Kites reminds me of childhood memories. It tastes like mom’s cooking. It smells like the closest bodega or cultural food market. It swivels the dichotomy of growing up around two completely different worlds separated by only your front door. The Bangladeshi-born, Queens-bred artist, Anik Khan delivers a project that is very much alive and present, but most importantly, represents us. Upon listening, Khan forces you to reflect on your own upbringing in the shared experiences, sounds, and culture that permeates throughout his latest offering, Kites. From sampling South Asian melodies to implanting conversations with his loved ones, Khan takes us into his world to shed light on an underrepresented narrative in hip-hop.
Khan sets up his experiences to be relatable for all. The album’s opening segment, “Cleopatra,” is introduced by Khan’s sister retelling his words to her. He admits that he “doesn’t know shit” and goes on to list that he’s thankful for his supportive family, God, emotions, language, culture, passion, and most of all, today. Like most of us, dude’s simply figuring things out. The beautifully honest opening pitches the tone for the project and a self-introduction—an ambitious young man who is humbly self-aware and quick to channel his gratitude towards his family and culture. Suddenly, the subsequent tune, resembling a Bollywood sample, creeps in and Khan delivers an urgent ode to the woman in his life, a feeling understood in any language.
Fitting salutes to the people around Khan continue later on “Habibi,” which shines the spotlight on the ever-reliable bodega owners in New York City. Integrating sounds from the city streets and interactions with the shop owners provide an imagined reference that invites us onto the street corners Khan grew up on. Once there, we find ourselves staring at the crossroads of Arabic and New York culture. The corner store serving every New Yorker’s daily routine and “habibi”—the common Arabic term for “the plug” or loved one. The way Khan reveals these layers reel us into the authentic moment shared by his borough and nudges us towards our own reflection.
Kites closes with “Columbus,” a passionate take on the darker side of America’s unspoken history. Khan airs his frustrations with historical injustices, namely Christopher Columbus and America’s passive acceptance of the colonization and genocide of millions of indigenous people. The tone shifts when Khan directs our awareness by rapping:
America was made from black backs and brown shoulders
Yellow and beige arms, we brought culture
We brought order, we brought fortune, we crossed oceans and taught for ya
A fitting response to the current climate of our country, the final track shatters the shackles on truth in a call for unity regardless of race or religion. For the last act, Khan’s father joins the record, reciting a poem from the Bangladesh Liberation War. The verse touches on being scared when fighting for your country, but praying that your family will be alright—a familiar sentiment shared by many immigrants today. With this motion, Khan reciprocates Queens across the world while bridging generations.
Kites recognizes its worldly influences in nearly every form. From heartfelt skits to innovative lyrics and cosmopolitan production, each element is orchestrated towards the greater goal. Perhaps Khan’s best contribution is helping us balance our own thoughts on immigrant life in America. An often enigmatic reality, Khan does a diligent job illustrating the many-sided American experience from his perspective. Kites celebrates heritage and uses the occasion as a foothold towards owning one’s unique identity in America, where immigrant culture is alienated. A man of the people, Anik Khan masterfully blends his personal narrative to expand hip-hop’s range and push a new generation of America forward.
This story is part of Empire Taste 001: The Friends & Family Issue.