What doesn’t kill you makes you a survivor is perhaps the most fitting description of Syrian-American artist Husam’s story. The D.C.-based songwriter and producer first embraced music while in college in order to process his pain, and along the way, discovered a sense of purpose. Husam’s one-of-a-kind genre-blending sound is candid in approach, delicate in delivery, and powerful in effect, and the emerging talent notes that he is just getting started.
Join contributing writer Cynthia Gross, as she connects with Husam in recognition of Arab American Heritage Month. Learn what has surprised him most about his career so far, his favorite memory of the D.C. area, his personal message to anyone who feels hampered by their trauma, and details on his forthcoming single, “earthquake.”, which was influenced by the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Syria earlier this year.
Husam got what is largely considered a late start in music in 2015 while attending the University of Virginia, originally on a pre-med track. “I was going through a lot and didn’t really know how to express my pain, so I just started writing,” he said. “I wrote about the pain I felt surrounding the ugly divorce between my parents, the anger I felt toward my abusive father.” He describes himself as “an angry college kid” who was “struggling with addiction and depression.”
These early beginnings allowed Husam to explore finding his voice, and he remembers feeling solace in the university’s library, which had a small studio with a vocal booth. “I’d stay up there late at night every night rapping,” he shared. “I started skipping class, I started reading books I wanted to read, I started to realize what I was doing in school wasn’t making me happy.”
Husam admits that his first compositions were not necessarily tasteful, consisting of mostly “angry shouting,” but his foray into the creative space quickly became one where he knew he was meant to be. After Husam’s father stole the entirety of the family’s funds during the split, Husam dropped out of college to pursue music.
Over the next few years, Husam practiced “relentlessly” and studied albums, as well as the history, of old-school hip-hop artists, including Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Souls of Mischief, Eminem, and Logic. “Ask my sister, she would constantly complain about the racket I made!” he laughed.
“I used to take the metro and bus and walk to the studio, just to fail over and over and over again,” he shared candidly. “I would listen to my mix with my awful offbeat vocals on the 2-hour commute back home and cry.” Husam’s producer encouraged him still, and this willingness to embark on the difficult and lonely road of self-improvement is an aptitude that Husam carries with him to this day.
“I’ve gotten booed off stage, I’ve had no one show up at my shows, I’ve gone broke, reduced to sleeping on the floor, with nothing to show for my efforts,” he added. “I’ve had my mom look me in the eye and ask me when I was giving it up. I’ve been rejected and doubted time and time again. Seven years and very little to show for it.” And yet, Husam stayed the course.
Take a listen to Husam’s recent singles, including “Lead a Change,” “Good Riddance,” “What a Cruel World,” “Gotchu,” and “Chosen One,” and it is apparent that his sound has evolved from his roots to something cinematic and otherworldly, drawing from dark pop, R&B, alternative, and film music, as well as “some Arab magic” and “Middle Eastern maqam.”
Joy, pain, triumph, and trauma bear equal weight in Husam’s music, and audiences are transported to what feels like another realm in the process via breathtaking soundscapes. Husam explains that this is, in part, due to text painting, a technique that he incorporates into his signature sound, creating “almost another dimension” beyond the lyrics. And the result is sheer perfection.
The fractured nature of Husam’s relationship with select family members provides a platform for him to create music that speaks to his experiences in a raw and unfiltered manner lyrically. “It doesn’t matter what I say at this point because it’s already done. So, I’m like, ‘You might as well go and speak what you really feel because I’m sure there are a lot of other people that feel this way even if they’re scared to say it or scared to think it,” he said.
Songs like “I’ll Destroy You” capture this energy well. “Remember when you hit me? / Now I’m coming for you / The blue upon my face will never lie to you / You threatened me to lie to the teacher for you / Just you wait until I get a little older,” Husam sings in the haunting opening lines.
“I have so much more to tell about what I have gone through; we have only really scratched the surface,” explained Husam. “A lot happens in decades of child abuse, domestic abuse, bullying, addiction, depression, financial struggles, and the like. Given what I have gone through, my therapist told me I should’ve succumbed to addiction, been a criminal locked up, or been shot and killed.”
Husam is humbled by the fact that his music has become an inspiration to others, culminating in something much bigger than himself. “Every year, I just get more reasons to push harder and continue. Because now it’s like, well, you love it, great. You express yourself, cool. Now, it’s like I’m impacting people, that’s another why. Now, you’ve got people rooting for you, that’s another why. You can’t let them down either.”
Part of the byproduct of Husam’s art has resulted in him becoming a thought leader for Arab culture. Husam shared that in his opinion, “lots of things hold us back” from our best selves – similar to other cultures at large. “It seems in our culture that being wrong equates to being less than a whole person. Some people will argue day and night and never try to see any other perspective. That’s not how you learn, that’s not how you grow. I think there is a shame associated with being wrong that prevents us from being okay with it. It makes us feel small, perhaps belittled. Swallowing our pride will be the key to growth.”
Husam notes that he strives to model the change that he wants to see in the world. “I want to see calmer, more level-headed minds. I want to see more peace among people. I want to see just a decent human being. Honestly, maybe I shouldn’t ask too much, but is being decent too much to ask? Just to not be an a-hole?” he laughed.
When questioned about how he has remained resilient and decidedly upbeat, Husam replied, “I didn’t have the heart to give up. I couldn’t come back from the war empty-handed. I couldn’t let the bullies and doubters have the last laugh. I let my pain push me and make me stronger. I remember all the failures I’ve overcome, that helps me overcome the next one. I remember how far I’ve come and how much pain I’ve survived, this is just another thing to push through. I keep a list of my reasons of why I do what I do. I keep a list of my pain, so I can look at it and never forget exactly who I am and what I stand for.”
“I got help, I wasn’t afraid of asking questions, and I surrounded myself with the best people I knew, some would serve as lifelong mentors,” he added. “I’ve failed more times than I care to count; if I was going to quit, I should have quit a long time ago.”
To anyone facing their own seemingly insurmountable obstacle, Husam wants you to remember that you are stronger than you realize. “Know that this could be all part of the story you will tell,” he said. “You will look back at those moments and smile at the fact you overcame it, and you can serve as the example for someone else who is going through a dark season.”
“Even on a logical level, giving up doesn’t do any good for you,” he acknowledged. “The time will pass anyway; you might as well take that leap and keep going. I’d rather that than live in a constant state of ‘what if.’ What would you be doing otherwise, anyway?”
Husam is proud to be a part of the vibrant D.C., Maryland, and Virginia independent music scene. His favorite memory is having shawarma or falafel sandwiches on sunny days at the National Harbor with family. And the future of his music career looks bright indeed.
Stay tuned for his upcoming “absolute banger of a single,” “earthquake.”, which releases in the coming weeks. The song, a collaboration with rapper Twin Hector, was written after the devastating earthquake in Syria, and contrary to expectation, is an empowering anthem for the masses. “I dedicate this song to those who are in that struggle,” said Husam.
Follow Husam on Instagram and YouTube for the latest on what the rising star describes as a year of “big things” to come.
Maryland-based singer-songwriter Cynthia Gross seeks to inspire an awakening to all we are and all we can become. With a passion for language in all of its forms and more than a decade of experience as a professional ghostwriter, she is a light seeker who understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
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