comprehend, it was more like The Chronic and things like that. But you know just the influence of west coast music and having been out here naturally it was the first thing that completely drew me in. So I did grow up listening to a lot of Dogg Pound, DJ Quik. And like I said everybody just kind of came from the school of NWA, so of course Snoop is an extension of Dre, and Dre himself. And everything in the Death Row movement. Of course Tupac. And then sort of my understanding for hip-hop developed my appreciation for it. And often times people will tell me I sound more like an east coast artist, of course with the inevitable west coast demeanor. But being that I’m an immigrant essentially I always had the freedom to choose whatever I wanted to do. So I could have turned the radio on and sided with the rock station but I just happened to rock with the hip-hop station because it spoke to me.
I studied the game and then backtracked it and studied people before my time, and listened to Big Daddy Kane to Rakim and of course Nas, and Jigga and everything that comes out of the Chicago movement as far as Common, Twista, and of course Kanye West. And when the south got on, the south brought their own thing to the game and it’s something that everybody has taken from and it’s just a good time. And generally out of the south you have those who just provoke all kinds of thought like Andre 3000. But I just appreciate everything that comes from wherever in hip-hop from a general standpoint. And it just really doesn’t matter where they’re from necessarily, it’s just what they bring that you just appreciate as a fan.
You recently opened for Jhene Aiko, along with other Cali-based artists like Polyester The Saint. What’s your thoughts on the emergence of many young artists out there and being in the midst of that movement?
I just think it’s a great time to be a California artist. Cause if this was 2000 and I happen to be an Atlanta native, that would be a good look. But right now it’s really popping out here. I think it’s tremendous music and talent and I think Cali generally has just done a great job of graduating by paying homage to what we know traditionally in the music out here, and a lot of the things that are sort of signature to us. I think there’s a lot of influence from the Bay that we’re picking up on.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I will call it my own opinion, somebody who has spearheaded a movement for young artists, Kendrick Lamar, I mean him as an artist, I mean he just as dope as they as they come. He’s a genius with his words and he puts together amazing melodies and songs and all of that and there’s a lot good things happening, and of course he’s not the only one but I do think he’s in the forefront of course now he’s running with Dre, whose the king of everything Cali’s about. But there’s just a lot of talent. A lot of great things. Everybody’s sort of bringing their own thing to the table I’m happy to be apart of it. And I think timing works out.*
-Words and Interview by Natelege Whaley