This Mother’s Day, we follow the journey of rapper/songwriter Anand, better known as SoundsbyAK as he drops his new single “Praise” — an ode to his parent’s journey as immigrants and his mother’s sacrifices. From the Bay to the Big Apple, his lyrics are meaningful commentary, and he’s dropping bars.
She always had a smile on her face, from the moment she woke up early to pack me a fresh lunch to when she tucked me in bed after helping me with homework. You’d never be able to tell she was scared about not being a citizen, that she was lonely not knowing a single relative in this foreign land, or that she sometimes came home crying because of racism at work. My childhood was filled with so much privilege and joy, and that’s entirely due to all she did to make sure I could do everything she never could.
A rapper, singer-songwriter based in New York City. I dropped my debut EP ‘Model Minority’ in 2017 about being South Asian in today’s America and have since been dropping singles to branch out musically and hone my craft. My music ranges from politics to romance and this summer I plan on releasing a consistent stream of bangers. I’m excited for what’s to come and I hope people rock with the music because I’ve just been having a blast making it.
I was born in Hyderabad, India but I was raised predominantly in Fremont, California. I lived a very typical middle-class childhood and went on to graduate college, and then moved to New York City to pursue music alongside my career as a software engineer.
I faced many of the same struggles many South Asian kids faced in balancing two cultures. While I was learning tabla and watching 90’s Bollywood, I was also learning from 50 Cent and Kanye West, and what was once my cross-cultural confusion ended up becoming my source of confidence. Every little thing, from the trips to Hyderabad to the shows I frequent in Brooklyn have played their own distinct role in my musical journey and makes me proud of who I am.
When did you know you loved music? Can you remember a distinct moment it clicked?
I’ve always had a relationship with music. Growing up, before I could even speak, I would unintelligibly sing Bollywood songs. My father told me that I even knew which side of the Rangeela cassette my favorite song was on. As far as hip-hop goes, I remember exactly the moment it clicked. It was 2002 and ‘8 Mile’ had just released and an ad for it was airing on television.
I remember my 8-year-old self being absolutely fixated on the screen as I watched Eminem control a crowd. I was hypnotized by all those arms go up and down to the beat to ‘Lose Yourself’ in perfect harmony. I couldn’t even discern the words that were being said but there was a certain energy in that performance that was infectious. I didn’t even know what hip-hop was, but that moment captured me in a way that I recall even today. That was when I knew in my heart that I had a special connection to hip-hop. My mom wasn’t the biggest fan, though
Are you trained or self-taught in any instruments or singing styles?
My mother is an Indian classical music fanatic, and as a result, my sister took singing lessons (fun fact, from Sid Sriram’s mother) and I learned tabla for eight years. In all honesty, though, I was never diligent in learning or practicing. I was far more interested in hip-hop production and I would spend hours toying around on FL Studio after school. Back then, there weren’t as many tutorials on YouTube on how to produce so learning happened as a product of fumbling around.
I was also really into songwriting and rapping. I’d spend recess writing songs and recorded my first few attempts at music with my father’s work headset. My first pop-filter was an embroidery hoop with an old pair of my sister’s stockings stretched over it. Back then, it was all about learning however I could and making do with the things I had at home.
I’m not a great singer, my mom is way better than I am, but I have an ear for melody that I attribute a lot to my aforementioned affinity to Bollywood music — especially the genius that is A.R. Rahman. My rapping style is a mix of the Bay Area music that was around me and the East Coast music I grew up listening to. I learned by being a sponge, and I continue to do so.
What was the inspiration behind “Praise”?
‘Praise’ was created as a result of me reflecting on how my relationship with my parents evolved. When I was a child, I saw my parents as superheroes. They had the answers to everything. They fed me. They bought me things. They never did anything wrong. But as I began to grow up and form my own thoughts, I began to realize the difficulty in being both the person I wanted to be and the person my parents wanted to be. I was never an incredibly rebellious child, but I was definitely at odds with my parents on more than one occasion. There are times I resented them and wished they were different (often times more liberal). My relationship was more strained. But as I grew even older and entered adulthood, my relationship transformed yet again because I began to see the truth about my parents.
My parents aren’t superheroes, nor are they the dictators I thought they were. The truth is far more succinct and simple. My parents are merely human beings just like me. But in a weird way, that’s what makes what they did all that much more amazing. If my parents had superpowers, that means everything would’ve been easy. There’s no challenge in that. It’s the fact that they didn’t. The fact that they’re mortal. They were able to provide this life for me while going through it themselves, and that’s what makes them great. That’s what I’m praising them for. My parents weren’t superheroes, and I’m proud of that.
What is your go-to karaoke song?
Anyone that has gone karaoke-ing with me knows my absolute favorite is ‘Gold Digger,’ by Kanye West.
‘If you aint no punk, holla we want pre-nup!’
What’s been the hardest part of being a musician in a time where independent artists are rising but there’s lots of saturation?
That’s an excellent question. There are so many challenges that come with that. One of the biggest challenges for me is that social media doesn’t come all that naturally to me. I love my social media presence amongst my friends (back in my heyday, my Snapchat was poppin’). But having to be “on” all the time to strangers is a very new phenomenon that is unique to independent artists who don’t have media teams guiding their image.
I love freedom but it’s difficult to maintain. Sometimes I wonder, ‘am I promoting myself too much? Is this annoying?’ or ‘Should I try to post something every day even if it’s content I’m not proud of,’ etc. It’s hard for me. I don’t think I’m built for the constant content culture that we live in, it doesn’t leave me any room to think.
Ultimately that’s how you stand out in the market though. Artists always forget that if you want to have a viable career in the industry, you have to really have to treat yourself like a product. Do market research, see what’s out there, understand your niche, figure out how to promote yourself, have a growth plan, manage your expenses, build relationships, etc. There are a million ways to get it, but choosing the right one can make all the difference.
Sometimes I feel like I’m working at 110 percent and it gets frustrating not seeing those metrics hit. Seeing people’s end of the year Spotify play counts and comparing that to mine is a constant reminder that I’m ‘behind’ them. Sometimes the music I want to make isn’t marketable. Sometimes I market potential hits the wrong way. I’m really just trying to learn as I go with the hopes that given enough tries, I’ll pop off at one of those attempts. It’ll happen one day.
What do you hope is next for South Asian artists?
I want there to be more unity. There’s this unspoken belief that there’s one spot out there that everyone is clamoring for, but that’s not true at all. I believe that’s a remnant of the competitive mentalities our parents came to this country with. I really think that if one of us makes it, it’s like all of us making it. It’s not true that somebody has to fail in order for you to succeed, it’s not a zero-sum game.
I see this sort of unity at events like POPX, where everyone just gets together and has a good time and that warms my heart. That’s the only way real way forward. That’s why initiatives like Brown Girl Magazine are so important because they’re so unifying. I hope I see more of that in our community. Everyone needs to grow together.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Oh man, I have so many artists that I love. The top of that list is Drake and Kanye West.
Other than the usual suspects though, I love HBK Gang from the Bay Area, most notably IAMSU!, Kool John, Sage the Gemini, and P-Lo. They have consistently been making excellent music for nearly a decade and I am still baffled that they aren’t way bigger than they are. They’re stars to me and I’d love to work with them someday and give back to Bay Area culture the way it has enriched me so much growing up.
I’ve met some of my favorite artists in New York City, like Shawn Smith @shawnsmithstory (who has had one hell of a year), Seth Dyer (@sethdyer_ev), NBDY (@nbdy_), and Rahmaan (@xrahmaan) (who is also one of my personal best friends). I highly recommend you check these guys out, but this is like me telling you to listen to Drake and J. Cole in 2007. You can either hear them now or in a few years from now when they’re really popping. But one way or another, you’re gonna hear them.
What’s next for A.K?
While I love the songs I’ve been writing, I’m really emotionally worn out from it. It’s hard to consistently write music that you care so deeply about and putting it out to the world. I want to take some time out to just make fun music, by which I mean it’s fun to make and fun to listen to too. They won’t be my magnum opus or anything like that, but I need to recharge and I just want to enjoy summer this year. I have a couple of songs with brown producers and I’m working with some brown artists on those, so be on the lookout for some bangers this summer!
In times where there is an influx of music made for “click bait” and “viral” purposes, we value artists who integrate meaningful narratives, follow @SoundsbyAK for more where this came from.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.
January 1, 2023January 1, 2023 7min readBy Brown boy
Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.
Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?
Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.
What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?
I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.
What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”
In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.
What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?
So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.
As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?
So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.
What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?
Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:
“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”
That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.
My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.
Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?
Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.
Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?
Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.
Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?
Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.
Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?
Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.
But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.
How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?
Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.
Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!