Iranian-American Rapper Battles Stereotypes
Iranian-American emcee Yashar Zadeh, who goes by the rap name of Yak Ballz and his Israeli-American cohort, Rami Even-Esh, whose rap name is Kosha Dillz, are two rappers making a name for themselves through their conscious lyrics and their efforts at battling stereotypes.
"I recorded my first single, "Flossin,' when I was 16," Ballz, now 26, told The Boston Herald. "I grew up in Queens [New York] around a lot of emcees, so I was really in the mix even before I got my own opportunities. Fortunately, I finally got my chance to flex."
The two rappers were childhood friends. Though he was mostly raised in Queens, Ballz also spent time at his father's house in Edison, New Jersey, where Dillz lived around the corner.
"Yak was the emcee in the neighborhood," Dillz said. "Then I started rapping on the weekends when we would get together, whether it was just hanging out in the back of someone's whip or wherever."
Following Ballz's lead, Dillz started entering the Braggin' Rights emcee battles at the Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan. Ballz became the youngest rapper to reach the finals, and it was there that both aspiring emcees met producers including Mondee, who helped further their music careers.
"One time when I was 17 I went to see Yak at Braggin' Rights and there was extra space, so I just got up on stage," Dillz said. "I had something written already. Even back then we were battling with conscious lyrics, not talking about how fat the other person's mother was."
Despite their shared history and tours, Ballz's and Dillz's rap styles vary; while Dillz's rhymes push into religious and geo-political realms, Ballz keeps his music largely secular and abstract.
"I never really incorporated my ethnicity into my music," Ballz said. "It only came out that I was Persian later in my career. Most people thought that I was just a white kid from Queens. Actually, from what I understand, some people even thought that I was a black kid."
Dillz also reported misunderstandings about his Jewish background. Judaism, he told The Boston Herald, often is misrepresented in the rap scene. With his new CD—a duet project with freestyle guru C-Rayz Walz titled "Freestyle vs. Written"—Dillz said he hopes to teach the rap community that hip-hop transcends racial and religious boundaries and stereotypes.
"On my last tour, this dude in Georgia told me that he thought all Jews hate black people," Dillz said. "That was funny, especially since I was on tour with (Wu-Tang affiliate) Killah Priest [who is connected to the Black Hebrew Israelites and who raps about highly Afrocentric themes], and that I have an album coming out with C-Rayz Walz..