by Sneha Goud
When I asked a rap music aficionado friend for some new upbeat songs to work out to, I expected the usual women bashing, violence infused songs that have dominated airwaves for a decade. Instead, he sent me the mixtape of Pakistani-American rapper Kamran Rashid Khan, also known as Lazarus.
I played the songs continuously, transfixed by the Detroit-raised musician/medical student Lazarus breaking down the immigrant experience in America. From experiencing prejudice against Muslims post 9-11, living up to desi parent’s expectations, and struggling with social acceptance, Lazarus expresses himself with grace and clarity.
I recently spoke to Lazarus, now a resident after completing medical school, to learn his story.
How did you become interested in rapping?
“Rap was what I listened to in high school. I spent time growing up in the suburbs and city and [felt] more comfortable in the city. Hip hop gave me a channel to express myself. My friends started writing rhymes and [though] it started as a hobby, I ended up becoming extremely passionate about it.”
After high school, Khan won a presidential scholarship to Wayne State University, in the heart of downtown Detroit.
“I started studying pre-med and I was taking a lot of credits at that time. But I continued to write rhymes and would meet my friends at Wayne State to rap together.
All the radio stations had rap battles. I started winning competitions. There was no concept of a desi rapper so I would gather everyone from the library to listen to me. I started developing a confidence I never really had. Everyone at Wayne State recognized me. “
After gaining recognition on Detroit’s mainstream radio station FM 95.5 and FM 105.9, Lazarus attracted the attention of FM 98 WJLB, the number one radio station for hip hop and R&B in Detroit. Lazarus began selling his mixtapes and performed at prestigious Detroit venues, such as the Joe Louis Arena, St. Andrews, the Bull Frog, and the Majestic Theatre opening for D12 and G-Unit.
How did you balance your music career and medical school?
“Medical school is not something you can joke around with. I contemplated stopping my music altogether. I put it to the side for a bit. Then the Discovery Channel came to FM 98 and asked about the underground rappers. They interviewed me – they felt my ethnicity and my profession were quite unique and distinct for the background of a hip hop artist, so I gave them my story.”
The documentary called “The Real 8 Mile,” aired worldwide and was hosted by 2-time Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times writer Charlie LeDuff.
Lazarus recorded his first LP, “Chapter One: The Prince Who Would be King” with the help of producers I.V. Duncan and Alpha-Bet.
Lazarus was nominated for “Lyricist of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” and “Artist of the Year” at the 2007 Detroit Hip Hop Awards. The lead single off the album, “Let the Game Know” has been played on radio stations internationally. MTV VMA award nominee Anthony Garth (director of The White Stripes, Eminem, Three Six Mafia, and Jim Jones) directed the video for Lazarus’ first album single “Let The Game Know.”
The video for “Drug of Choice” was filmed in Pakistan, where it continues to get international airplay.
One of my favorite songs is “Like a Cigarette Smoke” when you talk about the pressure your father placed on you to be a doctor. How have you dealt with that pressure and your musical ambitions? It’s a very common problem for young South Asians.
“They want their sons and daughters to be successful. It makes sense for parents to want them to be financially stable. What are the chances of a desi making it in the hip hop field? The probability is a million to one, or actually more like a million to none. That’s the reason they discourage it. They are coming from a different mindset, but there has to be someone to break the mold.”
Where do you want to go with your rap career?
“People said I couldn’t be a med student and a rapper at the same time and I did it.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. If they have dreams and they have passion, they can maintain a professional career and pursue their passion simultaneously.
Regardless of how successful I get, I know it will be part of my life forever. Even now, I feel as if I’ve reached places in my music I never dreamed of when I first started rapping. It can only grow further from this point onwards.”