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How Queens Rapper Anik Khan Lives Between Two Cultures Through Hip-Hop

The Bengali-American rapper seeks to expose more people to what isn’t represented in music and culture.

Home is where the heart is, where the world is introduced and identity is molded. Who we grow to become is largely influenced by what happens in the place where we eat, sleep and love. The same can be said for what happens once the front door is open and the outside world begins to play a role in shaping our minds, tastes, and further crafting our character. There’s a duality to the human experience, the two sides of life that impact every single one of us.

Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh but raised in Astoria, Queens, Anik Khan has been on Earth for 27 years, straddling the line between two worlds, two cultures, and searching for solace in the middle.

“Inside the house, there was a lot of Bengali music but outside there would be Nas, 50, Jay and X. All I did was engulf myself in hip-hop because I loved it so much—that was my two worlds,” Anik explained over the phone, breaking down why his music is soaked in elements that expand beyond hip-hop’s traditional template. There’s a worldliness to his production, sonically exploring corners of the map that aren’t ordinarily represented in rap.

Being of Bengali descent didn’t always come with a sense of pride, though. For years, Anik ran away from paying homage to his South Asian heritage and the culture of his people. It wasn’t until he returned to Bangladesh at 21 that he discovered the beauty of the homeland he left at the age of four. It was an awakening, an acceptance, and the beginning of Anik Khan becoming the artist he is today.

"I saw just how beautiful my culture is, how beautiful my history is. The only reason why the UN has a national language day is because my father fought in the Liberation War and gained his independence. Because of him I have a language, because of him I have an identity. I had to realize how dope that is. Just because other people haven’t experience it or understood it doesn’t mean South Asian culture isn’t fuego or that Muslim culture isn’t fire. Finally, it was like a shattering of the glass around 23-24." - Anik Khan

Three years after the glass shattered, Anik Khan released Kites, the newly-released EP he considers the true beginning of his artistic journey. This isn’t his first release, a few smaller projects can be found in his back catalog, but Kites is the story he has been hoping to articulate through his music since falling in love with the microphone. It's the story of a man in his late 20s from Queens, New York who is going through the ups and downs of being an immigrant, being Bengali, being from lower income housing, being in all of these different cultures and fusing everything together.

He sees Kites as the album that encompasses the diversity of Queens, how so many different people from various parts of the world can gather in one place. “I tell people all the time if you’re too broke to travel the world come to Queens, it’s the closest you’ll get," he said. "I wanted to show people what that is. The soundtrack to New York that most people don’t talk about, the unheard voices of New York City. I love Brownsville, I love Queensbridge, I love Harlem, I love Southside Jamaica. I came from those places too. But that’s a small part of New York. New York is filled with immigrants and I wanted to voice that side of the city.”

Think of Kites as a train ride, an album that takes you from Queens Plaza to Jamaica Ave if you were traveling locally. The EP is split into three different intervals represented by three of the most beloved people in Anik's life: His sister, who begins the project with a poem on “Cleopatra,” his longtime friend Brent who appears on “Brent’s Interlude” and has been a huge influence on Anik, and finally, Anik’s father, who recites a poem at the end of “Columbus."

10 songs take listeners through Astoria, LeFrak City and Jamaica Ave―all places that are significant to Anik’s path as an artist and a man. Blending the New York backdrop with West African, Bengali, Brazilian, West Indian and Indian influences, Anik creates a full-circle experience of an immigrant son embracing his various sides, all of which have directly influenced his growth.

Kites took two weeks to create but post-production took over six months. Anik is an artist who is observant of every little detail. He creates like a producer and is a credited as a co-producer for all 10 songs. Each record is layered with intricacies, every transition is one that was planned, plotted, and a dare to experiment rather than play safely. It’s incredible that a song recorded over Facebook messenger would make the final cut, but improvising for the sake of his vision is what makes the little details noteworthy.

"Brent is actually my big bro, a Muslim convert who is from East New Jersey. He was damn near homeless and my father took him in. He taught me how to make music, he taught me to keep going. I looked up to him so much I would copy his every move. I would try to rap like him and sing like him. I just thought he was one of the coolest people I ever met, he was so intelligent. When I graduated in 2007, the first project I ever mixed and recorded was his project. He wrote a song back in the day called 'Nest.' He was kind of going through the same thing back then that I’m going through 10 years later. I’m going through the same thing except I’m a kite instead of a nest. He was recently incarcerated for two years but as soon as he got out I told him I needed 'Nest.' He didn’t have the means to do it so I asked him to sing it over Facebook messenger. I recorded the FBM audio and I hired a pianist to play behind what he sang and put it right before 'Kites' as the halfway point." 

An early favorite is the title track, a metaphor for his relationship with music and the people in his life. The tug-of-war he refers to is the internal struggle that comes with being an artist, a desire to let go of this dream he had spent years of holding onto. “I was on the brink of quitting. I didn’t want to do this shit anymore. I’m 28, I’m not going to be out here chasing SoundCloud views. I’m never going back to the one-bedroom apartment with them rats and roaches. I want more for my mother and father who gave me everything, I want more for my family,” he candidly confessed.

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When you have a mortgage to pay, a family to support, and the reality of what it cost to make it in music, the thought of calling it quits becomes more and more enthralling. Five years ago, Anik was more focused on being the biggest kite in the sky—accomplishing all the big dreams of being a huge star in music―but time has allowed him to grow and mature. Anik now sees what’s important is the people steering the kite down below; the people watching from the ground, the people who will catch him if he falls, and pick him back up when it’s time to soar again.

Similarily, “Tides” is another metaphorical record that sees the music industry in the same light as high and low tides:  

"'Tides' is about the highs and lows of music, the highs and lows of what you love. There’s high tides and then there’s low tides: the lows pull you away, the high tides pull you in. Everyone thinks I’m singing about a woman but when I say, ‘I think I need your presence more than I need myself, I’m way past the edges, reaching out for help, if I ever,' it’s me talking about how much I love music and why I keep coming back to that shit. You go into the second verse, that’s the low tides. How I’m going through a quarter-life crisis, and how I might not need it to be satisfied. I muse on how I wish it was 2008 again when I was a young boy. Back when I would sit in my basement, smoke hookah, and make raps/songs all day. Wanting to just go out and be a delinquent, that carefreeness, that irresponsibility I wish I had.  My artist development happened with just me not ever getting the chance but forcing the chance. This is just a conversation with myself and being frank about the ups and downs, highs and lows of this music I love."

Sonically, most of the album is light—warm like May weather—and doesn’t dive too deep. It’s a fun, melodic album that will inspire days of dancing and nights of singing. Anik wanted to make this a pleasant listening experience, but he also understands the gravity of our current state in America. The release of “Columbus” wasn’t a scheduled single, but rather a result of Donald Trump and his toxic views on immigration. Anik was sitting on “Columbus” for over a year before the song came to light. A week before the song was released, Anik was visiting St. Thomas for his birthday―celebrating another year of life in a beautiful paradise. The very next week Trump signed Executive Order 13769, famously criticized for being a ban against Muslims due to the impact it had on travelers and visa holders. If his trip happened a week later, Anik’s circumstances could have been far more strenuous. Understanding the value of his voice, he wanted to release the dark and cold “Columbus” as an anthem for the people who built this country, and not the man who claimed to have discovered it.

"I’ve always hated the dumb ass holiday where we celebrate somebody who essentially created the slave trade. If we’re going to celebrate this day, we are going to celebrate it for the people who made this country, not the motherfucker who 'founded it.' It just so happens that in the political climate that we are in and all the banning, you can use Columbus as a metaphor for any oppressor. There’s one right now running the country. I wanted to end the project with a statement. The last thing you hear is my father reciting a poem about the liberation war. A poem about going out fighting for your country, being scared but only thinking about your family and loved ones. Praying that everything will be alright. I didn’t know a more beautiful way to end the album."

Speaking with Anik, I was reminded about the importance of representation. The beauty of having a person that resembles your color, who embodies your culture, and reflects who you see in the mirror―a figure who makes you feel comfortable in your skin. Hip-hop has always been a culture that gives a voice to the voiceless, a home for many who feel outcasted and misrepresented. He didn’t have anyone to be that figurehead growing up, but now being such an embracive purveyor of culture allows him to be an inspiration to fellow Bengali-Americans, South Asians and fellow immigrants who want to blend their homeland heritage with their American present. This message won't end on Kites, though. Anik plans to continue using music as a melting pot for all of his discoveries while learning, studying and sharing.

"If the genre is hip-hop it's slash world. I’m getting calls to go to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. I’m not one of those artists who can give you 80 songs man. I don’t do that shit man. I have to live for a little bit before I can start writing again. I want to let this live, I want to take this on tour. I want to give this to the people, and let people experience it. When you ask a question like what’s next, for me what’s next is continuous until this shit is normalized. Until this shit is something people understand. I’m here to take these sounds, these references and keep learning about the world and putting them on records to do my part as someone who can expose more people to what isn’t represented in music and culture."

The Queens rapper is indeed making music inspired by people who are unheard, unseen and misrepresented. Finding himself, finding his voice and embracing the duality of his human experience is beautiful to witness and beautiful to hear.

Allow Kites to take you across Queens and into a world of vibrant culture.

By Yoh, aka Yohulture, aka @Yoh31



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