Aaryan Shah: Indian-American Artist Talks Race, Hiding His Face And Working With TDE’s Zacari

Aaryan Shah - Photo by: Nikhil Walton

Mysterious singer/producer Aaryan talks about being a minority in the industry, his biggest influences, getting Zacari on “Renegade,” his “Dark Ages project” and why he wears a facemask!

Aaryan Shah is here to prove he has the talents to make it in the big leagues. 

The Indian-American singer-songwriter is a child to immigrants, born in the States after his parents migrated from India to Los Angeles. Going against the grain and dropping out of school at the age of 15 to pursue his music career, the rising star spends his waking hours in the lab perfecting his craft, oftentimes in the studio until 2am.

Currently, the 20-year-old artist and producer sings about everything from drugs to sex to depression — invoking emotion and passion with each release. 

Most recently, he tapped TDE’s own Zacari on the remix to his 2017 smash “Renegade,” a collaboration that speaks volumes to who Aaryan is as a person and artist. Plus, he has yet to reveal his face to the public, preserving his mystique in hopes of listeners paying attention to the music wholeheartedly.

Currently, fans wait patiently for his forthcoming music video “Is This The Life I Chose?” 

AllHipHop: How does it feel to be Indian American in the music industry?

Aaryan Shah: It’s crazy, I can see that I’m one of the first Indian American acts to come on the scene. A few really dope ones have been poppin’ for a little bit, Nav’s a great example of someone who’s already been doing it. In the R&B world especially, it’s a space that hasn’t been touched . It’s really cool. For me, everyday feels like we’re doing something new, like we’re breaking some new barrier. At the same time, there’s a lot of challenges that come with it too. People don’t necessarily know because there’s not a lot of Asians in the space, it doesn’t get talked about that much, but we’re here to stay and want to show the world what this looks like at the highest level.

AllHipHop: Your parents came to Los Angeles when they were 20. How was your upbringing in Los Angeles?

Aaryan Shah: I was born and raised here, down south close to Orange County. It was really cool because my parents have always been a little liberal and down to go against the grain. As much as you can expect from immigrant parents. [laughs] I was always an artistic kid, always wanted to explore painting, singing, and dancing, all these different things. When I was 14 or 15, I wanted to do stuff for real. I dropped out of high school to do music. That’s when everyone said “no, you’re doing too much.” You have the support of everybody, but not when it’s on a real level. Not when you’re like “no, I want to do this.” I don’t have any family in entertainment, I don’t have anyone from extended family or family friends. The whole Indian community has always been business or medicine.

AllHipHop: Did you think it was a long shot?

Aaryan Shah: Absolutely, but it’s the only thing that I could imagine myself doing. If it’s not this, I don’t know what it is.

AllHipHop: Biggest influences that you listened to?

Aaryan Shah: Bruno Mars. Justin Timberlake was my first concert, I saw him at the 20/20 Experience and said “that’s what I want to do.” At that point, I started studying music and going back to some of the greats from the 80’s and 90’s. Freddie Mercury’s one of my biggest influences. He wasn’t comfortable telling people where he’s from because the world wasn’t ready for it. In a way that was the world I’ve grown up in, so he’s always been a big influence for me.

AllHipHop: How did you learn how to produce and record?

Aaryan Shah: It was a lot of learning on the job, a lot of getting there. I’d never written music before I was 14 so I was trying to surround myself with as many engineers and producers as I could. As they’re doing things, I’d try to learn from them. They could explain to me what they’re doing, why they’re doing it. Over the years I’ve been able to pick up a lot of the things. For me, I have such a specific vision with whatever I’m trying to do. Everything’s so conceptual so I need to have as much control over it as possible. I tried to learn the things especially that I didn’t know, so I could start executing those on my own.

AllHipHop: How has the independent grind been?

Aaryan Shah: It’s been really great, it’s a really good time to be an independent artist. Being an independent, there’s this freedom you get, mainly creatively. I can really make whatever I want to make. The biggest component to me always is my fans, how are they receiving it and how are they connecting with it? We weren’t even supposed to make this last album. I was taking a lot of acid, acid’s the best.

Megh (manager): Psychedelic Summer 2020 was our energy.

Aaryan Shah: That was literally it, it was an acid trip with him. We really spent a lot of time drawing parallels to history, looking at old art, the Roman Empire, and the falling of Julius Caesar, how it made Europe transcend into the dark ages for a thousand years. I said “h######## no, we should make this the f###### album.” We started from scratch. If I was in a label situation, they wouldn’t be as cool with being like “oh, he tripped acid and said he wants to make this whole album.” Everyone around us is supportive.

AllHipHop: Talk about getting Zacari on “Renegade,” how’d that happen?

Aaryan Shah: It’s crazy. My manager Megh, Integral, the whole team, they go back with TDE. I’ve been a fan of Zacari since I started making music. He’s been really starting to pop off, “Redemption Interlude” is one of my favorite records by him. In this last year, “Renegade” was starting to go a little crazy. It’s an old record from 2018, I made it when I was 17. “Renegade” is having its biggest days this year. We thought it’d be cool to bring it back to life with somebody we f### with and Zacari was always one of the first people who came to mind. It was really cool, we sent it to him and he was feeling the energy. He sent something back so quick. We got in the studio, he’s a really nice person. I’m glad he’s the first person I’ve ever actually worked with.

AllHipHop: What do you want fans to get from the record?

Aaryan Shah: As a whole, that record is who I am: being a f###### renegade in life. I’ve always felt black sheep energy around everyone. I was the kid that dyed my hair, pierced my ears, got tatted and dropped out. I did what I wanted to do and what felt right for me. That’s what the song’s about, and a lot of people are on that energy these days.

AllHipHop: Is there a visual coming?

Aaryan Shah: Nah, I think that one lives in its own era. We’ll probably leave it there. That one exists from my album The Arrival, it was a part of that whole world. Personally, I’m in a very different place now. I’m looking towards what we’re doing next.

AllHipHop: What can we expect next from you?

That’s a good question. I like to be as cryptic as I can ‘cause I want the fans to experience it as it comes. For me, everything’s very

narrative-based. The Dark Ages was an experience we tried to build for the fans. Whatever comes next will definitely build off of that. My goal‘s to bring something new every time I come back. I won’t be coming back until I have something new. [laughs]

AllHipHop: One thing you want fans to get from The Dark Ages?

Aaryan Shah: Dark Ages is a very personal story for me. From seeing the last 6 or 7 months of it being out, everyone has their own experience with the project,. they find a lot of comfort in the project and I hope it serves as a time capsule for a moment in their lives. 5 years, 10 years from now, I want people to be able to listen back and think “this was The Dark Ages of my own life.”

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AllHipHop: Talk about wearing a facemask and the meaning behind it.

Aaryan Shah: I started making music before I was wearing a mask. People were so focused on me being brown and the Indian aspect, it was always “terrorist, Muslim, blah blah.” The focus was on the wrong thing. It reached a part where nobody was paying attention to what I was saying, so I stopped showing my face and let people focus on the art and not me. The art, not the artist. Fans really latched onto it because people were able to relate to me without anything else outside of the music. My relationship with my fans has become strictly on the music, I wouldn’t have gotten without wearing a mask for the last 3 or 4 years.

AllHipHop: 3 things you need in the studio?

Aaryan Shah: I need my Xanax in the studio, depending on the energy. I need coffee because I get very tired, it cancels out the Xanax too though. It’s one way or the other. [laughs] Lowkey I need some Taco Bell because I be hungry as f###. Some Taco Bell will change everything.

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AllHipHop: How does it feel to have people get tattoos inspired by you?

Aaryan Shah: It’s f###### surreal. It’s so surreal. It’s cool people will listen to my music and people are fans, but for someone to say “yo I’m taking this to the grave with me,” it’s big. It’s a big statement on what I’m doing. It’s validating to me almost, I’ve really made an impact on someone’s life.

AllHipHop: What can we expect from your upcoming music video, “Is This the Life I Chose?”?

Aaryan Shah: “Is This the Life I Chose?” is the closeout to the project and to this era. It’s become a fan favorite, which I love. I’m excited for people to see this video because it’s really a recap of our 2020 and the wild a## year we’ve had. I’m excited to close out The Dark Ages era with it.