The World to Come: Q&A With Hip Hop Artist Danny Krikorian June 15, 2017 10:26 2 Comments
Music is the only thing that really makes sense to Danny K. The Riyadh-born hip hop artist and producer based in Florida who is both Syrian and Armenian recently released his self-produced debut album, “The World to Come,” playfully unpacking his multi-pronged identity and paying tribute to his roots through lyrics and melodies that give the often complicated issues of finding out who you really are a refreshing new take.
Though “The World to Come” is his largest project to date, Krikorian, who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 7-years-old, has always looked to music for solace.
“Whenever the world became too harsh, I retreated to my piano, I sang my melodies, wrote my lyrics and lashed out at the world,” he says.
A lifelong hip hop fan who came to the genre through his love of lyricism, Krikorian got his start as “Krikos” in the music industry after producing a remix track by Brazilian-American hip hop artist NIKO IS called “Floss” which featured Talib Kweli. NIKOS IS and Krikorian founded a collective together called “Colours of the Culture” and have known each other since they were teenagers. Floss became a hit, played live for audiences across the world.
Influenced by everyone from Eminem, Kanye West to Radiohead and Greek composer Vangelis, Krikorian cites his father as his biggest inspiration. “His musical collection is outrageously thick and cultured,” he says. “When you hear earthy flutes and eastern ballads, that’s my father’s touch. I take pride in the music he has shown me and exposed me to.”
Danny K chatted with Ara the Rat about music, his single “Lavash,” reading coffee cups and his ongoing quest to discover his Armenian identity through music and hip hop.
Your album, The World To Come, just dropped. How are you feeling?
Perhaps the most accurate description of how I feel is fulfilled, at least to a certain degree.
This project has been in the works for quite some time now. It required a lot of time, sacrifice, dedication, and faith. Almost everything I do has a spiritual component to it, even in its creation.
So in a sense, by putting this album out to the world, I am fulfilling not only my personal ambitions, but my spiritual purpose.
What’s your cover art about?
The album cover is a graphic design I put together. It’s three pieces; the blue wall; the frame; and finally the image in the center.
This image captures the sentiment and aesthetic I am trying to convey so well. It is borrowed from Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov’s, “The Color of Pomegranates,” a biography of the life of famed poet and musician Sayat Nova.
Sayat Nova’s life is reminiscent of the trials I experienced growing up in a sense; lost in translation, caught between various cultures and identities, all expressed similarly through lyric, poetry & music. There is a famous line of his: “I am the man whose life and soul are torture.” This reminds me of my trials as an Armenian-Syrian immigrant in the US without living without the normalcy & perks of formal citizenship - not to mention just being an Armenian-Syrian and the cultural and historical implications therein.
You grew up in Florida after moving to the U.S. in 1996 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Tell me about your family background and journey to the U.S.
Being born in Riyadh, for an Armenian, is not exactly an ideal scenario. My father often balked at the closed society in which he had to work. The reality for many Middle Easterners was to find work in Saudi Arabia and send money back home. Armenians had found refuge, and essentially weaved themselves into the very fabric of Middle Eastern society.
What do you remember from your time in Riyadh?
I don’t remember very much about Saudi Arabia except my neighborhood complex which is probably because of the limitations in the country.
I remember playing soccer with the neighborhood kids and beating them all 5 against 1. I was a champion. In fact, I believed in my heart that soccer might be my dream. I was really good! My dad’s love for Damascus, and Syria generally, is something I’ve never in my life compared anything to. It was not only his and his father’s, and his grandfather’s refuge. It was his culture. The tolerance, diversity, the Syria which he knew, defined us. Even religiously, my family was almost uniquely liberal. There was always a strict notion of faith and obedience to God and principles of familial obligation; but intellectually, my family was very open. This left them estranged in a country like Saudi Arabia. That’s why perhaps my family decided it was time to leave.
Where did they end up going?
It was either back to Syria, where money was scarce; or to consider visiting America; a land my father had only dreamed of visiting. His father, Yervant Krikorian (my grandpa) came to America in 1920, the first ever Armenian-Syrian to attend MIT. He was forced to return home, and his brilliance, unfortunately, never saw the light of day, since, the Middle East, for the most part, had little appreciation for such brilliance. So coming to America was like breathing life back into my father.
Your new album and some of your previous music explores your Armenian identity. Why do you think you sought out to explore your heritage through your art?
The exploration of my heritage came quite naturally. Since my early youth I wrote poetry, and overtime more and more cultural influences found their way in. I was always in tune with my Armenian identity, thanks to my father, who made sure to lecture me over the years on the extensive history of our family name, who we were related to, and where our ambition comes from. “We are proud Armenians!” He would proclaim. Armenians make the best of everything. The best coffee; the best mechanics; the best shoe designers; engineers. In every sense of the word, I was Armenian. The concept for this album - the title - The World to Come - draws on religion and eschatology. As the album’s overall sound and the lyrics came together, it became evident to me that I was searching even deeper for a sense of selfhood and identity.
Let’s talk about the song “Lavash.” After listening to it so many times, I find myself randomly saying, “I’m with the Armenians cooking up some bread.” What was the concept behind this track?
“I’m with the Armenians cooking up some bread…” The play on words, “Stacking this bread” is a phrase used in hip hop denoting making money. I realized I had just written the “hook” or chorus. I felt like I was tracing the footsteps of my destiny with every lyric I wrote. I knew I had to do this, like I was being guided by some greater force.
When I realized what sorcery had just been crafted, I knew I had to shoot a video. That’s when I remembered there was an Armenian restaurant close by, that sold Lavash, as well as another small local cafe actually named Lavash! It was a wrap by then…
Perhaps more importantly and subconsciously, I felt it to be a duty. An innate desire and obligation to express not only my musicality but my Armenian identity and to make known our trials and triumphs as a people. When I was much younger, my father would speak of the Genocide. I remember my uncle from California visiting us when we first came to the states. He handed me a System of a Down CD. It was like my baptism. Haha. My attachment to my Armenian identity; this pride; coupled with a sense of a reawakening in the Armenian community globally; prompted me to delve deeper into the greatest minds of our rich heritage.
You also filmed a really great video for “Lavash.” Huge props for actually finding a restaurant in Orlando called Lavash and also some Lavash to toss around in an Armenian deli, which was awesome. How did it all come together?
Actually filming the video for Lavash was an adventure of its own. The warmness with which the Armenian community received me and opened their doors to resources was humbling. The owners of the restaurant are Russian-Armenians, very nice fellows, though I must say, as we filmed the scene, I couldn’t help but feel I was living out a scene of a mobster movie. I had a duffle bag in my hand, walking by booths filled with Eastern European families. I’m pretty sure I saw a mother wave her hand over her child’s eyes as I walked by with my duffle bag, but that could have just been my imagination, or paranoia rather. The best part was convincing me to toss the Lavash bread while customers were shopping. I almost felt I was disrespecting my culture and heritage, which the videographer reassured me wasn’t the case. “Come on its funny you have to!” The look on the cashier’s face was priceless.
How did you get your start in hip hop?
My roots in hip hop are unique, the way I came into it that is. I’m from the generation of 1988. This generation grew up in the apex of hip-hop’s concluding golden era. That meant BIG & Tupac had just passed; and artists like Eminem & Jay-Z were left to the fill the void. I came to the states in 1995 - at 7 years old. I had heard a little bit about hip-hop, names like Wu-Tang, Rakim and Tupac were familiar, but upon arriving in the US I was introduced to Bone Thugs; Biggie; Snoop Dog; etc. To me, I was growing up in foreign territory. Anything I knew about rhyming had to do with poetry. I loved poetry as a kid so I would write simple ones. It wasn’t until I became more familiar with this emerging artist, Eminem, who I felt like I could identify with in terms of style and sentiment. I was introduced to this thing called battle-rapping, which in my days was so popular on the internet. Kids would text battle each other; like spitting verses in person to see who could outdo the other. That’s where I really developed my rapping skills; my lyricism; wordplay; multis.
Why do you think you gravitated towards this genre more than others?
I didn’t grow up in the slums - in fact slums are almost scarce in Orlando - with some exceptions - but I definitely didn’t grow up like the privileged kids of Dr. Phillips, a rather affluent part of the city. Growing up in an apartment complex, for 20 years, really influenced me, as a human being, but also as an artist.
My struggle with immigration papers and just being an Arab-speaking Armenian-Syrian minority in the US, was enough to make me feel more comfortable with other minorities. I naturally gravitated to hip-hop because that was our shelter. Our refuge. Our abode. I remember there was this African-American family that lived in my neighborhood. I became such close friends with each member of that family. I remember going to their house for the first time and seeing the older brothers’ studio. It wasn’t anything special, but for the time, it was like I had just visited the mecca of rap. It was an apartment bedroom. They saw something special in me. I remember they handed me a CD of snares and kicks. I still have that cd somewhere.
In your Instagram stories you’re always making Armenian coffee, do you ever read your fortune? If so, what was your latest one?
Coffee is a Gift from God. Like many natural things. When I drink it, it is almost a religious experience. A ritual, rather. But there is nothing like Armenian coffee. The right, careful balance of cardamon with the darkened roast of coffee beans - ground probably somewhere in south America - the balance is everything. But that first sip, whether you are drinking it with a cigarette, by itself, with a joint…It's like therapy. Like the morning sun when it rises.
A form of poetry in its own.
I’ve certainly had my fortune read; my mother is an expert. I asked her to do one especially for this occasion - here what she saw:
“Somebody's watching me, there are multiple ‘eyes’ on me.
I'm standing, reaching to grab something, and it’s not far from my grasp,
but there are what appear like two mountains in front of me.
There is a fish like creature, swimming below me, which symbolizes a gift of money coming my way.”
Other tracks: soundcloud.com/mynameisdannyk