Grand Scheem: Criminal Blinded

In 1993, Hip-Hop in America was so light-hearted that a group named Yall So Stupid dropped a all-but-forgotten album called Van Fulla Pakistans on Rowdy Records – to limited success. Hard to imagine – through today’s memory. As it were, after 2001 though, such a title could hault even the smartest publicity campaign. Old jokes […]

In 1993, Hip-Hop in America was so light-hearted that a group named Yall So Stupid dropped a all-but-forgotten album called Van Fulla Pakistans on Rowdy Records – to limited success. Hard to imagine – through today’s memory. As it were, after 2001 though, such a title could hault even the smartest publicity campaign. Old jokes die hard.

There’s no jest in Grand Scheem’s art. Like Immortal Technique or Paris, Scheem is committed to uncovering that which we’re led to believe. While his anti-authoritarian lyrics would be reason enough to be muffled, Scheem is a Pakistani-American living in Miami. His rising single, “The Greatest Scheem Ever Sold” has grown popular in many circles – and even garnered a nod from Fahrenheit 9/11. As Hip-Hop media outlets are drawn towards Scheem and his message, challenged the MC on his words, his representation, and learned about what it feels like to walk in a new kind of shoes. This is just as sociological as it is musical – whichever the case, Scheem is a politician’s worst nightmare squared… Tell me about the Fahrenheit 9/11 situation. You were supposed to be on the soundtrack…

Scheem: “The Greatest Scheem Ever Sold” became involved in the solicitation game the same way that it’s become nationally recognized on the college charts – through word of mouth. The powers that be caught wind of the track and expressed an immediate interest. The concept of an American with a Middle Eastern background – rapping – was unheard of. Then why was the song later rejected?

Scheem: I was asked to remove the lyrics: “Get ya money with a gun, take the money and run, America here we come” and “F**k a skyscraper”, and they wanted to change what they felt was lyrically an overall “unpatriotic” aura about the song. I’m an American – I explained to them that “Get ya money with a gun, take the money and run, America here we come” represents what many Americans feel to be the underlying theme of our current war crisis – violence for financial gain that leads to a violent response. And “F**k a skyscraper” was not a shot at the World Trade Center bombings, but instead an argument that not all people from my part of the world resort to violence. For the record, the beef the song expresses is geared towards the decision-makers that many feel have a personal agenda.

Expecting me to sugarcoat my statement to the American people was out of character for me and not worth any money or record contract, and only p##### me off more, which fueled my mission to put this statement in the whole world’s inbox. The whole situation made me feel like the people were being silenced. I did this record for the people who needed to hear it. Each of the 35 “I’s” in the track represent a personality living in a post 9/11 society – the American with a conviction that can’t vote, regardless if he or she is a good person, or that prisoner in Gitmo – who is suffering from cruel and unusual punishment, or the “John Kerry’s” of America not happy with the decisions being made, or the Israeli Jew looked at suspiciously due to media stereotyping of his facial features and skin complexion, or that hustla doin’ what he or she has to do to get by, or the family who lost their son or daughter in the war. All of these people’s emotions and more are what made this record; Grand Scheem is the voice-box for the people. It’s important for me to realize that Hip-Hop has seen Middle Eastern personalities before. Look at Fred Wreck, who has been doing this for over a decade. Tell me why your nationality is NOT a gimmick in this. In your packaging, more attention seems to be paid to image, when it’s really only a single…

Scheem: When you have millions of people – at least 50% of America – unhappy because they’re living and dying by the flick of a pen, you realize that this spans beyond race or color. I think people really feel it coming from my mouth because right now, I represent the underdog in America, the community that keeps getting bashed through the media, and never has the opportunity to speak their piece. The Middle East has always been here, it’s just that before, no one cared what HAJJI or Zohar or Abdullah or Yoel had to say – now he’s headline news.

I’d hate to believe that there are cats in the game tryna market their cultural background to sell records. I can respect a guy like DJ Khaled [of the Terror Squad], who never hid his Middle Eastern background from day one, and I want to keep it real like that – if I was Polish or Russian or whatever, you’d have known from the start. What I do is bring you closer to understanding the so-called “enemy”. I’m that bridge between East & West culture – an American, but with Pakistani roots. I’ve lived in Pakistan for years, and while others talk speculatively – I lived my rap. I witnessed my first car bombing when I was 14 – I’ve lived the desert. But to me, the Middle Eastern factor is more an additive than anything else – you see and can relate to what my community is going through – racial profiling, the Patriot Act, the overall negativity that has been put on us. People don’t like Jay-Z because he’s from the ghetto, or Eminem because he’s White – pure and simple, they were dope – musically, lyrically, etc. People take my music seriously because they can vibe to it. I know no matter how real the lyrics, the music has to be dope for people to want to hear it.

When it comes to my music, I believe in quality, not quantity – each statement I release impacts people because of the reality of what I’m speaking on and what we’re all living. There’s no need for me to drop billions of mixtapes or exclusives – there’s nothing bonafide or sacred about that – we’re focused on making head-bobbin impressions, not record sales. We went into this project with a pure purpose, and because this is not a standard project, there’s no need to follow any standards. How can we be any realer than if we made the track available for free? A lot of times, people get me twisted thinking I’m a rapper – I speak on behalf of disenfranchised America – not as an artist, but as a street delegate. What is your own role in Miami’s growing Hip-Hop scene?

Scheem: As an immigrant born in Karachi – home to me is wherever I’ve left my mark. I’ve lived and worked in many places – Texas, New York, Los Angeles, the Bay Area – but Miami is a special place for me. This is where my parents first moved when we came from Karachi – a 1-bedroom apartment in Opa Locka, which is a part of Miami. More importantly, Miami brought the “Greatest Scheem…” to life, and it deserves as much credit and respect as I do for making that happen. A lot of the creative vibe here probably comes from the paradise-like atmosphere, and the unity of the music community in this area. Much credit to Miami’s own Poe Boy Entertainment, and everyone else involved with the creation and support of this project. Tell me about The Source and MTV situations – what do you think made them interested in you? For instance, was The Source focus more on the music or the politics of who you are?

Scheem: What caught their ear was the same thing that would catch my ear – the music. I produce my music in a distinct vocal and instrumental manner, and because my influences range from Pink Floyd and the Carpenters to Ice Cube and Tupac. And because I’ve had the opportunity as a promoter to work with and observe some of the premier artists in the game – Dr. Dre, Aaliyah, Lil Jon, many others – I’ve learned from the best.

The Source opportunity was initially picked for the politics, but because we built a pure buzz, they started to recognize the track for its musical value. In the end, the word-of-mouth buzz forced The Source to see it as the people saw it, and now they’ve got us in the Fat Tapes section for November, on top of a feature article dropping soon after. Tell me the last time you encountered prejudice in this country? What about within Hip-Hop?

Scheem: Prejudice is seamlessly imbedded into everyday living – that’s the brilliance of the media. Every time I enter a building of importance, especially if I’m carrying a bag or briefcase, I can feel the eyes following me. At airports – forget about it. Without knowing it, people are zombies to what they see on TV or read in magazines, and this carries out into daily life.

The last time I traveled to California, I truly felt the brunt of what it was like to be a pre-determined criminal. We were flying to L.A. to take several meetings and drop off CDs to the local swap meets and retail spots, so we had a good amount of product in our hand luggage. If you’ve seen our CD inlet for “The Greatest Scheem…”, there are images of dead civilians, dead U.S. soldiers, injured or dead children, basically the casualties of war – so when they “randomly” searched us, they found this to be a problem. When we got on the plane, I had a plain-clothes sheriff sitting next to me throughout the flight, asking me questions on my sentiments about America. This turned into a three-hour interrogation, and as we landed, I smiled and thanked the guy for his interest in my life. Regardless, he followed me – from a distance – to baggage claim and until I left the airport.

Within Hip-Hop, I’ve received nothing but love from the community. Pee Wee Kirkland labeled our music “Conscious Gangsta”, we charted nationally on the college charts – I think the positive reaction stems from the fact that this is what Hip-Hop was made for – a communication device to share game so the next person can better themselves from your experiences. I grew up a latch key child in a single-parent household, and my main tutor was Hip-Hop. The same feeling I got when I first heard N.W.A. is the same feeling I want people to feel when they hear me. After 9/11, it’s been said that Middle Easterners in this country are “the new n*gger”. Given your perception on things, how does that statement ride with you?

Scheem: That’s what I am. I feel there’s a lot of truth to that statement because that’s-what-I-am. That word is perceived in America as the lowest of the low – that’s where we are as a community, simply through the media and fear factor. When people see us at a bus stop, they get worried, near a building – worried, airport – worried. Look at the handling of the problems after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The media is selective in what they choose to show – they have the ability to twist perception in any direction they want. They want to talk about the 10-15 African American snipers and crackheads terrorizing the streets – forget about the 10,000-15,000 civilized people staying in the Superdome. And I think we all saw the situation where the Black guy was “stealing groceries”, while the White couple “found the groceries.”

People sometimes question my use of the term “Sand N***a” – they feel it degrading to my community. How can I be degrading my community when I call myself the same thing? The streets created this term – not me – its only a negative, its only a racial slur when someone not from that part of the world uses it. I’m just trying to relate to the people on our own terms. I have to be real when I deliver – this isn’t a Scorsese film – we’re opening the doors of information while we’re living it. What’s the timetable like for your album? We’ve spent all this time focusing on a single. In a way, I like that nowadays in Hip-Hop…

We’re unsigned and independent, so there is no timetable for the album – I don’t have to deal with fulfilling any release dates. I made this record without any formulas, dates, etc. in mind – I made the record because it needed to be made. I don’t deal directly with distributing the music – to be honest with you, completion of a full length is based on whether people continue to need to hear the voice of Grand Scheem. Our mission is to help America achieve an understanding of the American lifestyle through the perspective of people that look and feel like me. At the end of the day, the people will be the determining factor in the big picture of what occurs.

The D.O.C. told me years ago when he was critiquing my first demo, “The most original thing you can contribute to the game is yourself – there’s only one you…And if people don’t accept it, f**k em!”. I’ve been following his advice ever since.

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