What do Maine and Syria have in common? Neither is an especially easy place to launch a career in hip hop.
But that is exactly what one Syrian-born rapper has done, through a winding journey that began on the streets of Aleppo and led, last week, to an album release concert in Portland.
In the greenroom at SPACE, an arts venue in downtown Portland, Assasi stood quietly next to a mirror, eyes half shut, as his wife and manager Stephanie Crosby did his makeup before the show.
Assasi is from Aleppo, Syria, and asked to be identified only by his stage name due to the risks associated with speaking out on political issues in his home country.
It was in Aleppo that Assasi first discovered American rap music while he was still a kid, and says he soon began writing his own lyrics about bullying, toxic masculinity, and other issues that he confronted as a child.
“I didn’t have a very easy childhood,” Assasi said. “I wasn’t taken seriously for anything I wanted to do. So hip hop was like, the only alternative to write something and express myself.”