Aziz Ansari's Incredible Rise From Small Town Comedian to Hip-Hop Favorite

How Aziz Ansari somehow went from a South Carolina kid to appearing in Jay Z and Kanye West videos.

Warren G’s “Regulate” dominated the summer of 1994, taking over radio and television by reaching number one on the charts and number one on MTV’s music video charts. “Regulate” was bigger than the west coast, it took Warren G, Nate Dogg and the sweet sounds of G-Funk into households worldwide. Even small towns like Bennettsville, South Carolina, with a population of less than 8,000 knew about the 213. One Bennettsville native would recall when “Regulate” was always on MTV years later during an interview with Pitchfork. Through the television, a young, Indian-American that we know as Aziz Ansari was introduced to rap music, a relationship that would become an interesting part of his future as a comedian.  

I grew up in South Carolina, and when I was a kid, all I had access to was MTV. And all that was on MTV was Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, "Regulate". But toward the end of high school and when I went to NYU, I started discovering more underground hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest and Stones Throw. For those bits [about Kanye West] on the first special, that was just like a crazy story that actually happened. - Pitchfork 

Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock are two comedians known for being linked with hip-hop music and culture. We expect to see them in the circles of Andre 3000, Q-Tip and Mos Def. But it was Aziz who landed on rap blogs in 2010 for a joke featured on his Comedy Central Intimate Moments For Sensual Evenings special. Hilariously, he reminisced on the night he spent with Kanye West. An unlikely pair, I almost didn’t believe it, but the story he tells is very fitting of Kanye’s eccentric personality. How he entered his home and Kanye was enjoying 808’s and Heartbreaks like he wasn’t the one who made it, how Kanye stepped away to stare at titties through a telescope, and how he urged the comedian to perform stand-up in his living room. The clip and story spread like wildfire but it wouldn’t be the last time Aziz and Kanye would be mentioned together.

Watch The Thronewasn’t the big bang that would restructure the rap world, no lives were changed because of it, but the album gave us some good music and great memories. One being the music video for “Otis” -- I don’t think I've ever watched Jay and Kanye showcase that much carefree fun. Rappers are serious, when the cameras are out they enter an armor of unbreakable cool, but that wasn’t the case in this video. There have been countless memes made capturing the joy of Jay and Ye as they drive and destroy a perfectly good Maybach. If Watch The Throne is considered a passion project between two rich men celebrating their triumphs and excellence, “Otis” captures that very spirit. Kanye smiles more in the video than he has in the last four years. Besides the girls that appear in the backseat, Aziz is the only other cameo. He’s dressed in a suit and shades, obviously overdressed compared to the visual's casual attire, but it helps to make his few seconds on screen memorable. He’ll forever be a part of the album’s history.

Not only did he appear in the popular music video, Aziz can also be seen in one of the most iconic photos from the Watch The Throne era. The snapshot of Justin Bieber, Kid Cudi, Tyler The Creator, Kanye, Jay, Rashida Jones, and Aziz was everywhere when it first surfaced in 2011. The Biebs tweeted the image without any caption or context given, truly a photo that upholds the “worth a thousand words” idioms. Kanye kissing Rashida, Jay Z with the Occupy Your Streets tee, Tyler The Creator being Tyler, Cudi and Bieber trying to appear cool and as normal as possible. Aziz looks hilariously out-of-place, but that look of eyes ajar and mouth hung open was what most of us wore when we first saw the photo.

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In his 2012 Dangerously Delicious stand-up, Aziz mentions being in the club with Jay during New Year's after a NYE’s performance with Coldplay. After giving him a surprising shout-out, Jay asked for Aziz to come up and tell a joke. It’s 4 AM, he’s intoxicated, Aziz tries to decline because he knows that he isn’t in the state to be comedic, but Jay is persuasive and his persistence leads to a very embarrassing fail once he gives in. It's hard being the funny friend, especially when your profession is making people laugh.

The Throne aren’t the only rappers associated with Aziz. 50 Cent may not be destroying luxury cars with the comedian but their time in the same room won’t be forgotten anytime soon. In the same stand up special he shares a bit about overhearing 50 Cent ordering a grapefruit soda at a New York restaurant. He breaks down how funny it was to witness 50 reveal that he didn’t know the difference between a grape and grapefruit. A simple but funny blunder.



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Drake tweeted in July of 2013 “No more free Randy,” a quote from the character that Aziz played in the movie Funny People. Originally a fictional character that was conceptually based off of Soulja Boy, Randy was a stand-up comedian who had a DJ, and Aziz incorporated that more cocky, raunchy, and explosive persona into his stand-up comedy. Drake being the purveyor of all things popular online sampled Aziz’s “No more free Randy” as the opening of the original “All Of Me.” The intro snippet wasn’t originally a part of the song, Key Wane credits Drake and 40 as being the ones who added it.

Aziz also started a trend in 2014 called #AzizDrakeGrams after he Photoshopped himself into a photo of Drake looking rather Drake-ish as a form of promotion for his comedy tour. It sent his followers into a Photoshop frenzy that Pigeons and Planes collected as it was transpiring. That was just one of many times Aziz has used Photoshop in relation to rappers. Aziz has an entire Tumblr page dedicated to him Photoshopping his face onto well-known rap album covers. He calls it Emceez Ansari. Tupac, R. Kelly, Nicki Minaj, even Waka Flocka Flame covers are altered with Aziz’s face. It’s impressive, the facial expressions add another layer of hilarity.

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Tom Haverford, Aziz’s character on Parks and Recreation doesn’t completely embody hip-hop but he’s obviously influenced. He has this swagger about him that at times feels like a young Kanye trapped in a government official's body. Also, his knack for creating slang and coining phrases is more trendsetting than the Migos. Much like Aziz, Tom never feels forced or corny. It was cool when he dressed up as T-Pain for Halloween and it was done without being racially insulting. He understands how to be authentic without being offensive.

We reported last year about Master Of None, Aziz’s acclaimed comedy series on Netflix, and how there’s an episode that takes a look at Eminem’s meta-lyrics from “Lose Yourself” in relation to the movie 8 Mile. The back and forth between characters Dez and Arnold is a pure rap nerd moment, the kind of discussions I have with Lucas and Nathan. There’s rap music used throughout the series, there are various rap references, but the biggest hip-hop moment is having Busta Rhymes appear as a cameo. Busta told Billboard in his interview after the episode aired that he’s a big of Aziz and loves how he reps for hip-hop. A big stamp from one of rap’s all-time biggest personalities.

Started from the bottom, while the saying has become synonymous with Drake it’s a mentality at the very heart of hip-hop. Coming from nothing, defying the odds, hustling your way to the mountaintop and doing it your way is what we love about Jay Z, Kanye West, 50 Cent and Eminem. Last year, Aziz Ansari packed Madison Square Garden. Let that sink in. An Indian-American from the small town of Bennettsville, South Carolina, filled up seats in the same venue that only a very, very select few comedians ever have played. It didn’t happen overnight, Aziz perfected his craft through the smallest open mics in New York to conquering the most famous venue in the city. And now his career's come full circle, right back to Kanye West. 

Aziz said during his Reddit AMA that he never dreamed of being a comedian, that he only dreamed of getting out of Bennettsville. He escaped, just like J. Cole his life took a turn when he left to go to school in New York. Now the kid that watched Warren G in his South Carolina living room is passing around pictures of his parents with Kanye West, co-signed by Busta Rhymes and Jay Z. Even though he doesn’t tell many rapper stories in his stand up anymore, he has continued to incorporate rap and hip-hop into almost everything he touches. It's not every day that we see a minority, especially an Indian-American, accomplish what he has and he's done it all his way.

If that’s not hip-hop I don’t know what is.  


By Yoh, aka No More Free Yoh, aka @Yoh31.

Photo Credit: KanyeToThe



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