Capturing The American Dream With Hip-Hop, Told Through Immigrant Eyes

Atlanta artist Phay's powerful single "US" channels the story of his father's immigration to America.
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Atlanta artist Phay's powerful single "US" channels the story of his father's immigration to America.

Good parents want only the best for their children - the best home, the best schooling, the best opportunities; a life that’s better than the one they knew. Before he was born, Faris Mousa was impacted by his father’s decision to leave the Middle East to breath American air and build a life on American soil. He saw a future in a foreign land, a land of promise, a land of peace. The story of his journey from the country Jordan to the United States is told through Faris, better known by his rap pseudonym Phay, on the single “US.”

“US” is a beautiful tune inspired by Master Of None, the popular Netflix series starring Aziz Ansari. The episode “Parents” does a brilliant job of portraying a realistic depiction on the main characters' fathers and their immigration to the United States. The episode gives you a look into their homeland, their journey to America, and the pros and cons that came with their decision. Phay approaches “US” with the same detailed storytelling. The first verse draws you into a man who has very little entering into a new country full of hope. The song is written in a manner that juxtaposes hardships and hope, something that is relatable to all people from all walks of life.

“I’m very wary of how I word things so that it applies to not just people of my ethnicity but people who live this everyday.”

Hearing “US” for the first time, I was left with an instant realization that it was a special song. Coming across a song with a fresh perspective is refreshing, especially when it touches on a subject that isn’t a common narrative articulated in rap. Phay’s storytelling turns his family's personal history into a record that feels bigger than just one man. It's a song that can have global significance. The hook is simple, but also songwriting gold. “They came to the U.S. so they could be proud of US” is how the chorus begins - Phay and Re Lxuise's voices blend with the warm instrumentation to create a feeling of serenity. The song ends with a gallant church organ and soulful choir, making the chorus even bigger and more extravagant without losing the elegance. In a time where ethnic tensions are high due to various problems in this country (and around the world), “US” is extremely necessary.

"Our country has a lot of things we need to improve just like any other country. There will be corruption anywhere you go. Long as humans are on this earth it will be corruption but in terms of quality of life i do understand the difference between American poverty and Third World poverty. I walk with the burden of America’s history on my shoulders but at the end of the day  I’m very appreciative of the privileges that I’m able to have as an American. I'm just as American."

The cover art is significant for various reasons. Phay’s father was born in Palestine, but due to an Israeli war when he was a young man, he was evacuated to the country of Jordan. The cover for “US” is a recreation of a photo that was taken in Jordan when Phay’s father was only seven years old. That’s him in the middle; the child holding the gun. He isn’t playing Scarface, his little friend is for protection. His father stands to the left of him, and a friend stands on the right.

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Notice the bullets that, slightly hidden, are draped across the man to the right’s chest? This is a photo taken during a time of war - there are no smiles, just stern glares from all three men. It’s a powerful image once you have the added context and understand the origins. When asked why his father chose America, Phay admitted that it was during the Vietnam War era and Americans were heavily promoting peace, not war. The lifestyle of sex and drugs and peace is far more appealing than a war zone.

"My dad remembers the war. It was 50 years ago, a half a century ago, but it sticks with him. He has only talked about it once, but it's held close to his heart  because of the people he lost. He remembers the guns going off, explosions, full apartment complex buildings were blown up demolition style. The United States was looked upon as salvation, a sanctuary away from the madness." 

When Phay was 11, his family opened up a Mediterranean Grill in Atlanta. That’s the hummus that paid for his tuition, which he mentions in the second verse. It’s a testament to how his father came to America and made the most of the opportunities. No country is perfect - America is far from it - but the good and the bad has a strange balance: Phay’s potential career in rap is based on him being born here. The three GRAMMYs he swears to obtain is just the next step in his family's legacy in the states. The family dynamic between father and son, and the desire for a better life, is what takes the song to such a personal place. No matter your race, ethnicity, religion or culture, you want the best for your family.

“There’s a three part segment on the album “Mama” where it’s basically about nationality in the United States. The song “Adios” represents trying to get into America. It’s basically a pro immigration song. It captures what is so enticing about the land of opportunity. Then you got “Us”, far more lighthearted, but it’s about being here but also being broke. I talk about my dad taking the bus and working three jobs. You realize America isn’t like the movies but you’re happy to be here. Immigrant Song (Interlude) is the third of the trilogy that describes being here and feel like you’re not wanted”

What I enjoy most about “US” is that the song gives me a deeper glance into the mind of how America looks from the outside and why it’s such a land of promise. Phay takes pride in being a first generation Arab-American but understands the feeling of not being completely wanted by this country due to his ethnicity. It’s his awareness of his heritage, his family's history, and this country’s history that allows him to have a perspective that makes his words so meaningful.

There’s a song that will be featured on his forthcoming album Mama called “Immigrant Son” that walks through the turmoil of feeling like a second-class citizen in a post-9/11 America. Not all of Phay’s music is centered on his nationality and ethnicity - he’s lighthearted and fun - but he also feels it’s his responsibility to talk about the serious subjects and be a voice for not only first generation Americans but all Americans.


By Yoh, aka Y.O.H. @Yoh31.