Leeds based rapper and producer Oliver Asadi talks to Rory Swann about releasing his first single in five years.
The mysteriously titled Lionsapien is a lot of fun. Through colourful production and lyrics, Asadi keeps with his exploration of world music, incorporating elements from Indonesian beats to Afro-beats to American hip-hop to a feature from genre-bending Japanese band Afrirampo. From this description, it could be all over the place, but it’s not. The threads of world music are woven into a consistent beat, over which Asadi and Afrirampo rap and chant in their signature styles. It all makes for a track that’s immediately engaging but not overwhelming.
Asadi is half British, half Persian. Despite his Leeds accent, he claims that he has never had a British view on life. ‘Most of my friends are from different countries so I’ve never had a British view on stuff, but more of a worldview,’ he explains. He describes growing up in an Iranian household and being surrounded by Iranian music, an influence present in the instrumentation of his new single.
It comes as no surprise that his biggest musical influence is M.I.A. His fusion of world music and hip hop is indeed reminiscent of the Sri Lankan rapper’s discography. Also like M.I.A, Asadi started as a filmmaker. In fact, the inspiration for Lionsapien came from a project when he was completing his MA in Film at Leeds University back in March 2020. He was asked to make a film about an Indonesian dance festival and was given its music to handle.
‘I found these crazy samples,’ he says, ‘this music I’d never heard of before.’ It was during covid, when he suddenly found himself with time on his hands, that he started playing with these samples and eventually created the beat for Lionsapien.
I ask him about the track’s title and he tells me that it came from Yuval Noah Harari’s acclaimed book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’. The first piece of artwork known to man, he reveals, depicted ‘a sort of lion-man’.
Animals, particularly lions, are consistent motifs throughout Asadi’s discography. (His 2018 project Untamed contains tracks such as In my Jungle and Barracuda.) Partly this is because his name means ‘like a lion’ in Arabic.
‘When I found that out [about the artwork] it all came together during that moment.’ The artwork indicates that the fascination, and connection, to the wild which Asadi explores in his music has always been central to humanity. His connection to the lion-human, or ‘Lionsapien’, is more than just a personal one. It is a humanity-wide one.
Asadi is singularly interested in the relationship between the human world and the wild. ‘We are very fortunate that we [humans] are in control of the world,’ he says. ‘It used to be Dinosaurs. In even a thousand or two thousand years from now, it could be some sort of animal that we have no idea about.’
Asadi brings humanity together as a moment in Earth’s history. Indeed, his music is a unifying force itself, fusing together music from all corners of the earth, and uniting humanity in anticipation of what is to come after us.
But better, surely, than a world ruled by one species is a word where animals and sapiens rule on the same plain? The hypnotic chanting of the title throughout the song seems to worship the ‘lionsapien’ and invoke its coming. It is a being that prophecies (perhaps optimistically) our reconnection with the animal world.
The ‘lionsapien’ was present at the start of humanity’s existence. But the ‘lionsapien’ is also a sort of post-human, one which would rule over an Edenic world where humans and animals are re-connected as one.
Lionsapien is a fun, summery and intricately produced track that doesn’t take itself too seriously – there are Kanye-esque dick lyrics aplenty, and the trippy animation that accompanies the single feels like it was made for 4/20. But don’t get it twisted. This is more than just a summer bop: it is music for a post-human world.
Lionsapien will be released on April 3rd and comes alongside an EP of the same name.
Watch the music video here: https://youtu.be/sWKwWNzAEAs
Words: Rory Swann