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Rapper Abdul Aziz Dieng '14 is building a music business
When he was nine, Abdul Aziz Dieng '14 penned his first song, called "I'm A Slave." The song, which has undergone several revisions and is currently featured on his most recent mixtape, Point of You, talks about race relations and is told through the eyes of a young slave boy. Dieng raps, "Hundreds of years ago is when the bulls--t started / fury between races/ couldn't be chartered."For Dieng, a rapper whose stage name is simply Aziz, telling such stories is what his music is all about. He says, "I rap about real-life things that are going on around me, things I see other people having; it's not just my story."
Now, 11 years after Dieng first sat down to write his first rap, the New Hampshire native has put out a mixtape and shot two music videos, which have over 45,000 views on YouTube combined. He has a sponsorship from the clothing line vitaminTHICK, has opened for the rapper Curren$y and also has performed at a Kid Cudi after party.
On Dec. 11, he will be performing in Springfield, Mass. at his biggest show to date, opening for the rapper J.Cole, a member of Jay-Z's record label, Roc Nation. In fact, Dieng says he has not spent a single weekend of his first semester at Brandeis on campus. Instead, he has spent his weekends performing at countless colleges, and working in the studio on his next mixtape, Leave Me Az Iz which will be released Dec. 13.
To top it all off, the 20-year-old says he's just getting started.
Dieng was first introduced to rap by his older brother. He started rapping in poetry form without beats at 9 years old, and by the age of 13 he was rapping over beats and had recorded 16 songs. In junior high school, he performed at parties, and although he says, "Everybody was like, 'Why is there a 13-year-old here?'" he eventually got people to take him seriously based on his creative rhymes. In college preparatory school, which he attended for 2 years after high school, he formed a rap group with two other members that was called Most Anticipated Crew, or M.A.C., of which he is still a member.
Dieng, who was born to a Senegalese father and a German mother, says that starting from a young age, he drew inspiration for his raps from his surroundings.
"In middle school and high school, being the only black kid in homeroom and that kind of stuff, the racism ... seeing a lot of adversity through my home, that was a lot of subject matter for a lot of my songs I wrote early on," says Dieng, who speaks with such a natural flow and command of words that if put over a beat, any one of his sentences could be turned into a song.
"There were a lot of things growing up that I didn't have to see that I saw; things you may not expect. ... A lot of evils found their way around my way. [I had to be able] to turn certain things away, see peoples' mistakes and be wise enough to not make them. This was all fuel for writing."
Now, Dieng says the main message of his music is honesty. "Be yourself, be creative," he says. In terms of how I portray myself, it's just how I am. The wittiness, the punch line, the world play, telling stories that people can relate to, and can get people through a day."
Dieng eventually came to Brandeis as he was recruited by the men's basketball team, of which he is still a member, and because he was impressed by the quality of Brandeis academics.
Soon after Dieng arrived at school he met Maxwell Zotz '11, who would become his manager. The pair bonded over their favorite rap album, Illmatic, by Nas. Zotz says he is now contracted through June to "book shows, market Aziz and to do all the logistics outside of creating the music." However, he adds, "Aziz helps with everything [and] has hands in everything."
Music has become a full-time job for both Zotz and Dieng. On top of being a student and a varsity athlete, Dieng spends a lot of his time working on his music. Even when he goes to parties, Dieng says his main goal is to promote his music and network. He brings his iPod and CD wherever he goes.
Zotz has extensive experience in promotion and was the concert coordinator for Student Events last year. He says that one of his and Dieng's main hopes is to get the Brandeis community behind Dieng's music.
"For Mike Posner with Duke [University] and Sam Adams with Trinity [College], their popularity stemmed from the pride that other students had in the music. My hope is that students will take pride in Aziz's music, as we're fellow students and we're trying to make Aziz's music on a national scale," says Zotz.
Zotz and Dieng say they're working hard to perfect the business aspect of Dieng's music, and in conversation with Zotz and Dieng, it is clear that they certainly take the business side of Dieng's music seriously. The two choose their words carefully, as if they have been interviewed hundreds of times before. They give off an air of expertise far beyond their years.
"You gotta have all the tools. You must be able to present yourself right, not lose a step, present yourself professionally, relate to everyone and your music has got to be right," Dieng says.
One aspect of business that Zotz acknowledges as crucial to Dieng's success is social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. He also recognizes the importance of music blogs, which he says have already shown support for Dieng.
In sum, Zotz says, "The music industry is online now, it's a totally different game."
However, Dieng and Zotz recognize that in order to be successful, Dieng needs to distinguish himself from other rappers. Zotz says what makes Dieng unique is that he "is an athlete, a student [who] goes to [a] great school, and he's charismatic. That's what's making the difference. Once you meet Aziz, he sells you."
Zotz says he also hopes that Dieng will inspire others to pursue their goals. He wants Dieng to show the Brandeis community "that this is possible. You don't have to stop what you're doing to pursue something else: going to class, being a musician, playing basketball, all go hand in hand."
Dieng says that while he is at Brandeis, he would like to "study Business as either a major or minor." However, upon graduation he may like to go to Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Zotz adds, "[Dieng] aspires to be more than just a musician. He speaks about owning a business, his own clothing line or being an actor, more than just rapping on stage. There's a career there."
However, Dieng's immediate goal is to perfect his craft. "My goal is to bring the music to the highest length it can go, with no limit. There's no reason my full potential can't be realized," Dieng said.