Music News

YaSi Saved Her Songwriting by Turning to Art

YaSi will put on a multimedia show at Fort Greene on February 24.
YaSi will put on a multimedia show at Fort Greene on February 24. Sammy Keller

Following the release of her single “Knock Knock” last April, local hip-hop artist Yasman Azimi found herself questioning her feelings about music. When the single didn’t garner as many listeners as she expected, Azimi, who performs as YaSi, decided to take an honest look at her craft.

“Music wasn’t fulfilling me the way that it used to,” she says. “It wasn’t giving me inspiration and happiness the way it used to. It started to feel more like a job. I had to go back to the drawing board with my passion for everything.”

She wondered if she was making music because she wanted to be an artist, or if she was so far into her career that she felt like there was no turning back. Was her identity so wrapped up in being a musician that that was all she knew?

After “Knock Knock” was released, Azimi spiraled into a period of self-doubt, wondering what she was supposed to do with her life.

“I was caught up in listening to other people,” she explains. “I didn’t see any progression that sparked the passion within myself. I was so unhappy with my music and the lack of progression that I kind of quit fighting. But I was holding me back. I am an Iranian woman, and we damn sure don’t back down from a fight.”

Azimi began experimenting with different mediums, like graphic design and poetry, and began to see some improvement in her creative process. But mostly, the enthusiasm she felt while learning something new reminded her of why she loved music.

“I started getting pretty good at graphic art, in my opinion, and it was something that I could see the progress in every day,” Azimi says. “I could see myself getting better and loving it more. And the same with poetry and painting and reading. All of this stuff reminded me of why I loved doing [music].

“There are still days when I think, ‘Do I still love music as much as I did when I started?’ Some days it’s no, and some days it’s fuck, yeah.”

Azimi has incorporated her new skills into her songwriting; her newest single, “Lie,” came out on February 12, and at the end of the month, she’ll host an art show that will include the video for the song, her graphic-art collages and a short film for a poem she wrote.

According to Azimi, each piece of art tells a different story that inspired “Lie.”

click to enlarge YaSi rediscovered her passion for music after dabbling in other arts. - SAMMY KELLER
YaSi rediscovered her passion for music after dabbling in other arts.
Sammy Keller
“I’m just trying to do something different,” she says. “I can’t remember who said it, but they said, ‘I never take L’s. They’re only lessons, never a loss.’ That’s how I had to readjust my mindset.”

One could trace Azimi’s introspective period to her first EP, Stranded Feelings, which she released in summer 2016. Friends and loved ones who heard the record told her she sounded sad and powerless on it, and that she could have divulged more details and emotion in the songs. For her newest music, she didn’t hold back or censor her feelings.

“I’m not ashamed of Stranded Feelings,” Azimi says. “I’m actually really proud of it...but I agree. I did feel powerless in those songs, and I did feel sad, because I was. I didn’t give enough detail, because I was afraid of what people were going to think who know where that inspiration came from. … I’m never, ever again going to let who inspired the song dictate how I write it and dictate what I say in it.”

She found inspiration for “Lie” in her own insecurity and vulnerability, and describes it as a taunt to an old lover. The line “Did you tell her that you love her yet?” came after she noticed that men she’d dated fell into long, loving relationships after she had broken up with them.

Her other art reflects her experiences, too. The music video for “Lie” and the poem she’ll showcase at the end of the month play with light and darkness, metaphors for the pain she has experienced and the eventual healing process.

Her collages also play with colors, specifically red and blue. Azimi says she wants the collages to illustrate the full spectrum of emotions that are often tied to these shades.

“For me, red can range from feeling really sultry about yourself, having lust for somebody, having love for somebody, or also having vengeance for somebody,” she says. “Same with blue: Psychologically, they say blue is supposed to be a safe color. When I think of blue, I think of something calm, or I think of depth, because the ocean is blue. The ocean is beautiful, but the bottom of the ocean is terrifying.”

And she has no qualms about being up front with her perspective on everything from love to loss to the depths of the ocean.

“I am doing this for me, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing it for me,” Azimi says. “I feel like I compromised a lot in the past with how I wrote a song or how many details to have in a song. Nowadays it’s my brand, it’s my name, it’s my business. I’m the one putting 150 percent into this. … [I’m] doing my own shit and making sure it’s up to my standards and up to my vision. Because if it fails, at least I know it was me.”

She says it’s important for her to remind artists — and herself — that they are not one-dimensional.

“That’s kind of what I have a battle with right now: figuring out that it’s okay to be more than one thing and it’s okay to have your strides with songwriting or strides with live performances or strides with singing,” she says. “I don’t call myself a singer anymore when I introduce myself to people. I introduce myself as an artist. I think that every artist or singer or whatever should introduce themselves as an artist, because you shouldn’t limit yourself to one art form.”

Azimi still struggles with songwriting, but she says it’s improved over the past few months. Trying out different forms of expression, like poetry and visual art, reintroduced a sense of boundlessness and lifted some of the pressure she felt around writing music.

“At first I thought I should be as good at painting as singing,” Azimi explains. “Or I should be as good at dancing as writing, because if I wasn’t, it meant I wasn’t a real creative, whatever I think that means. But trying on a new hat humbles you to go back to the learning process and take things slow and be patient and graceful with what you do. Creating something physical outside of music lets me express myself without boundaries again.”
4 p.m. Saturday, February 24, Fort Greene Bar, 321 East 45th Avenue.

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Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing